Why should you monitor your athletes? In short, systematic monitoring of the training response allows us to measure the effectiveness of training and make decisions on how this will be amended or updated going forward (McGuigan, 2017).
This section will introduce you to using Firstbeat Sports, describe some of the basic theoretical underpinnings – the why’s – and explain the practicalities of using Firstbeat Sports – the how’s.
- Getting Started with Firstbeat Sports
- Heart Rate Variability Explained
- First Steps – Background Information and Zone Setting
- Monitoring Training Load
- Live Monitoring and What to Look For
- Monitoring Recovery: Quick Recovery Test
- Monitoring Recovery: 24/7 Recovery Assessment (Premium Feature)
1. Getting Started with Firstbeat Sports
Before you can log in to the Sports Cloud to create your athlete profiles and start monitoring you’ll need to complete the registration process. You should have received an automated email inviting you register. If you have not received this first check your junk/spam email folder, otherwise please speak with your account manager.
When you log in for the first time you will be taken through the setup wizard which guides you through the essentials to get going.
More detail on this is available in the Help Center
You may also want to add some more coaches to your account, allowing colleagues to have their own login credentials. We also advise this from a data security perspective as you won’t be sharing passwords and can have more comprehensive control over which individuals have access to your data.
Full instructions can be found here
2. Heart Rate Variability Explained
Using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in our advanced algorithms is what makes Firstbeat Sports different and allows us to provide another level of analysis for you.
But what is HRV and why is it important? Firstbeat uses HRV as a window to map underlying physiology, to see what’s really going on in the body.
Your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is continually making tiny adjustments in order to meet the demands of life, whether that’s simple day-to-day tasks like walking the dog or talking on the phone, right through to physical exercise and high-end athletic competition. This results in constant variation in the time difference between each heartbeat. It is this beat-to-beat variation that is HRV.
There are lots of factors that can influence an individual’s HRV, such as:
- Inhalation and exhalation, control of breathing
- Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) adjustments
- Hormonal reactions
- Metabolic processes and energy expenditure
- Physical activity, exercise, and recovery from physical activity
- Movements and changes in posture
- Cognitive processes and mental load
- Stress reactions, relaxation, and emotional reactions
What does this mean for Firstbeat Sports?
By using HRV, we’re able to provide metrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to obtain outside of a laboratory environment – and give you access to these measures within a couple of percentage points accuracy of the gold standard lab tests.
These include; EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), our unique Aerobic and Anaerobic Training Effect metrics, and calories burned from carbohydrates and fats.
These metrics bring a whole new depth to the analysis available to you on a daily basis and are at the forefront of heart rate variables analysis.
For more of an overview on what Firstbeat Sports can tell you and how to use the data, you can refer to the Interpreting Training Data or Glossary sections of the Learning Center.
3. First Steps – Background Information and Zone Setting
When you’re getting everything set up it’s worth spending time making sure your system defaults and background information on each athlete is correct.
For most users, the default Heart Rate Zones will be sufficient. However, if you already know that you like to use different zones it is wise to edit the default settings before starting your monitoring program. It is possible to update them after you have set up your athletes, but this requires doing so on a one-by-one basis.
Generally, the same zonal thresholds for everyone will be fine and we recommend doing this unless you have specific data from which to set zones individually such as anaerobic threshold testing.
If you know a true maximum heart rate (HRMax) enter this before you begin monitoring any activity as this is key for a number of the calculations within the system. If you don’t have a measurement for the maximum the system will input an estimate based on age, so a correct Date of Birth is key here. While it is possible to go back and retrospectively recalculate any sessions with an incorrect HRMax it will be a time-consuming process.
You will also need to set the Activity Class correctly. This is integral to the Training Effect calculations so it is important to get them correct. In team sports, it may be suitable to set each athlete to the same level as they’ll be a broadly homogeneous group.
4. Monitoring Training Load
One of the most common questions from those new to monitoring their team’s training is, “What should I monitor?” The short answer is as much as you can!
Of course, this will vary depending on your specific circumstances but try to at least capture each of your main sports sessions for every athlete and any supplementary conditioning sessions that you also prescribe.
There’s limited value in only monitoring a handful of your athletes as you won’t be able to generalize this across the whole group. For example, you may pick particularly high or low responders to training, meaning you could easily over or underestimate the load placed upon the group as a whole. Similarly, if you swap the athletes that you monitor every session you will have gaps in your longitudinal data, which means you won’t have a complete picture of any given athlete and their respective training status.
Once you begin collecting data you will want to learn more about how it is interpreted and what some of the metrics mean. Further information on this can be found in the Interpreting Training Data section of the Learning Center, or refer to the Glossary for an overview of our metrics.
5. Live Monitoring and What to Look For
Live monitoring lets you keep track of how your athletes are responding to your training sessions in real-time as it happens. This gives you the information to not only adjust your training plan between sessions but also during them, meaning you can be even more reactive to the needs of the athletes.
With our Firstbeat Sports: Coach app (for iPad) you have access to a multitude of key variables during an activity. Which ones you choose to focus on will depend largely on the aims and objectives of your session. This is one of the key points to keep in mind when live monitoring a session, be it the whole group or watching specific individuals – you must know what the desired outcome is.
Clearly, if you are monitoring during competition you may be restricted on what you can do to manipulate physical output, but it may help inform you on decisions regarding substitutions and strategy depending on the rules of your specific sport.
6. Monitoring Recovery: Quick Recovery Test
The Firstbeat Quick Recovery Test (QRT) is a snapshot HRV assessment that provides you with an insight into an athlete’s recovery status and training readiness.
HRV is quantified as the Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences (RMSSD), which essentially means a quantification of the degree of variation during the measurement. The RMSSD, along with the average R-R interval over the course of the measurement are taken and transformed to a percentage score indicating how well recovered your athlete is.
Ideally, this test would be completed every day roughly 10 minutes after waking but we acknowledge that this is now always possible or practical. Therefore, we recommend conducting the QRT on as many days as you are able to do so with your athlete(s), and with a consistent protocol. For example, if your athletes always arrive at your training facility at the same time then do it within that routine.
Remember, if you are conducting the test at different times of the day this will reduce the reliability of your results. If you normally collect the data when athletes arrive in the morning before training it’s probably best to skip the test if you switch to an afternoon training session on one day.
The ideal posture for athletes conducting the QRT is supine (lying face upwards). We know this isn’t practical for every group and conducting the test from a seated position is also acceptable. Consistency is also key here. Do not swap between seated and supine, stick with whatever you decide to go with the first time you conduct the test.
7. Monitoring Recovery: 24/7 Stress & Recovery Assessment (Premium Feature)
“The players spend typically 4 hours a day with the team, but now we wanted to find out how the remaining 20 hours of the day affect their bodies. We expect professional attitude, motivation and leadership 24 hours a day from the players.”
– Erkka Westerlund, Head Coach, Jokerit Helsinki Ice Hockey Team, KHL
Firstbeat Sports also gives you the opportunity to capture stress and recovery data for your athletes when they are away from the training facility. After all, your athletes spend most of their time away from you, and what they do during that time can have a significant impact on their ability to perform.
So, while we do not suggest you try to capture every minute of every day, it can be useful to do a 24/7 assessment now and again to help your athletes live their lives as a professional a little better and reap the rewards on game day.
This data along with the visual way in which it is presented can be very powerful for initiating behavior change, and these changes (big or small) can have powerful effects on an individual’s stress-recovery balance.
“We used the Bodyguard 2 to see how long-haul travel and changes in time zones can affect the athlete’s recovery. We wanted to see how long it takes to re-establish the ´norms´. The information we received informed some of the decisions surrounding when we went to PyeongChang for the Winter Olympics.”
– Jai Geyer, Coach for Dave Ryding, Team GB Olympic Skier
Not only can the 24/7 Stress & Recovery Assessment give you insights to help athletes on an individual basis, but it can also provide the data you need to refine your training schedules. A great example of this is the effect of travel. By looking at the stress and recovery patterns after competition and travel you can see if extra recovery time is required. In turn, this can allow you to mitigate increased injury risk during hectic periods of the season and make training sessions more effective.
When analyzing and interpreting 24/7 Stress & Recovery data there is a lot to consider. For a more in-depth look at what this data means and how it can be used you should refer to Chapter 2 on the Interpreting Recovery Data section of the Learning Center – 24/7 Stress & Recovery Assessment.