Updates, free monitoring spread sheet with questionnaire & an HRV video.

1) I was recently contacted by a researcher based out of Australia and asked to beta test his new HRV app. I’ve had the app and hardware for a few days now and it has some really cool features. In a future post I will give my thoughts and review of the app (with the creator’s permission).

2) Last week T-Nation published the “HRV Roundtable Discussion” article. The roundtable contributors were; Craig Weller, James Heathers, Mike T. Nelson, Patrick Ward, Joel Jamieson, Simon Wegerif, Jonathan Pope, Dave Tenney and myself.

This discussion took place earlier in the year and ended up being over 20 pages in length! Many of the pages were adjusted to 8 or 10 point font to reduce the number of pages. A ton of great thoughts and ideas were shared by some very intelligent people. I learned a lot from being a part of this discussion and am very grateful for having been asked to contribute. Craig organized and edited the entire discussion. I can only imagine how long and arduous of a process that was. You can read the discussion HERE.

3) For any strength coaches who are interested in utilizing HRV analysis with your teams, you’ll be interested to know that iThlete has a team app in production. This app will make monitoring RHR, HRV, training load, etc. of each member of your team very easy. I will see if I can get a post up in the near future with some screen shots and more details. I’m very excited for this!

4) Training has been going extremely well for me since moving back to Canada. I can now deadlift without any pain or discomfort in my lower back. I’m considering finally entering a meet again this winter. If I decide to do this I’d like to document my meet prep programming, HRV trends, RPE’s, etc. both for myself (to see what worked and what didn’t) and for my readers because they are training nerds like me.

5) Download a FREE monitoring survey and excel spreadsheet here. This can be very useful to keep track of of your players throughout the season.

6) I came across a very informative video lecture last month that explains the various HRV analysis methods (Time domain, Frequency domain, Poincare plot). The video provides demonstrations of how to use the free Kubios software to analyze data. If you’re interested in learning more about the more technical aspects of HRV analysis, check it out.

HRV response to perceived training load – Observations from 2.5 months of data

About two months ago the new version of iThlete was released with some really cool new features. These new features included;

  • The ability to rate your sleep on a score of 1-5
  • A comment section that allows you to make notes about the previous day’s events, stressors, etc.
  • The ability to input training loads that appear on your HRV trend chart so you can see how your HRV responds to your training
  • The ability to export data to drop box

Here is a video that shows the updated features;

The most significant addition in my opinion is the ability to track your training loads with your HRV trend. This really puts into perspective how stressful your workouts are. There is no specific method or formula that you have to use for your training load data. There are several methods that have been used in research to quantify training load, some of which I’ll describe below.

Training Impulse (TRIMP) – this is calculated using training duration, maximal heart rate, resting heart rate and average heart rate during the session

Session Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) for Endurance Athletes – Session RPE score x duration of exercise in minutes (for endurance training)

Session Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) for Strength/Power Athletes – Session RPE score x repetitions

*See Borrensen & Lambert (2009) for a more elaborate review and explanation of the above methods.

       Training Volume – Weight Used x Sets x Reps

Other methods exist, but these tend to be the most commonly used. In deciding how I would monitor my training I simply decided to use an RPE of the session, however, not like the method listed above. Instead, I simply rated my workout on a scale of 1-10 based on how hard, or how much effort I put into the session. I would consider volume, strain, RPE of my main sets, how hard I pushed my assistance work and so forth. I realize this isn’t the most valid or reliable measure of training load, but it’s been working well for me.

To give you an idea of how I grade my workouts, see below. This will make interpreting the charts I attach below of my trends much easier.

Session RPE of 10 – 3 or more top sets for my main exercise, RPE of 9-10 for each set, high volume of assistance work (3+ sets to failure), complete exhaustion by workouts end. I have yet to perform a 10 workout and likely never will.

Session RPE of 9 – 2-3 top sets for my main exercise, RPE of 8-10 for each set, moderate volume of assistance work (2-3 sets not to failure), considerable fatigue at end but not exhaustion.

  • I’ll typically perform these workouts when HRV is above baseline

Session RPE of 8 – 1-2 top sets for my main exercise, RPE of 8-9 for each set, low to moderate volume of assistance work (1-3 sets not to failure), moderate fatigue at end

  • I’ll typically perform these workouts when HRV is at the lower end of baseline

Session RPE of 7 – 1 top set for main exercise with an RPE of 8 or less, low volume of assistance work with reduced weight, minimal fatigue at end.

  • I’ll perform this workout when HRV is below baseline with an amber indication (deload)

Session RPE of 5 – No main exercise performed, light weight, moderate volume

  • This is what I’ve been doing on Sunday’s to hit delts and arm’s since I don’t do much work for them during my main sessions on Mon-Wed-Fri

Session RPE of 3 – Active recovery work for 20-40 minutes. This can be in the form of light jogging, sled dragging, circuits, etc.

  • I try and perform these workouts the day after each workout to facilitate recovery and maintain an aerobic base level of conditioning

Session RPE of 1 – Leisurely walk for 30-40 minutes. This can hardly be described as a workout but it’s more than a zero so I will log it when it happens.

  • This happens sometimes instead of an active recovery session.. usually when I’m visiting my folks as we’ll take a lot of walks.

So as you can see there is no sexy formula (I’ve never been a math guy anyway), but I’m pretty consistent and I’ve noticed some fairly common trends in my recovery (based on HRV). Below I have attached a couple screen shots of my HRV Trends with Training Load (Session RPE ala Andrew Flatt). The purple bars reflect training load (9 being the highest you’ll see) while the horizontal trend is my HRV daily fluctuations with the blue line representing my baseline.

Observations:

  • See here and here for previous posts about observations I’ve made from monitoring my HRV
  • A session rated as 9 is almost always going to cause a pronounced drop in HRV the following day. This is why I don’t typically train on consecutive days.
  • If circumstance causes me to train two days in a row, I’ll use a Session RPE of 8. My HRV will usually drop moderately after the first workout out and drop even more after the second one.
  • During the passed 2.5 months I experienced approximately 16 instances where my HRV dropped enough causing an amber or red indication. The majority of these occurred the day after a session and therefore fell on a recovery day.
  • There were 5 days in which a red or amber indication fell on a training day and therefore out of the 2.5 months, I only deloaded for a total of 5 days. In the past I would typically take a week off after every 3 week cycle however with my new system of training I simply deload on a given day when my HRV is well below baseline.
  • The lowest dip on the graph (around 04/20) I purposefully trained harder than normal on a below baseline day (amber indication) to see how my body would react. The next day my HRV dropped even lower with a red indication. This, as well as other incidences from the past solidifies my stance that training hard when HRV is low delays recovery. You’ll see that it takes several days until my HRV gets back up to previous levels. This negatively effects future training sessions. In my opinion, it’s much better to reduce loads for one day to improve the effect of your following sessions as opposed to just training through a bad day and ruining the next few sessions. This is also what has inspired me to stop deloading at pre-determined times for pre-determined periods. There certainly is value in doing this as the body needs time to recover and adapt to weeks of hard training. However, with HRV monitoring, it seems (atleast to me, for right now) that you can get away with just reducing loads on days when HRV is low.
  • I’m presently the leanest I’ve ever been at my current body weight. I’m about 232lbs at 17%. The leanest I’ve ever been is 14.8% at 218 while the heaviest I’ve ever been was nearly 270lbs when I played collegiate football (I’m the ogre in purple below from back in 2006).

  • I’m presently the strongest I’ve ever been at this body weight.
  • I’ve been able to remain injury and illness free since using HRV to guide my training. I no longer experience any tendonitis in my elbows either which used to be a big problem.

Final Thoughts:

I realize that I may appear overly biased towards HRV’s usefulness in my writing. However, I feel that I’ve been training long enough to know when something’s all in my head (placebo) or when it’s actually making a difference. The science supports HRV (see here) and my experience up to and including the present also seems to support it. The whole concept of planning training in advance and sticking to it no matter what is not as effective as manipulating training on a day to day basis according to an objective measure of your body’s current adaptive capacity. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a general plan, it just means that you need to be prepared to make adjustments along the way to ensure the quickest and safest way to reach your training goal. HRV provides, in my opinion, the simplest and most accurate information to allow you to do this. I will continue with this method of monitoring and training since it has been so successful. I’ll be sure to provide another update in a few months.

Thanks for reading.

Training Log: Week of Feb. 27 – March 4 2012

Monday Feb. 27– Squat Day

Morning HR: 60.8 HRV: 78.8

HRV was within baseline so I proceeded as planned. This week I work up to a single.

Warm up: Sled pushes, Skipping, Dynamic Stretches, Mobility

Squat: (after warm-ups) 405×3, 455×1, 475×1, 510×1

The goal for today was 520. I definitely could’ve hit 520 but none of my sets felt right. I was fighting the bar a little and just couldn’t find my grove. Here’s my 2 heavy squats in the video. Clearly I could’ve had more weight on the bar, but I made a judgement call based on how it was feeling and decided to stop after 510.

Front Squat – 135×5, 185×5, 205×5, 135 for 2×5 – I still suck at these and I still hate them. Keeping at it though.

GHR: 2×8

Reverse Crunch: 2×12

Deep Step Up: 2×6/leg

Band Pull Down Abs: 2×15 with light band

 

Tuesday Feb. 28 – Rest Day

Morning HR: 65.2 HRV: 77.6 – Not bad for the day after a workout

I warmed up, foam rolled, stretched and did some sled dragging for 22 minutes. 2 plates on the sled.

 

Wednesday Feb. 29 – Bench Day

Morning HR: 59.5 HRV: 77.6 – I was surprised my HRV wasn’t higher with my HR being that low. HRV was within baseline so I proceeded with the plan to work up to a single. Last month I missed 385 at lock out. This pissed me off. I was supposed to do 375 but I got greedy. Today’s goal was therefore 375.

Warm – up: Same as usual.

Bench: (after warm-ups) 315×3, 355×1, 375×1 (between sets of bench I did some easy inverted rows on the gymnastics rings)

Military Press: 135 for 2×9, 2×8 – just wanted to beat last week (between sets I did some easy band pull downs with the average band)

DB Incline Press: 80’s for 3×9 – like last week I did these really slow on the eccentric and paused for about 2 seconds at the bottom.

Ended it there.

 

Thursday March 1 – Rest Day

Morning HR: 66.2 HRV: 76.2

Did my usually recovery work. Foam roll, stretch, and sled drags.

 

Friday March 2nd – Deadlift Day (currently not actually deadlifting until my back is 100%)

Morning HR: 57.4 HRV: 84.3 – This was unusually high HRV for me. This could be a good thing or a bad thing.. I’ll have to wait and see.

Bent Over Row – 135 x10, 185×10, 225×8, 255 for 3×8 – I put the bar on the ground between each rep to engage my hams and glutes at the beginning of each rep.

RDL: 225×10, 245 for 3×10 – These felt ok on my back.. need to be careful not to overdo it.

Weight Pull Up: 25lbs on the belt, 3×8

Supine Hip Thrusts: 225 3×10 – these were pretty easy, working up slowly so I don’t get too sore. I like being fresh for squats on Monday.

DB Row: 100’s for 3×11 – elbows flared to hit the upper back.

No farmers walks today, the soccer team had to get their workout started.

 

Saturday March 3rd – Rest

Morning HR: 60.6 HRV: 82.9 – This is another high score for me. I’m slightly concerned. I haven’t deloaded in about 2 months. I never used to go more than 3 weeks without a deload week. I’ve been experimenting with not taking deload weeks but rather deloading on a given day if my HRV is low. So far it’s been working great. My body feels good, libido is good, joints feel good, etc. For now I’ll just interpret this as good recovery.

Went in to the weight room to do some recovery work. Instead of sled drags I opted for a 25 minute jog in the Gymnasium. I did laps around the perimeter of the gym and up and down the steps of the bleachers. I felt great after.

 

Sunday March 4th

Morning HR: 60.5 HRV: 82.1 – HRV was again above 80 which is typically a good thing.

This has traditionally been a rest day but last week I did some assistance work for arms and delts since I didn’t get to it on Wednesday after benching. I liked it last week so I did it again today.

I kept the weight really light and set the clock to 40 second beeps. Just focused on time under tension. We’ll see if these workouts make my arms grow!

That’s it for the week. Proceeding with caution next week. Unusually high HRV can be indicative of overtraining or even an illness coming on. Since I feel good though I’m assuming that this is not the case. We’ll see.

Here is a view of my HRV trend over the last month. Keep in mind This was my second month not taking a deload week. There were two workouts that I had low HRV (both on consecutive Wednesdays/Bench days. Those were my only deload workouts.

Training Log from week of Mon Feb. 20th – Sun Feb 26th

From now on I will post one training log update every week as opposed to separate posts for each workout. This will make it much easier to see how my HRV fluctuates from day to day.

Monday Feb 20th

Morning HR: 66.6 – HRV: 77.3

Bodyweight: 224

HRV was within baseline so I proceeded with original plan which was to work up to a few sets of 2 with a weight I could do 3 reps with.

Warm up: Foam roll, sled, skip, dynamic stretches, some mobility… ready to rock.

Squat – 485 for 2×2

Front Squat – 185×6, 205×6 – I couldn’t get my groove on these so I stopped after that set.

Walking DB Lunges – 40’s for 2×11/leg                                                                                      Barbell Roll Outs – 2×6                                                                                                               *Superset

GHR – 2×10

Landmines – 2×10/side

Tuesday Feb 21st

Morning HR: 68.7 – HRV: 77.5 Higher than I expected after the squat day.

I did some foam rolling, stretching and 20 minutes of sled dragging. Forward and backward with 2 plates on the sled

Wednesday Feb 22rd

Morning HR: 61.3 – HRV: 78.3 Another baseline score which I was happy to see for bench day.

Warm up – same thing as last time

Bench – 340 for 3×3

The plan was to do 355 but the weight felt heavy today. This was probably because for the last 2 weeks in a row on Wednesday’s I had low HRV and therefore didn’t bench too heavy. The weight always feels heavy after a few workouts not lifting heavy.

Military Press – 135 for 4×8

DB Incline Press – 80’s for 3×8

I performed these really slow and paused in a deep stretch at the bottom. I was sore the next day.

I ended it here. I typically do some arms and delts, but wasn’t feeling it.

Thursday Feb 23rd

Morning HR: 68.5 HRV: 76.3 – heart rate was a bit high and HRV was a bit low. This is pretty standard for the day after a lift.

Did some foam rolling, stretching and some light sled work for recovery.

Friday Feb. 24th

Morning HR: 64 HRV: 77.2 – Within baseline

This would typically be my deadlift day but as I mentioned in my last entry for Friday I am temporarily stopping deadlifting until my back is 100%. My workouts now focus on movements that will help build the deadlift.

Warm Up – Same routine

Bent Over Row – 245 for 4×8

RDL – 185×12, 225 for 3×12 – these made my hammies real sore over the weekend. RDL’s didn’t bother my back so I’ll definitely be doing these again.

Weighted Chin Up – 25lbs on the belt for 1×9, 2×8

DB Row – 100 for 3×10 – kept my elbow flared to hit my upper back

Farmers Walks – Loaded up 2 trap bars with 135 on each and did 4 walks for about 20 seconds each. The turns are what makes these so difficult. I could walk straight with these for a long time but the weight room isn’t a mile long so I have to make frequent turns.

Saturday Feb. 25h

Morning HR: 64.1 HRV: 77.7 – A decent score for a day after a lift

Did some stretching, mobility and sled dragging. Nothing strenuous.. just got a light sweat and kept my heart rate up for about 20mins

Sunday Feb. 26th

Morning HR: 65.6 HRV: 76.1 – Expected HRV to be higher

I went in to the weight room to pump the arms and delts since I didn’t do them on Wednesday.

Nothing really to report, I used really light weight and focused on time under tension and strong contractions. I didn’t want to do anything that would affect my HRV score for squatting the next day. My arms were sore as hell today (Monday) which is awesome.

That’s it for that week.

Deadlift 02/17/2012

Thursday HR: 75.9 HRV: 69.6 – low because I pushed it a little too hard on Wed.

Friday HR: 67.8 HRV: 78.8 – Deadlift Day – workout below

Saturday: HR: 74.1 HRV: 69.1

Deadlift Workout: I have decided to stop deadlifting until my back heals to 100%. Deadlifting is the only exercise that really bothers it. In the mean time my Friday workouts are going to consist of exercises that will still help build and strengthen the muscles used in the deadlift. Here’s what I did;

Bent Over Row: 225 for 5×8 – Haven’t done these in forever. Kept the weight moderate to see how my back felt. Everything felt good! I want to get this lift real strong now.

Good Morning: 225 for 3×6 – These don’t bother my back at all for some reason. Kept the weight moderate because these tend to make my ham’s really sore. I want my legs fresh for Monday’s squat workout. I’ll build this lift up slowly over the next few workouts.

Weighted Chin up: 25lb plate attached to belt for 4×8
Barbell Hip Thrust: 135 3×10 – first time trying these, incredible glute exercise. I’ll load these up much heavier next time.
*Superset

DB Row – 100’s for 3×8 – kept my elbow flared out and rowed the db to my armpit to hit the upper back.

Farmers Walk: Loaded up 2 trap bars with 135lbs. Did 4 carries for about 20 seconds each. First time doing these. Really trying to build some grip strength.

My HRV today was really low as I mentioned above. I am pretty sure it’s because yesterday’s workout was very different from what I typically do. The new exercises obviously put a big stress on my body. I was expecting a low HRV score. I’ll rest today and tomorrow and should be good to go for Squat day on Monday.

Bench 02/15/2012

Tuesday HR: 67.9 HRV: 77.6 – Off Day – Did some light sled dragging to pump some blood in my legs

Today HR: 71.9 HRV 72.3

A low score today. I had a low score last Wednesday too. Two weeks in a row not benching heavy is rough! I typically don’t work up to 315 on a de-load day but I had to move something I didn’t have to be embarrassed about.

Here’s what I did;

Bench: worked up to 315 for 1 set of 5

Incline DB Bench: 80’s for 2×10
Chest Supported Row: 80’s for 2×10

Standing Barbell Triceps Extensions: 75lbs for 2×12
DB Curl: 50’s for 2×8

DB Laterals: 30’s for 2×10
Inverted Rows on Rings: 2×10

My HRV better not be low next Bench day!

 

Squat 02/13/2012

Sunday: HR 60.8 HRV 79.3 – Did some light recovery work (stretch, foam roll, skip)

Today: HR 66 HRV 78 – Squat Day

Squat: Worked up to 455 for 3×3                                                                                                    Some days the weights feel light and sometimes they don’t. Today they didn’t feel light. I only did 3×3 because my HRV was decent. Curious to see how my HRV responds tomorrow. (I’ll only post a video from now on when I do something worth posting)

Front Squat: 135×6, 185×6, 205×6, 225×6

Deep Step Up – 2×8 each leg                                                                                                                    Ab Wheel Roll Outs – 2×8

GHR – 2×10                                                                                                                                                       Reverse Crunch – 2×10

That’s it. Not great, not terrible.

Deadlift from 02/10/2012

Thursday Morning HR: 67.6 HRV: 75.9 – Rest Day

Friday Morning HR:61.6 HRV 81.1 – Deadlift

Saturday Morning (today) HR: 55.1 HRV: 82.3

Body weight: 223

Looks like deloading on Wednesday paid off. My HRV was still poor on Thursday but jumped back up for yesterdays Deadlift workout. I can definitely feel the difference physically when my HRV is poor and when it’s high.

Friday’s Workout looked like this;

Deadlift: 135 1×5, 225 1×5, 315 1×5, 36  1×1, 405 1×1, 425 1×1, 445 1×1, 465 2×1            I stopped there as my back started to act up a bit at this point. I’m anxious to put some more weight on the bar and move something decent but it’s just not worth a major set back if my back gets messed up.

RDL’s: 225 2×10

Chest Supported BB Row (pause at top): 135 1×10, 155 3×10                                                     Sit-ups on GHR: 3×10

Chin Ups: 3×10                                                                                                                                               GHR: 3×8

Overall, I was happy with the workout. I’m going to focus on strengthening my back to keep a solid neutral spine when deadlifting. If my technique is flawless usually there is no pain. This is a blessing and a curse. I had a big meal after and a great sleep last night. I was pretty surprised to see my HRV so high the day after a workout. I’m sure if I had done some heavier deadlifting with more sets it wouldn’t be so high. 465 really isn’t going to stress my body out that much.

Bench 02/08/2012

Morning HR: 77.6 HRV: 69.6

This was an unexpectedly low score. I measured it 3 times to be sure. I was looking forward to benching some decent weight today, but my HRV score put the kibosh on that plan. I woke up at 6am and tossed and turned for over an hour before I fell back to sleep. When I woke up again around 9:15am I had a mild head ache. I usually wake up around 8am. I knew at that point I probably wasn’t going to have a great HRV score. My HRV yesterday was great with a score of 81.2. Yesterday was a rest day though so I didn’t train. A possible explanation for the low score today is that normally I would be de-loading this week. This is my fourth week with straight lifting when typically I’d deload after 3.

Here was what I did in the gym;

Warm up: Skipping, Sled pushes, Dynamic stretching

Bench Press: 135 1×5, 185 1×5, 225 2×5                                                                                 Inverted Rows on Rings: 4×8

Pull Ups: 2×8                                                                                                                                             Dips: 2×10

Band Curls: 2×25                                                                                                                                     Band Push Downs: 2×25                                                                                                                            DB Laterals: 20’s for 2×10

The workout was less than 30 minutes including the warm-up. I ate a much bigger dinner than usual after because I felt I could use the extra calories. Curious to see what my HRV is tomorrow.