It seems as though every day we hear more and more about training plans based on the particular needs of an individual. Word is getting out on how group training might not be the best option. Fact is, fitness gains can be maximized with proper assessment protocols and well thought out program design. However, one thing that is often overlooked by most athletes and coaches is MONITORING.
Monitoring is, by definition, to observe and check the quality of something over a period of time. This is not to be confused with evaluation, as in what we look at during testing periods. When I talk about athlete monitoring, I’m referring to gauging the individual’s physiological response to training day in and day out. While these two (monitoring and evaluation) often go hand in hand, it’s important to establish the difference between them and understand the importance of each.
Evaluation is rather simple, as it is results oriented. It gives us an objective look at what is going on. For example, a twenty pound increase for a squat and a three second improvement on a 500-meter row is proof of how an athlete has gained absolute strength and improved his or her lactic endurance capacity.
Monitoring, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to grasp, as it involves the effect that training is having upon the person at a physiological level. In other words, it pertains to what a particular dose of training is doing to the body’s internal function. Some of these indicators are easily measurable, such as resting heart rate (RHR), bodyweight (BW), urine color or pH, and heart rate variability (HRV). Other factors, however, are more subjective, such as sleep quality, rate of perceived exertion and muscle soreness.
An abundance of research has been done on the implications that all of the mentioned indicators have on training and recovery. Nevertheless, we will not get into them as they could go well beyond the scope of this article. What IS important is that coaches and athletes realize that they should be looking at these as if they were looking at a car’s dashboard to make sure that levels are where they’re supposed to be. One might then ask: “So, where is my RHR supposed to be?” or “What is a good HRV score?”
This is where it gets a little tricky. Yes, there are numbers that correlate to top-level performance athletes and can be used as indicators of fitness. However, I wouldn’t be overly concerned with a number value in itself, but HOW those particular numbers are affecting the one particular individual in question. In other words, how is this person performing when numbers are at a certain level, and is he/she better or worse when they fluctuate? If we can measure an athlete’s response to training, then we can match physiologic state to high performance and try to replicate those conditions. We can look at what training volume and intensity was like when RHR, HRV, and BW were at certain values. We can look at how many hours of sleep yielded the best performance results. We can look at what the athlete’s nutrition was like when he/she was smashing PR’s. As coaches, it could help us rearrange priorities within a training program to make sure that we are setting the athlete up for success.
From a health standpoint, we could see a certain shift in numbers as a sign of that body getting sick. We could assess the effect of certain foods. We could gauge hydration. We could see certain symptoms as signs of overtraining. The benefits go on and on. This is a tool that could up the game of any coach, and it’s incredibly easy to do.
The first step is thinking about what you want to monitor. It could be HRV alone, or it could be a combination of elements. It’s up to the coach to establish which indicators to look at and most importantly why they will be looked at. After that, set up a simple spreadsheet, establish measuring protocols, and begin. Here’s an example of what I use and how my athletes log results:
The key to all this is consistency. You can set up a fancy spreadsheet, or use one of the multiple programs out there, but it’s up to the athlete to take the time every day to assess the current state of his/her body. This information is probably not something that will be useful within a week. It’s something that should be logged for months before we can start to observe useful patterns.
We tend to grade a training program based on results. For the athlete, it’s about whether or not we got there. For the coach, it’s about how fast and efficiently we got there. Athlete monitoring could go a very long way in providing information on the impact that training is having. If we could know what the optimal physiologic state is for an individual, we could take the faster route to achieve optimum performance or whatever the desired goal may be.
By: Enrique “Henry” Toraño – Aggressive Fitness