In a team setting environment, athletes are often exposed to similar training loads during practices, training and competition. Monitoring of only the external training load provides coaches with an incomplete picture of how individual athletes may be responding and adapting to the training schedule. Two athletes can in fact respond entirely differently to the same program. A recently published case study by Bara-Filho et al. (2013) demonstrates how HRV, when measured periodically throughout training, can help distinguish these individual differences in professional soccer players exposed to the same training schedule. The following is a brief summary and review of this case study.
Materials and Methods
Subject 1 was a 26 year old Mid-Fielder with 7 years of professional playing experience. Subject 2 was a 19 year old Right Back with only 1 year of professional playing experience.
Over a 3 week period during a competitive season, both subjects participated in training that consisted of small-sided games, simulated matches, strength training, sprint training, and low-intensity aerobic recovery work. Training took place 1-2 times per day, 5 day’s/week culminating in a competition on the 6th day and rest on the 7th. Both subjects were starters in the 3 matches that occurred over the observation period.
HRV was measured on 5 occasions throughout the 3 week period on each Saturday and Monday morning (excluding the last Monday). This allowed for HRV indices to be evaluated both after the weekly training load was accumulated (Saturday) and after recovery (Monday). This is precisely the protocol that I discussed in a recent post entitled Making HRV More Practical for Athletes: Measurement Frequency.
HRV data was collected in the morning with a Polar RS800 watch while the athletes rested in a supine position.
Total weekly TRIMP values were similar in both athletes. After the first measurement (M1) Subject 1 showed an increasing trend in several HRV values (RMSSD, HF, SDNN, SD1) indicating good adaptation to training and quality recovery from competition. Subject 2 showed a progressively decreasing trend in these same HRV values indicating an accumulation of fatigue and insufficient recovery.
The authors suggest that subject 2, who saw a decreasing trend in his HRV values, may have been experiencing stressors unrelated to sport that may have contributed to his insufficient recovery. Though subjective measure (questionnaires) were not included, the physical training coach reported that athlete 2 would inform him that he was experiencing disturbed sleep, fatigue during training, and poor recovery.
A lower level of playing experience in subject 2 was reported as another possible explanation for his descending HRV trend. The psychological stressors and anxiety experienced by this younger athlete may have also contributed.
The authors briefly discuss the limitations of a supine measurement only when using HRV to monitor training load in athletes. Essentially, individuals with low resting heart rates appear to be subject to “parasympathetic saturation” in the supine position, possibly skewing the data. Therefore, including measurement performed in the standing position may serve as a resolution to this issue. I discussed this topic in a previous post entitled Supine vs. Standing HRV Measurement.
Finally, the authors conclude that HRV values were useful in monitoring the effects of a competitive training schedule in athletes as these values appear to be sensitive to individual characteristics as well as stress and recovery. A stable or increasing HRV trend appears to be favorable as it indicates quality recovery and adaptation to training. In contrast, a decreasing trend in HRV indicates higher stress and impaired recovery which may necessitate recovery interventions and reductions in training load.
Bara-Filho, M.G., et al. (2013) Heart rate variability and soccer training: a case study. Motriz: rev. educ. fis. 19(1): 171-77. Free Full-Text