This study is the first of a few collaborations between Dan Howells and I involving HRV in elite rugby sevens players. Here we evaluated HRV and running performance responses to peak training loads during preparation for the 2016 Olympic games. A practical summary follows the abstract below.
Effects of varying training load on heart rate variability and running performance among an Olympic rugby sevens team
How do elite seven’s players respond to substantial increments in training load? Based on previous studies, we’d expect the weekly LnRMSSD mean (LnRMSSDm) to decrease and the coefficient of variation (LnRMSSDcv) to increase relative to baseline. We’ve observed this in collegiate soccer players and sprint-swimmers.
In contrast to this hypothesis, the players showed no change in LnRMSSDmean throughout two weeks of intensified training relative to a baseline week of low loads. LnRMSSDcv demonstrated a small increase during the first week of increased load (expected response) but then showed a moderate decrease during the second week of increased load, which involved greater loads than the previous week (unexpected response).
No change (or an increase) in LnRMSSDm and a reduction in LnRMSSDcv is typically observed when training loads are reduced. Less training stress results in less fluctuations in LnRMSSD. However, these players demonstrated less fluctuation in LnRMSSD despite significant increments in training load.
The discrepancy here appears to be related to how players are tolerating and adapting to the training load. We often assume that increased loads will result in fatigue accumulation and temporary negative responses. However, these elite players demonstrated no reductions in subjective indicators of recovery status during the weeks of increased load. Additionally, there was no significant decrement in running performance (maximum aerobic speed) mid-way through the intensified microcycles.
Thus, the preservation of autonomic activity (no change in LnRMSSDm) and less fluctuations (reduced LnRMSSDcv) seem to reflect a postive coping response to the training. In fact, individuals who demonstrated the lowest LnRMSSDcv during week 1 of increased load showed the most favorable changes in running performance (r = -0.74).
This is yet another study that demonstrates that reduced fluctuations in LnRMSSD (i.e., decrease in LnRMSSDcv) is associated with positive training responses in athletes.
The Practical Implications of the study were:
•When evaluated as a group, LnRMSSDcv may be a more sensitive training response marker than LnRMSSDm during training load variations among elite players.
•LnRMSSDcv did not display a linear dose–response relationship with training load. Rather, LnRMSSDcv seems to reflect an adaptive physiological response to the imposed training stimulus which may be useful for identifying individuals responding undesirably to training.
•Elite rugby players presenting large day-to-day fluctuations in LnRMSSD in response to training load variation should be monitored closely for performance decrements, particularly when nearing important competitions.