By Drew Cooper
Disclaimer and Population Bias
Anyone who has read my recent product reviews knows that I work with regular everyday people, high school athletes, and a few very talented collegiate athletes. I want to emphasize this point, as I do not work with anyone who makes a living from physical/athletic talent. Accordingly, this review has a strong bias towards the “average” population. If you are interested in Omegawave applications and their uses in high-level or elite sport, I recommend reading the likes of Henk Kraaijenhof, Mark McLaughlin, Landon Evans, Val Nasedkin, Roman Fomin, and others who work with athletes in that world.
That said, I will discuss the Omegawave Team system (from late 2013), upgrade options, accompanying equipment, problems people have with the system, compliance, and logistics, as well as things to consider when looking at different options. This article will not deal with what I do with the data; however, if there is enough interest, I could easily do a Part 2. For now, though, I will just shed light on the Team system itself.
What You Get
Let’s start with the hardware . One option is getting a new Dell laptop with the Omegawave Team software loaded on it. This is what I have. There is also an option to go with a version of Omegawave called Coach, which runs on an iPad. The Coach version can be used independently of the Team system or in conjunction with it. The Coach version was not available at the time I purchased the Team system, as it was just released in January 2015. While iPad portability is nice, I chose the laptop for extra storage. Third, you can load the software onto your personal computer. But potential problems include slowness of the program and difficulty connecting the Omegawave sensors to a Mac’s Bluetooth system. Even with those issues, though, I still hope to switch from my Dell to a Mac-based system. That would simplify life by keeping everything in one place instead of having two computers, chargers, hard drives, etc. as well as more overall comfort on a Mac.
In addition to the computer, three omega sensors are included to measure DC potential and well as three ECG sensors to measure the cardiac and metabolic systems (HRV, HR, etc.). Be sure to match and mark these so you have three distinct pairs and can connect correctly (see video below), which the representatives from Omegawave did for me when I got my system. Next are the ECG chest straps, which come in multiple sizes and are rigid enough that one size does not fit all. Taking that into consideration, you need to size people well to get accurate readings. The ECG belt has a spot on the center of the chest strap for the ECG sensor to connect similar to any other HR monitor. It also has two patches (leads) on each side of the rib cage to measure the full QRS complex and give a full ECG readout (I believe you can still add on a full 12-lead ECG). Lastly, there are wire connections for the Omega sensors as well as chargers for the sensors that connect to USB ports in the computer.
Video review of the Omegawave Team System.
The package also includes a pack of ECG sticky pads, which connect to the hand and forehead to measure DC potential. These ECG electrodes are used once and replaced with new ones. Typically I buy packs of 100 from Amazon. They run about ten bucks.
You can add additional pieces to the base Team system—a jump mat to test the neuromuscular system, a sensory-motor system to test reaction times, and the 12-lead ECG if you are using it clinically or for research purposes. I have no experience with any add-ons so I really don’t want to comment much. I will say that they allow you to store more data in one place instead of having things spread out over multiple devices and interfaces. This is a very nice situation for the less technically inclined, though it’s not easy on the pocketbook.
What Gets Measured
The Team system measures heart (ECG) and ultraslow brain wave activity (DC potential). What’s great is that all the raw data is shown on a different tab such as Heart Rate, SNNN, SDSD, RMSSD, LF/HF, and a few more that can all be found in the research and picked apart for benefits and downsides. The system provides a clear look at the collected data. You can run your own stats with the measures that you find most relevant to your environment.
Thinking in simpler terms, we have something like HR and HRV that is measured and something that is derived from an algorithm or equation. For example, if I measure height, weight, and waist circumference I can use those measurements to give a BMI number, or skinfold measurements can give me BF%. The Omegawave system essentially does the same thing. It takes a measurement (or group of measurements) and uses an equation to give another number such as aerobic index, fatigue, or readiness.
I would describe Omegawave as a seven-site skinfold measure compared to a four-site. The more sites measured, the more accurate the resulting equation becomes. So when you measure the heart you can feed the numbers (amplitude, frequency) to derive metabolic numbers or pair them with DC to give overall readiness. To be clear, though, you don’t actually measure “Gas Exchange” or “Detoxification.” Rather, the amount of brain activity signifies the needed “effort” of the body to rid itself of metabolic byproducts on a macro level.
At the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the coach to understand the raw data and not rely on the recommendations to guide training. Remember that it’s just a computer. It doesn’t know if you are planning an overreaching period before a layoff or down time, if you need to be peaking for an event/competition, or what the goals of the athlete are. All these are the coach’s responsibility. So know your program, understand the raw data, and use the recommendations only if needed. Otherwise draw your conclusions and plan your training accordingly.
I initially was drawn to the system because none of my clients would be obligated to buy anything: no hardware, no cloud space, nothing. As long as they show up I can test them and store the data forever, and they don’t pay a penny. So it’s something I use to add value, safety, and accuracy to what I do.
Second, I liked the amount of information collected in two to four minutes, and you can grab even more with another seven minutes. I look at this very much the same way I look at GymAware. It’s a product that is as simple as you want it if you only look at the home screen, or as complex as you want if you start digging into the raw data.
Third, everyone involved with Omegawave is incredible, from the staff to the users. It’s a group of people you want to be involved with and learn from. For example, Omegawave has held “user meetings” I would pay to see with guys like Val, Henk, Landon, and Roman , and they charge nothing (insert cost of system joke here, but I’ll get to that.) They encourage everyone to talk shop, ask questions, suggest changes, give feedback, and so forth. They also started a user-driven forum of sorts that can be an incredible place to ask questions, share data and problems, and seek suggestions.
Finally, you can set up “team accounts” to house a volleyball team, for example, and start involving the sport coach to look at trends and try to match up injuries, performances, and practices to the numbers. As a contracted trainer, this feature allows me to involve the sport coach. Instead of being divided, we can now work together to “increase readiness” on game days. Ultimately, the system can become a communication device allowing the coach to understand more cause and effect. For example, how “endless shuttle runs for punishment” may ruin a tournament performance rather than instill behavioral change. And if we can increase sport coaches’ “buy-in” of the program through their understanding of it, we hopefully increase the chances of a harmonious working relationship rather than one of discord.
Overall the product is great; I don’t think anyone disputes that. Some may want more clarity, but I understand that it is intellectual property. Omegawave needs to protect what they’ve worked hard to make. And to reiterate, I really want people to understand how great the community is and how helpful the people at Omegawave are. On three occasions I’ve spent a couple hours with them, including a house visit for education. I think that’s a rare deal. I truly appreciate the attention and time they are willing to provide, not only about the system specifically but also sometimes general training talk as well.
Now for the bumps and bruises, tough lessons, and downside not just to Omegawave but any monitoring in general. First, let’s get the 10-ton elephant in the room out there. This sucker is expensive! My Team system cost about $18K. I accepted it as part of my business for the next 20 years, not that I don’t occasionally look at it when things are rough and question my decision. There are, however, no subscription or data charges nor Wi-Fi to connect to, and I was able to break the payment into three months with no fees.
Second, if you choose to have remote users (people who purchase a personal unit), their cost is also high and that has been a deterrent for my clients. Remember, none of them makes a living from their training (at least not yet) and it’s tough to get an average adult to spend a few hundred bucks for something that is just not vital to them. The same goes for parents spending that kind of money on a 15-year-old who just wants to stay fit.
This leads to my third complaint, which is more about monitoring in general; it has been a long road to compliance and consistency. I work in a garage and typically alone. If I have four clients in a row it’s nearly impossible to test one while still working with the others. And if someone wants to train for an hour, testing is a hard sell when just getting a good warm-up is often contentious. In a private, general population-dominated setting, most people want to work out, not test HRV, and they often feel like I’m robbing them of training time.
With the Omegawave (and I’m sure other systems/devices), there is also the issue of an ideal versus realistic situation. My clients work or go to school, have tight schedules, and live relatively far away. Setting up a free hour in the morning for testing isn’t going to work so we test when they come in to train. This can be an issue in the sense that we can argue we are never getting an honest look at how things like HRV are responding to training. A day of work/school/stress/fatigue/coffee can build, or at least vary the readings from what would be an ideal morning test. This to me is the biggest issue: Who cares what you use to monitor if you can’t get reliable tests/numbers in the first place?
Now I’ll discuss what I have learned in the last two years, things I wish I had thought about, and what I would do if I started over with what I know now.
First and foremost: Develop a plan to know how you are going to collect consistent and reliable information. You need to know where in your facility people will undergo testing, who will test them, how much time it will take, and what to do if people are late. Without a plan, you’re setting yourself up for the occasional frustration. The Team system can test three people at one time. However, everyone needs to start at the same time. If little Jimmy comes in five minutes late in the middle of his group’s test, he may need to sit it out or suit up and test after the other two are done.
This leads back to having a plan since the group trains together. Will you skip his test, make the others wait, have another person run his test and have him catch up with the group, or some other combination? For me, if you’re late you don’t test. I work alone and in a small space, so ambient noise gets picked up and distorts the results. This part in my experience is crucial. If you have a big facility and ample staff it may be easy. And if athletes are motivated, have the resources, and can get the personal unit I would take that option. But having random tests isn’t super-useful and can be very frustrating.
Second, I have extremely mixed feelings about whether or not I was ready for the Team system when I got it. I had a pretty decent general understanding of what I was getting myself into (better than most I’d say) but did not understand the complexity of the systems being measured and honestly still have a lot of work to do here. I bring this up because if you are going to measure HRV consistently, what are you going to do with the information? How confident are you in selling your athletes on the testing process if the training stays identical? Can you show continued progress in the metabolic systems, or will your athletes regress from what you told them they should expect because you aren’t getting quality assessments? The one true thing about quality testing is that the results make you very aware of whether or not things are moving in the direction you want them to, very similar to a Freelap timing system.
So here’s my advice:
- Know what crazy numbers look like (bad tests or noisy data), so you and your athletes don’t panic over anything;
- Understand that HRV is variable, so testing at different times will most likely give different results;
- Know that most of these numbers don’t test performance but rather “cost of doing business.” With a tanked DC score I still may jump high and training may go well but the adaptation may be weak and costly (this is still something I am curious about and only more testing will shed light), so don’t get athletes wrapped up in the numbers—especially if you aren’t 100% aware of what those numbers actually mean.
Third, here’s a quote by Denzel Washington in the movie The Equalizer: “Sometimes we make the wrong choices to end up at the right places.” I still think I have a lot to learn from the testing/training/testing process and finding trends vs. noise. I think monitoring physiology is part of a bigger picture, and I would be fine with something much smaller than the Omegawave Team system. I want everyone to keep this in perspective. I’m a fan of Omegawave and I’ll continue to use it, but there are other good products at a much lower cost (Omegawave now has Personal and Coach systems) and I’m sure more will enter the market.
I’m saying this because while I second-guess my decisions at times, I think it has been a fantastic learning experience. It is one thing to read HRV research and another to test, train, and retest to see what happens with the individual in front of you. There is a certain level of understanding and learning that takes place when you essentially conduct your own experiments. So whether or not I would say I jumped the gun is very tough because of how much I’ve learned from my mistakes as well as my successes, not to mention the added bonus of talking to the people involved with Omegawave. The entire experience has been a roller coaster. But—like the end of a roller coaster ride—I walk off with a smile even if there were times I almost lost my lunch.
After rehashing the ups and downs I have personally had, here are my takeaway points.
First, my last two reviews show a trend I seem to have fallen into—while all of the new toys and tech stuff I have acquired over the last seven years are great, they don’t automatically make you better at your job. I think the easiest trap is to read about HRV, VBT, electronic timing etc. and think “if I just get this, things will be better.” The fact is that great coaches are better with or without the toys. So again, yes—I think the system is great or I wouldn’t use it, but it comes with new problems, new questions, and new changes. According to another Equalizer quote, “When you pray for rain you have to deal with the mud.” I take this to mean that with the good come unforeseen problems. The Omegawave has made me realize is that my business model and facility are very limiting. I set up shop when I was 22 and didn’t know any better. Now things may need to change.
Second, I never thought I’d say this. As a coach, it’s easy to read about HRV and understand its merits, but it can be far more difficult to sell to others or get buy-ins from athletes. Remember that we may need to explain the benefits of monitoring HRV to an 18-year-old, and all that science talk will just shut his brain off. This is a tough lesson since we get caught up on one side of this equation. We forget that unless we have consistent buy-in from those we coach, testing is very tough. You must spend time learning how to educate people on the benefits quickly and concisely, so when it comes time you are comfortable with that process.
Last—and I mentioned this earlier—know that these monitoring tools are just part of the training puzzle. Omegawave has done/is doing data analysis and “predictive analytics” for some professional sport teams. They collect a massive amount of information from training loads, practice lengths, Omegawave data, player stats (weight, height, position, etc.), sleep—and the list goes on!
The company itself emphasizes that while the system is highly insightful, it’s still just a piece of the overall puzzle, not the only thing that matters. Always keep things in perspective. Don’t leave the fundamentals behind by thinking they are “outdated.” Factors like sprint times, jump heights, and endurance tests are still the backbones of good monitoring. But now we have another piece of the puzzle we couldn’t measure even a few years ago.
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