Monday, May 30, 2011

Training for the „Broken“

So after writing down the Riding the Wave, a blog entry on cyclic nature of the training process, I decided to take a break from heavy lifting, grinding out and chasing PRs and obsessing with progressive overload. My SI (Sacro Iliac) joint started to nag me again, as well as my left shoulder. Nothing special, just a sign that I was overdoing something. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing too. 

In the recent years there seems to be a certain pattern emerging from my training. I start easy, build up, start chasing and grinding PRs and then I get injured or burned out. So, this time to prevent this from happening I decided to take a week or two from that type of work and mindset and get back to the basics, enjoy & play a little and work on imbalances, mobility, stability, technique and anatomic adaptation.

A discussion on Monkey Island made me think about utilizing ISO Holds (Isometric Holds) as a method of achieving my goals for this transition period.  

In that particular thread you can find links to the studies supporting to a degree my idea that ISO Holds can help rehabilitation, because scar and injured issues utilize lactate as a form of fuel for repair (and in blood occlusion happening in ISO Holds there is going to be plenty of it, and plenty of it in extreme stretches) .  Besides, ISO Holds can work wonders for technique in the extreme ranges (bottom) and they are not so taxing and also work wonders for flexibility. So, I decided to give it a try, again.

The workouts are fairly random, because I don’t want to fixate over the minutiae  (I am obsessed with the details and sometimes this make me burnout once in a while), but rather go in the gym and lift (or pose if you think more about it, since with ISO Holds you are not lifting). Workouts can be full body or upper/lower, but I love full body better for this purpose and period.

Anyway, even if the workouts are basically full body, I will classify the exercises on upper/lower/core topology.    


Back Squat. You can keep it parallel or let the fatigue drift you ass to grass. Work on the strong arch, knee positions, upper body tightness  and weight balance (you can play and shift the weight from heel to forefoot and see how it feels). Also, a loop band can be used around the knees to help activate the glutes and hip rotators.

Good morning. Same as with back squats. Work on posture, arch and balance. Great for improving hamstring flexibility and low back awareness.

Split squats. I love these. You can do them regular, rear leg elevated, front leg elevated or both legs on the benches (to gain more ROM).

Glute Bridges.  Put a band around the knees, lift and hold. Great for the butt and hip rotatores.

The next exercises I found great to be included in this phase. They are done with slow tempo and maybe a short iso hold at the end position (1-3sec hold). These are small muscles often neglected when chasing the PRs.

Clams and hip abduction. Lie on the ground, put a band around your knees and do sets of 10-15reps.

Hip flexion. Can be done seated (Sahrman Hip Flexion) or with a band attached to a immobile object while lying down.

Hip PNF diagonals.  This stuff helped me when I had sport hernia symptoms. I do them lying down, with the core braced (flat back), then lifting one leg at a time in diagonal patter without moving my core. Great for abs too.

Calves. I love to do single leg eccentrics with slow lowering phase (around 5 secs). This helped me with my tendon issues every time I did them.

VMO. Can be done with the band wrapped around the knee, or like a Peterson Step Down. Maybe some controlled eccentrics if you had tendon issues in the knees in the history.

A lot of stretching.   A lot! Hip flexion, hip rotators, quads, hams, calves. A lot

Push up. Get into a perfect push up position (normal or leg elevated, later with weight vest), pull yourself to the ground and hold. Work on posture and arms/shoulder position.

Declined row. Get under the bar, pull yourself  up and squeeze the shoulder blades and hold.  You can also do chest supported DB row and hold. Also, barbell rows can be used here too.

Pull-up/chin-up  hold.  Touch the bar with the chest, squeeze and hold. This is tougher than you think.

Bench press.  Work on technique and thingness of the shoulder blades. Can be done with DBs too.

Chest Flys.  Great for stretching the pecs, especially if you combine with the rows.

The next exercises I found great to be included in this phase. They are done with slow tempo and maybe a short iso hold at the end position (1-3sec hold). These are small muscles often neglected when chasing the PRs.

External rotation. A lot of external rotations, and Ws for the lower trap.

YTWLs. A lot of this stuff.

Rowing. A lot of rowing variations.

Delt Flys. I plan doing some delt flys in scapular place or maybe L-flys. Progress to DB Overhead press. Maybe wall slides before all this if your shoulders are “broken”.

A lot of stretching.   A lot! Did I say a lot? I was playing with the jump stretch bands stretching. You can find some stuff by Dave Tate on this here.


Side bridges. Do them. Use weight west to progress or play with legs (lift the top leg for count of 5, lift the bottom leg for count of 5).

Pallof press.  Can done in squat position or even split squat position.

Hip flexion.  Hanging hip flexion or on the dip station. Lift above 90 degrees and hold.

Various exercises for the low back.  I use some exercises from corrective gymnastics as we call them here in Europe.

Each ISO hold is done for 30-60sec utilizing barbell or even bodyweight only and progressing from there. Work on the posture and relax. 3-5 sets can be utilized with short rest (around 1 min).

Before or after I will do some steady state or variable (fartlek) running or cycling. No brainer. Love to be outside because of nice weather and change in the environment (can’t stand to be inside the gym all the freaking time). Maybe I should do the stuff outside on grass barefoot like a real Paleo Man (this was a joke).

It’s Monday. The soccer season is over. I am giving my brain and body a little rest for a week. Going to train.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Random thoughts: Riding the wave

It is the end of the season, and usually my brain starts to do reflections on what was done both in team training and in my own training (if we can call it that way). The concept that emerged in my head was the concept of riding the wave. This concept has a lot in common with the sport form (shape) or the phase of quasi stable results/performance. We have caught certain wave and we have ridden it for certain amount of time (the question is for how long). If we keep pushing, we will certainly hit the rocks (injury, burnout). We need to stop, swim away and catch a better one and appreciate what we have learned by riding the previous. Hence the importance of cycles and periodization. This is well know key concept - cyclical nature of training process.

We need time to move away from the situation. To see the full forest we need to get out of it.

This cyclical nature refers both to physical and psychological. We just can't keep riding the same wave forever. For example, Bret Contreras  in the new blog entry  refers to the same concept, but unfortunately for him, injury made him do it. It made me do it too, couple of times. We need to take a break from everything, go back to the basics, improve technique, start easy, work on mobility and stability and stuff. This is why I find concept of Anatomic Adaptation (Tudor Bompa) more and more important. And usually, we will surpass our old PRs, fix injuries and maybe the most important, fix our mindset. The new training process/system will be established.

In team sports, we are riding the wave we caught/established in the preparatory period. We just can't change a lot of things during the in-season (sometimes you have to, to save the situation). We need to catch better wave next preparatory period and ride it during the in-season.  This not only relates to the methods/exercises, but also team culture, atmosphere, everything. I mean, we can change things during the in-season, sometimes we have to, but it usually have penalties to be paid.

So, this concept goes well with the following periods:

Transition period: Get off the wave, swim back to the open sea and prepare to catch a wave

Preparatory period: Catch a wave, let it develop

Competition period: Ride the wave

Make sure to catch a good wave during the preparatory period (relationship with players, expectations, team culture, responsibilities, rules, training system, nutrition, recovery modalities, rapports...) because you are going to ride it for a long time during the competition period. 

This cyclical nature of training process reminds me of the mythical Phoenix, who burns down to emerge as better over and over again.

In my own training I identified certain trend where I start easy, work on technique, no rush, progress, hit PRs and if I keep pushing it I end up injured or burned down. Then I de-train and start all over again. This can be prevented by purposefully stopping, reflecting and catching a better wave. You know the feeling. You start to be achy in the joints, need to push yourself for progressive overload and you feel emotionally worn out to go and train. Usually, you forgot to enjoy the ride and you fixate on the goals (PRs, continual progression). You can keep pushing it, or you can relax, recycle and catch a new and better wave. This is why I am about to do Anatomic Adaptation phase, start easy and new PRs anytime soon. Maybe I am wrong, but I guess Matveyev was right when he wrote about cycling nature of training. You just can't avoid it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Problems of the periodization of training in mixed sports. Part 5

Model of the competition microcycle

On the following picture there is a model of competition microcycle (Sunday, and Wed-Sun model, although there are couple of models)

One thing that is rather obvious is block organization of the competition microcycle. I call this macro~micro, where the micro elements have similarity with macro elements (like atom and galaxy, microcycle and macrocycle).  

Besides macro~micro concept, competition microcycle can have weaknesses~strengths organization, where in the first part one works on weaknesses showed in the previous games (make sure to keep to your general plan and not to jump bandwagons after every game), and work on strengths and lifting confidence of the team before the next match. Another concept can also be variable~stable where one is breaking up the performance and work on it in the early part of the microcycle, and later provides stability of the performance (which also increases confidence). There is also general~specific concept, where you get more and more specific as the match closes by (field, conditions, equipment, time of day, specific game-like drills, etc) .

Also note that the recovery part of the microcycle can be extended to 1-3 days , while the taper and intensity parts somehow blend together. Anyway, we are left with the small amount of time (1-2 day) to work on our physical preparedness.  Depending on the PI  (Peaking Index) and number of days between games and travel factors this time period in which we can utilize development loads can even be shorter and the load utilized even smaller. Time crunched we are. 

So, what should we do in that case and how it should be organized? Let’s deal with hat should be done first.  

First off, maintenance (lower priority of development) of maximum strength (MxS) is off highest importance, since if the strength levels fall, the power will fall, power endurance will fall and injury risk will be higher. Thus, we need to find time for 1-2 (depending on PI, days between games and travel) strength training sessions. The key point here is to keep the intensity high (doesn’t need to be done to failure though, but in terms of percentage and weight used) and volume low. Also, another key thing to remember is that keep doing the exercises you have introduced in the preparatory period – don’t make drastic changes (weight, number of sets, exercises) because you might induce soreness and heavy legs. I made this mistake couple of times. I will be back on this concept.
Second important thing is speed and power because it has the shortest residual training effects (based on Vladimir Issurin). Thus, you need to keep doing it. Doesn’t need to be general, but you can rather utilize sport specific drills (especially in agility). You can also use this in the taper part of the microcycle in the smallest amount. We also call this training session toning session  where you tone CNS (whatever that would be) with high speed, short duration and long rest drills, or even some strength training (complex training). This session can even be done morning before the game.
And last but not the least comes conditioning. Since we are time crunched and there is plenty of research on it, in my opinion we should rely more on higher intensity training, both for aerobic power and glycolytic power/capacity and RSA, since it is time efficient and provides good stimuli for maintenance. During the recovery part of the microcycle we can utilize more low intensity prolonged type of activities (water running, bike, non-specific and no-pounding activities).

Now the question is how to organize this, both in terms of (1) microcycle organization and over the (2) whole competition period.
For the microcycle organization we can utilize Tudor Bompa’s principle of energy system rotation, where each training day is stressing certain energy system. For example, one day we will do speed, power, agility and strength since it stresses ATP/CP mechanism. Other day we will stress aerobic/lactic system. This is not written in stone and I have seen successful programs doing strength and conditioning in the same day, same session, everything. I guess it depends on your situation, constraints, and context.   I highly suggest checking the following books: Block Periodization , Periodization in Rugby and Total Training for Coaching Team Sports since they cover microcycle organization.

Regarding the whole competition period – I have couple of concerns I am trying to solve myself.

Platoue effect. As I have pointed out in the last part, most high intensity conditioning gives effects pretty quickly, but also shows platoue of the effects reached pretty soon. The question is why to keep doing them since they are not bringing anything new to the table and they are grueling?  Well, in my opinion for couple of reasons. First, you don’t need extreme training effects with mixed-sports anyway. Second, it is show that higher-intensity conditioning maintains training effects when the overall training volume is reduced, like during the competition period (see Mujika, Bangsbo el al.  and Baker). Third, if you stop doing the high-intensity intervals for certain period of time, and then reintroduce them later, you might get adaptation stiffness, a term coined by late Charlie Francis. Basically, it means you will get sore, heavy, and maybe strained with minor injuries happening.  Again we come back to the concept of keep doing what you have done in preparatory period, but with different emphasis/volume. Always keep a thread of something, because if you reintroduce it in full volume later you might get negative effects (nothing special to worry about, but it can be problematic in competition period). 

Being flexible. Why would we need to follow prescribed template (feed forward) anyway? During the competition period players should have more time to do individual training, and based on their strength~weaknesses and positional demands (there should be a nice complementarity between the two, with emphasis changing) they can do additional training aimed at improving lagging characteristics or adapt to positional demands (using feedback to modify training or as would late Mel Siff call it Cybernetic Periodization). If we keep testing and monitoring players we can also put some more volume of training to a certain quality that has been falling down. For example, if we see the player is losing aerobic capacity (via tests, monitoring like OmegaWave, HRV or basic morning HR) we can put some more easy low intensity activity. If their power is falling we can put some more power training or strength training (depending on the strength levels). Again, we should not be short-sighted and linear like this – because we first need to know whether the player is losing performance due de-training or fatigue (under-recovery, life style factors, etc). I guess that open communication and regular monitoring is the key here.

Boredom. The competition period is rather long and sometimes we are sick of looking the same people, being on the same place and especially doing the same training drills all the time. So, here come variations of the same basic stuff. Slightly different games, teams, training schedules and locations, different intervals (with the ball and without, with different work-rest ratios, etc), different warm-up, etc  to provide variety, while doing the same stuff without causing adaptation stiffness. Coach should be wise to trick the players from the boredom of the routine (by using some fun games to bring them into training state), manipulating and reading their emotional states, and stopping training or modifying it, developing good team ambient, communication, etc. I think that this psychology of training is often overlooked aspect of coaching. I certainly need to work on this one myself.
So, in my opinion the key to competition period is:

- Keep doing the stuff you did in preparatory period (concurrent training), but with less volume (keep the intensity), keeping other things priority (performance on the game, injury prevention, freshness)

- When in doubt reduce volume, not intensity

- Try to avoid adaptation stiffness by keeping threads of things all the time 

- Be more flexible, utilize Cybernetic Periodization and prescribe more individual work based on individual characteristic and positional demands

- Be wise in terms should the athletes need more work or more rest, because under-performance can be due de-training, but also due under-recovery

- Prevent boredom by introducing variations

One solution I was writing about couple of years ago was summated microcycle from Total Soccer Fitness by Ian Jeffreys (I have made similar solution in this old article: Planning the competition period in socccer). The point is to rotate microcycles with different emphasis. This can be interesting solution in the situation where there is even less time for concurrent training. The key is to keep the thread of non-emphasized qualities (very low volume). Interestingly, if those emphasis microcycles are prolonged or repeated in series, we can get something very close to block/sequential approach.

For example, if we have three days (or training sessions) to work on certain qualities, we can make the following solution:

Block A (strength)
1 training sessions aimed at strength and speed (low volume, or done in taper phase of the microcycle)
1 training session aimed at aerobic power (high intensity intervals)
1 training session aimed at strength

Block B (speed)
2 training sessions aimed at speed
1 training session aimed at strength and aerobic power (high intensity intervals)

Block C (conditioning)
2 training sessions aimed at aerobic power (or Glycolytic power/capacity and RSA or a combination)
1 training session aimed at strength and speed

The duration of the block can be mathematically split into equal duration of 3 weeks, or you can have different durations based on emphasis and biology of adaptation (in which case Block C would be shortest). Based on your sport you can make different number of blocks, combination of qualities and their duration.  The key here is to keep a thread of all qualities all the time to avoid adaptation stiffness.

Another solution, which is more along the “Keep It Simple Stupid” line, is basically complex-parallel with variations and individual work.  For example:

Competition Block
1 session aimed at speed, agility and power (can be combined with strength session)
1 session aimed at strength (Total body, or two session Upper-Lower, or two Total body with one being really easy)
1 session aimed at aerobic power (high intensity intervals and small-sided games)
1 individual session based on individual characteristics~position demands.

Variations in aerobic power can be created by utilizing different intervals or their location, different organizations of small sided games, etc. Dan Baker provided example of in-season variations in strength training in this article.  It is also important that in this complex-parallel solution there is a smart way of timing and sequencing of training sessions along with manipulation of overall training volume (see Baker). Also, being prepared for complex-parallel training is important, but we have done it in the prep period anyway.

Well, that is it. Please note that I am not an expert on all this and I am still trying to understand mixed sports and their planning/programming problems along with team player and group psychology (which I find under-rated in modern internet writings).  I want to give special thanks to guys from Monkey Island forum  especially to Arthur Smith and Steven Bubel for acquiring me full research papers on demands. Thank you bro!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Problems of the periodization of training in mixed sports. Part 4

Competition period

Before I start with the characteristics of the competition period, I need to mention one thing first. In the research papers (see Lyle’s series Methods of Endurance and a review of Tabata study) it was shown that higher intensity endurance training (VO2max intervals) brings up the effects pretty quickly, but they  also soon reach ceiling in terms of training effects. If we look at the training of endurance runners (see the excellent review paper by Seiler), we can conclude that: 

“training characteristics of nationally or internationally competitive endurance athletes training 10 to 13 times per week seem to converge on a typical intensity distribution in which about 80% of training sessions are performed at low intensity (2 mM blood lactate), with about 20% dominated by periods of high-intensity work, such as interval training at approx. 90% VO2max. Endurance athletes appear to self-organize toward a high-volume training approach with careful application of high-intensity training incorporated throughout the training cycle. Training intensification studies performed on already well-trained athletes do not provide any convincing evidence that a greater emphasis on high-intensity interval training in this highly trained athlete population gives long-term performance gains. The predominance of low-intensity, long-duration training, in combination with fewer, highly intensive bouts may be complementary in terms of optimizing adaptive signaling and technical mastery at an acceptable level of stress.”

This excerpt is taken from abstract of Seiler S. (2010). What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2010 Sep;5(3):276-91.
Yet, we see a lot of improvements utilizing higher intensity intervals with team sport athletes (see Helgerud et al.). I wonder what’s the cause of this. Well, (1) team athletes are not elite endurance level athletes (with 55-65 ml/kg/min VO2max) and (2) most of their training is lower intensity (speaking of technical training of soccer in this case, see Castagna et al.), thus those higher intensity intervals brings results (which brings me back to the concept of doing in conditioning what is not done in skill sessions in terms of energy system development). 

Regarding platoue effect of higher intensity training (VO2max, glycolytic conditioning, RSA). Well, I guess we need more research to back this up (and thus avoid over-doing it when it is not bringing results – I am going to get back to this concept later), and in the mean time we don’t need to be too much concerned regarding this, since we are doing it for short period of time anyway (6-8 weeks in the preparatory period) in the full volume, and in the small volume during the competition period to maintain achieved adaptation with minimal time investment. 

Ok, let’s get back out characteristics of competition period from previous parts:

- Because of the duration of the competition period, there is no need to be in top shape and to peak (except for very important games, play-offs and international competitions), besides it is not possible to do so due de-training (thus maintenance principle is not an option). Players should be injury free and playing at appropriate high level of play, without allowing de-training to happen.

 One concept I like to use all the time is peaking index developed by Tudor Bompa. 

Peaking Index
Preparedness level
Weekly training workload
Willingness to train
Muscle soreness
(progress) Low to High*
(progress)  High to Low*
Very high, Progressively

Medium-Low (Taper)
* Willingness to train is low and the muscle soreness is high during the Peaking Index 5 because of the fact that competition season is over and athletes need rest and recovery.

You can read mode on this in soccer articles  and in Usage of Subjective indicators article. 

The point of this peaking index is that most of the competition season is played in PI2 and PI3 with occasional games(s) (play-offs, very important matches) in PI1. Why can’t you play in PI1 all the time?

Players are unable to be in PI1 for long period of time (maybe 1-3 weeks) because due too low training load de-training will happen and the preparedness will suffer even if we have un-masked it by decreasing fatigue. Since the workload is minimal during the taper (although the intensity should be kept the same to prevent de-training) or during PI1 phase, the load should be brought up afterwards, which increases fatigue before athletes get their normal work-capacity back. Thus too long PI1 cause de-training, and later increase in workloads to bring preparedness back cause fatigue. This way, we create huge peak, but the huge hole will follow (see Joel Friel’s 7 Basic Training Assumptions, especially #7).

Compared to PI1, PI2 and PI3 are easier to hold on for long, long time, because you are still training and still improving (the workload is based on the game importance, time available in days before the game and travel factors), although the priorities are different, namely:

- Be injury free and fresh for the game

- Avoid de-training and continue working on all aspects of performance including physical preparation (this is related to injury prevention)

To achieve those goals, we must deal with couple of things. First one, to be fresh for the game you need to decrease training load, both before the game, and after the game (to recover and deal with minor injuries). And second, we are thus left with the small amount of time (and energy) to provide stimulatory training (talking about physical preparedness). Injury prevention will basically be dependent on maintaining force capabilities (max strength), flexibility, hydration and tissue quality, but will also be dependent on the total volume/stress being done (games included, along with training, especially monotony of it).
So, in simple term, during the competition period we are dealing with time crunched athletes (see Lyle’s excellent article). Thus, the question is what to do in the situation where you don’t have too much time and energy to spend and you have need to be injury free and fresh for the frequent games over prolonged time?

Stay tuned for the next part and hopefully the last one…

Interview with Carl Valle

Carl Valle USATF II is a performance coach who specializes in track and field. He has coached high school, college, and post collegiate athletes for 13 years and has been in the technology field since graduating from the University of South Florida.

I know Carl for a long time over the Charlie Francis forum and I have been corresponding with him numerous times over the email. Last summer (2010) when I was interning at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (MBSC) in Boston, I've met Carl in person and managed to see him coaching one college triple-jumper and also managed to enjoy couple of margaritas in a Mexican restaurant. Since then, me and Carl are constantly connected and we have been discussing training and technology ever since.

When it comes to technology and coaching, along with design (presentations, training templates, monitoring tools, etc) Carl is the man to go to. Besides, Carl has huge training knowledge and he is a like a walking Bible of coaching. Sometimes he pisses people off due his directness and no B.S. approach, but that’s Carl. In this interview (there is going to be more parts, since Carl is busy and cannot answer the full set of questions) he is providing some thoughts on technology and training/coaching. Enjoy!

Mladen: You have been outspoken about the Tendo unit and Gymaware as having some important considerations for best practices as you have seen some very good uses and some abuses. Can you share what the pros and cons are and where power management is evolving with sports?

Carl: For those that are not familiar with those systems, both are linear position transducers and gather the power information from a bar or the center of mass of the athlete. If you can envision a yo-yo attached to the ground and the string attached to one’s belt or barbell you can imagine how the data is collected. The reason I share this important information is not that they are not accurate or precise, it’s because what type of information are we getting? I am in favor of it’s use so don’t think I am not a supporter of the equipment but I am interested in how coaches use the equipment they invested into.

Bar speed and wattage measurement is only great if they are appropriate for the sport and are impactfull in coaching programs. The best programs that use this are working with athletes for years to see fatigue decay, not testing to see what their “max numbers” are. Monitoring fatigue live with a group is not easy and coaches have eyes so looking down at the screen is not as important as watching it and how the lift is done.

The score is a product of and sum of bar and or athlete, not a measure of transfer or application of power. When you attach the Tendo or gymaware to the bar you getting bar speed and power numbers, but not biomechanical information of how the score was created.

Tom Tellez who I was able to talk to in person pleaded for people to understand the application of applying forces frantically because he understood the technique demands of speed and power events. In the Olympic lifts, athletes are trying to in general increase lower or total body power to transfer it to sport. Often those with the best lifts are not the best athletes because of several reasons. My interest is trying to get athletes apply forces through the feet via the legs instead of trying to just get a good number. Transfer is about the carryover of forces applied in sports training into real life actions such as jumping and running.

One facility is taking advantage of pressure and force plate analysis with the Olympic lifting platform and now the plyometric area to subtly collect the foot forces at high speed. Not only is the coach able to get the left and right leg contribution of bilateral or unilateral lifts, but the front and back side of the foot for muscle contribution. The information collected includes the RFD and other basic values, but the forces through the feet hint to us what muscle groups are recruited and video captures the mechanics of the lifts to cross-reference the data collected on the platform. The best part is that the equipment isn’t visible and the data can be streamed live or to a smartphone for private use or later analysis.

Finally, the great thing about the plates is that they are not creating an environment for getting “big numbers with little transfer”. We all make fun of the guy squatting with huge weights but little knee or hip bend, but how often do we collect power numbers with technique that isn’t very effective in developing athleticism. One easy example is measuring the length of a behind-the-back medicine ball throw that looks more like a suplex from the WWE than a lower body dominant explosion. The number may look good but is the motion going to help score the synchronization of the legs and spine or just get a raw hip and back number? The same can be said for Olympic lifts with getting raw scores of peak power or bar speed, it’s fine to get but how it’s created is important.

Mladen: HRV is gaining a lot of popularity, what are your concerns about the use with coaches and athletes now that new devices are more accessible?

Carl: The Polar FT80 and the ithlete app for the iphone and ipod (soon to be android market) are gaining momentum on the consumer and professional market because they provide scoring rapidly and conveniently. Even Zephyr Technology has a HRV kit for their bioharness, and of course the omegawave system is available to people as well. No matter if you use the open source product Kubios and analyze each workout and the reactivation rate after it, you have to use the information you collected or why are you doing it?

We need less data swamps and more selective and smart sampling. My worry is that we will HRV as a magic crystal ball.  The great benefit of the individual devices is that the “crystal ball” is now in the hands of the coach and athlete, making the gypsy guru less important and that is a good thing. But HRV is a marking of what has happened and a not a concrete path, so we need to not only embrace it but not be dependent on it.

HRV is part of the monitoring process and will grow. HRV and sports performance will have success will be how coaches refine existing programs the next season. Those that can get pragmatic scoring daily will trump the one session magic reading. Overtraining often creeps up with people, making the acute injury look to be because of the problems during the week (often involved as well) instead of the entire process or career.

Mladen: Electronic Timing is becoming the standard with coaches with short sprints and agility, but you think it’s more important with conditioning and practice organization. Why is that?

Carl: Similar to the other technologies that summarize performance in a “number”, electronic timing needs to have context and specifics behind it.  For example we are seeing a bloated scoring on combines because people are focusing on tests instead of global performances. Nothing wrong with it, but we need to reflect on the improvements with a healthy perspective. One team is actually timing receiver routes with very high precision to see if the game play is fast. Similar to SAT prep classes that help increase scores, you are not actually getting smarter you are just better test takers. Otherwise the same prep courses would be full time teaching institutions!

Getting a 10 yard split is helpful, provided that you are just sampling basic speed and not trying to extrapolate too much information from it.  This is why I love video analysis with chronometers. Now you are seeing why they are running certain times and moving at different directions in a better light.

One emerging company I am interested in is Freelap from Switzerland. After talking to a few people about it I like that team timing can be done with a wrist watch and transmitters. Unlike other timing systems that are very expensive and cumbersome, this one is very portable for coaches who are traveling.  The most important aspect of this electronic timing system is the individualism in programming one can do with various abilities.

How many NFL and NCAA teams do the weekly conditioning run to maintain fitness and gage conditioning? With athletes weighting anywhere from 185 pounds to 325 or more, the running distances, times, and sometimes rest periods need to be specific to the position (or weight and abilities) in order to ensure that specific work is done. Look at the resources being used if the team is trying to collect real velocities/distances and rest periods and actually instruct the training when you have half a dozen coaches at a football practice. Instead of the stop watch or countdown timer on the big screen, one is getting the actual times and splits of how they are running the conditioning. For example linemen seem to do better on more repeat work of shorter distances, thus biasing the pushing and acceleration aspects while skill players tend to run longer and more. In order to be precisely measuring overtraining, increases or decreases of workload, precise timing is a must.  The equipment also allows multiple athletes to be timed in groups, making practices more efficient to run. Practices are intense and realistic as well, especially when athletes are internally and externally competing at the same time. Shuttle runs and other tests that coaches want are precise and easily more evaluated through spreadsheets when the watches transfer a weeks worth of data in seconds. Freelap has a domestic distributor here in the US and the website can be found here.

Another technology I find impressive is the "Hot suit", a domestic product designed to be the opposite of a stealth weapon. This outfit looks like regular materials but offers some very powerful tracking of biomechanics data as well as the typical HR information. Instead of putting on reflective markers you are getting 93 joint positions and the angles at 800 hz via bluetooth. The material is also intelligent that it can be calibrated to adjust for regeneration or performance.This makes Under Armor look like medieval cotton! I am not saying that the military is using this now but with sports and war being similar we are seeing a lot of money invested into both areas.

Mladen: Physiological monitoring is still focused on heart rate and you have been very outspoken about the limitations of using it as a guide in work and output. With Zephyr, Suunto, and Polar leading the industry what lessons can they learn from the past in order to refine what we are doing now and in the future?

Carl: I have been using HR Monitors for a long time and first used one while training for a triathlon in 1993. Not much has changed from 1982 when the first commercial ones were available. I have used lactate analyzers, power meters, and even V02 equipment and find it too narrow to be helpful for speed and power athletes. Don’t get me wrong I still use them but what teams are making dramatic changes to their programs? Where is the quantum leaps people are talking about? Will Carroll said the Under Armor shirt will change baseball. The Sabres project their heart rates of their team on the videotron. Where is this leading us? The sport of rugby has helped me understand the impact of conditioning and how to effectively use the information gathered during training. Soccer is not ahead of the curve believe me. Soccer has improved tremendously but all sports have their cultural woes.

Football clubs as well as American Football performance coaches can use HR to see the slope of recovery from repeat bouts and sets of bouts as well as the effort being done to do the same workload. A simple series of tempo strides becomes a great way to gage who is overtraining and who is simply getting out of shape. Other than that, people are breaking world records in the Marathon without using HR monitors all the time so it’s not magic. I don’t need to see a number on a flat screen to see if someone is working hard, I have eyes. In the future we will see a better use of field tests and less HR analysis since stamina is sustaining a specific pattern of output with regards to power. The games are based on time and speed, not specific heart rate zones or percentages of of HR Max with players. Nobody competes at HR levels only they mainly compete with speed and distance needed to make the play or win the race. Athletes need to be in tune with their body and improve their perception of exertion, not be dependent of breathing rate and heart data.

One classic story I enjoy is the elite cyclists doing a light workout and all of them laughing at the difference of HR and effort feeling while training in a peloton in Spain. One guy was suffering at 165, another cruising at 145, and one was conversational at 185. A big range. Imagine the averages of a team of players being evaluated in soccer? A team with three keepers may skew the data to the point of punishment runs when the rest could be very fit. We need to be careful because stories of athletes getting in trouble for having low heart rates in practice have been shared for years as evidence of not trying instead of just being in shape or having a unique system.

Mladen: Accelerometers and GPS devices such as the Catapult system are looked at as the holy grail and you have been supporting Finish Lynx and other tracking systems. Why is that?

Carl: A lot of money is being wasted on GPS if not used properly. Even if it’s used what are the sport coaches doing with the information? I was corresponding with one expert who did some work with an Italian football club and he was very honest about everyone must be on the same page or the data is useless. I call this autopsy data, information that explains what killed the athlete’s performance but doesn’t do much for prevention. With your interview of Dan Baker, he is using it to gage workload and similar data in order to work more cohesively with the club. This is a far cry from one particular soccer club who was trying to find patterns with software on conditioning and HR analysis. The true issue was the athletes were weak as kittens and struggled to do lunges with 10 kilo dumbbells for reps of 6! The fatigue was not aerobic, it was lack of power overloading their energy systems.

Another problem we have is ornamental data. For example people are getting “G” forces with accelerometers. This is actually a step back in progress since a simple number summary doesn’t tell a story or give better insight. Getting another number is not what we need. It’s cool to bring up watts or other less commonly used scores but how many times have we seen old school coaches talk about distances, weights, and times with great success? Change is only evolution when improvement hits, otherwise it’s stagnation by imagination.

Mladen, when we drove up north of Boston we were minutes away from Finish Lynx, a company that created the isolynx system of game tracking. The technology is very impressive but it’s up to the coaches to use it correctly without being blinded by the obvious. What I like about the data is that a simple CSV file export can help perform regression analysis rapidly after training to help monitor things with more precision. How much impact isn’t known since implementation is what is not being done with teams. You think a text alert is going to a player to have an extra banana because of the 800 meters extra running they did in practice? We are not there yet. I believe that smart shirt technology will change things provided that athletes are monitored outside the training facility and stadium.  I wonder how GMs look at the twitter feeds at 3:45 am the day before playoff games or when a status update on Facebook shows their “entertainment” location is at a city 3 hours away on Wednesday evenings. Lifestyle is the number one completive advantage.

Mladen: Technology Fusion is looming. Can you share why the merging of technology is so important? Also can you finish up with other helpful tips in general with technology and coaching?

Carl: Myotest’s US Vice President did a great presentation on fusion of technology. Too bad their product isn’t wireless or smaller it would more helpful. The fusion of technology is sort of like the trendy French Cambodian restaurant in the Soho area, combing things often leads to something good.

Darfish and EMG is also exciting when teams are looking at return to play benchmarks or other indices. The strength of combining technologies is that it increases the data specifically and cross-references the values.

My general statement about technology is not let it become a burden or barrier with coaching. We can’t be looking down at an iphone or laptop all the time and I find that athletes will connect better with coaches when it’s done right.  Coaches need to let technology remove time burdens and help them, not become slaves to the devices that are suppose to help them. 

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview....