Track Your Training Like the Pros
How To Track Your Training Like The Pro’s
by Jo Clubb, Applied Sports Scientist for the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL, and co-founder to Sports Discovery: A platform for discussion and networking opportunities for professional sports practitioners. You can find Sports Discovery here: http://sportsdiscovery.net/journal/
Being a Sports Scientist
I remember the moment I decided I wanted to become a Sports Scientist; I was 12 years old and watching an athletics special on “Tomorrow’s World” (a long-running BBC TV series that showcased new advances in science). One segment was based at Loughborough University in the UK and demonstrated how new technology was being used with sportsmen and women to help them gain an edge in performance. Having always loved sport, I saw this as a potential way to be involved at the highest level. I was lucky enough to go on to study a degree in Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University, the very place that sparked my dream, and have since worked in professional football (soccer) and now in ice hockey in the NHL.
Sports Science is a varied field – everyone from a Strength and Conditioning Coach, to a Nutritionist or a Psychologist could be classified as a Sports Scientist. Some Sports Scientists are based in laboratories, whereas others stand on the field with cones and a whistle. Personally I am probably somewhere between both; I do not take a warm up or a gym session but neither do I don a lab coat. I define my role as “using research and technology to help support the decision making of specialists”. I collect and report data on athletes which may help the coaches, strength coaches and PTs/ATs/Physiotherapists make decisions. Some of my key areas of interest include monitoring training load, measuring fitness and fatigue, recovery, injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Measuring the Response to Training
One of my biggest passions is measuring the fitness-fatigue relationship in an attempt to help maximize performance and minimize injury risk. In team sports this may involve trying to peak twice a week for 10 months of the year or perhaps 3-4 times a week for 6 months depending on the sport. It is quite a demand! As a sports scientist we are sometimes blessed working in professional sport with access to fantastic resources and toys (there are of course many who are in professional sport and working with a more limited budget). Force plates, GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking technology, heart rate monitors, sleep trackers, blood or salivary hormone analysis and motion capture systems, amongst many others, are the amazing technologies some may have access to. However, the good news for those holding the purse strings as well as part-time athletes and the weekend-warrior types, is that some of the strongest research is in utilizing tools that cost nothing (or relatively little)!
Anna Saw, a Sports Scientist based at Deakin University in Australia, has been investigating the use of subjective questionnaires for monitoring athlete wellness. Her research demonstrated that self-reported measures such as questions about mood and perceived stress were more sensitive and consistent in tracking training loads than objective markers including blood measures, oxygen consumption during exercise, and heart rate both at rest and during exercise. Whilst you may not be undertaking the same training load as a professional athlete, this research helps to reinforce the importance of listening to your body to understand how you are responding to your training program!
You can read more of Anna’s work on self-report measures with athletes in this blog by metrifit: http://www.metrifit.com/blog/athlete-self-report-measures/#.WHfz2FUrLIU or the research paper itself, open access in the British Journal of Sports Medicine here
Tracking Training Load
As well as using questionnaires and technologies to measure how athletes are responding, we can also attempt to track the training load itself. Once again a completely subjective scale is a straightforward and cost effective option. The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) was developed by Sport Scientist Dr. Carl Foster as a simple and valid estimation of exercise intensity. Initially this scale ranged between 6 and 20, in an attempt to reflect the heart rate response (approximately between 60 and 200bpm). More recently, a modified 1-10 scale has also been presented. These scales can be used to estimate the intensity level of physical activity.
These figures can then be turned into a load measure by multiplying the intensity by the time, for example:
7 (RPE intensity) x 40 (time of session in minutes) = session RPE Load of 280
Tracking session RPE load over time with athletes has helped to demonstrate a relationship between training load and injury risk. Put simply; injury may be linked with too little load, too much load and/or a sudden spike in load. Perhaps training load is a bit like Goldilocks’s porridge! You might consider using RPE with your own training, whether it is just to note the intensity of your sessions and perhaps to compare how intense you found the same session at different times, or you may want to track it along with time to give you an ongoing internal load measure.
With the growth in wearable technology, the ability to objectively track training load is no longer limited to the world’s best athletes but is now available to everyone. Your internal load can be measured via heart rate monitoring and subjectively using RPE as already outlined. This represents how hard your body found the session – the cost to you physiologically. The external load represents the actual amount of work done, whether that is simply counting sets and reps in the gym, measuring distance and speeds with GPS or an activity watch, or perhaps a more advanced measure such as a power meter. Although sometimes wearables are not as accurate as the technologies we employ with professional athletes, they can help provide motivation, increase awareness of habits and activity, and make tracking training load more readily available to anyone interested! It is however, also important to be aware of some of the potential negatives that some studies have found, including:
- Wearing an activity tracker did not carry out significantly more activity than a control group (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(16)30284-4/abstract)
- A third of those buying an activity tracker stopped wearing them within the first six months and although 1 in 10 Americans now own one, half of them have stopped wearing them (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/01/wearables-consumers-abandoning-devices-galaxy-gear)
- Wearing fitness trackers may not help fat loss, possibly due to justifying extra increased caloric intake by seeing the activity carried out (http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2553448)
Having said all of that, there are some fantastic resources (Athletes Insight and Sports Discovery being just two!), apps and platforms available that can certainly help the motivated to reach their goals! Plus there is absolutely no harm in putting your sneakers on and just going out and running, no tracking or monitoring, just running!
Another key part of my role as a Sports Scientist is to understand and help deliver the best possible recovery for the athletes. Our bodies need rest and recovery. When we are exposed to a training stimulus, the body’s systems are disrupted and therefore when recovering try to adapt to a higher level than the baseline, so that any disruption from a similar stimulus in the future would not cause as much damage. Think back to when you first started training or perhaps when you resumed training after a period out (holidays, injury, vacation etc) – did it hurt much more than normal? Your body was not adapted to this stimulus like it is during a period of training. However, for this process (known as supercompensation) to take place, there needs to be a period of time built into the program that allows the body to recover.
Once again in professional sport we may have access to many fancy bits of kit to (supposedly) help enhance recovery; whole-body cryotherapy, hot and cold baths, pneumatic compression pump therapy, electric muscle stimulators and underwater treadmills to name a few. However, I have more good news for you! Once again the strongest evidence is in favor of simple and relatively cheap options; in the case of recovery these are NUTRITION and SLEEP. Good nutrition around your training helps to provide the body with the nutrients it needs to refuel, repair and rebuild from the stress of exercising, which again helps the body to adapt to the training. Do not let your training go to waste without support it with the necessary food and drink! For more information on nutrition and training, this website has some fantastic resources (https://www.athletesinsight.com/articles/). We are only just starting to understand the importance of sleep for both health and performance but it cannot be overestimated. Sleep allows the body to reset and is the time when many of these processes for recovery and adaptation actually take place within the body. Muscle recovery, reaction times, concentration, metabolism, and hormonal balance are just some of the processes affected by the quality of sleep that can have a subsequent effect on performance and injury risk. Furthermore, physical and mental health, as well as the risk of obesity and many diseases are now being linked to sleep. The habits that may determine your quality of sleep are described as sleep hygiene and below are some tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene:
Many thanks to fellow Sports Scientist Rich and the team at Athletes Insight for the invitation to write for this community.
For more Sports Science, you can check out Sports Discovery at http://sportsdiscovery.net/journal/. We write blogs that aim to explore cutting-edge Sports Science thinking and also host a forum to enable networking, discussions, vacancies, courses and any questions you may have on performance. Jo previously worked in English soccer with Chelsea Football Club and Brighton & Hove Albion. You can also find Jo (@JoClubbSportSci) and Sports Discovery (@sportdiscov) on Twitter.