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Summary: What's worth monitoring?

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  • Will Hopkins
    I ve had a great response to my request about monitoring athletic performance. Here s a summary of the replies sent to me personally. I sent this summary to
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 1998
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      I've had a great response to my request about monitoring athletic
      performance. Here's a summary of the replies sent to me personally. I
      sent this summary to the senders first, to make sure they were happy with
      it. I've also edited and added the two replies sent to the list, so
      they're all in one place for easy reference. The message is over 10 KB,
      but I hope you will agree that exceeding our size limit is justified in
      this case.

      We need an overview. I might have a go after we've had a chance for more


      Brendon Downey <xtr15042401@...>
      [is a very practical sport scientist-coach who thinks, for example, that
      it's possible to measure things like stride length in subelite runners and
      devise workouts that attempt to change these towards the values of
      Olympians. His message opens up the issue of kinanthropometric/skills

      "Dr. Hofmann Peter" <Peter.Hofmann@...>
      Inst. of Sports Sciences, University of Graz, AUSTRIA
      ...We had the same experience that lab tests are not really useful for
      the regulation of the training of top athletes...
      Some ideas from our group about monitoring training in white water
      kayakers (race performance about 2 min)... Our training system is based on
      the heart rate performance curve (better known as the Conconi test)...These
      tests give
      an idea of the developement of the specific aerobic performance (kayak
      speed at anaerobic threshold and maximum performance in the incremental
      test) during the various training periods. Additionally, we evaluated
      the anaerobic threshold by means of lactate steady state tests ( 4 times
      5 min at the predeterimined heart rate threshold). We found steady state
      lactate in almost all cases except in the athletes overreaching the
      threshold indicating that the heart rate threshold (at least as we
      determine it) gives a lactate steady state indicating the upper limit
      for heavy endurance exercise. Additionally, we do (in the same test
      session after a break of 1-2 hours) a maximal test (about 2 min)
      including lactate measurements after the run (and 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th
      and 15th min of recovery) to get an insight in the specific "anaerobic"
      abilities of our athletes (maximal lactate, increase and decrease of
      lactate during recovery, decrease of speed during the 2 min run
      consiting of a number of laps through 3 gates). Beside these tests we do
      some tests with the same method (based on the heart rate performance
      curve and if necessary including lactate) on a flywheel ergometer
      specially adapted for kayakers (during winter training) or running field
      tests (if they do some running training during the preparation period).
      Of course we do standard strenght tests in the weight room (maximal
      strength, endurance).
      The system is working quite well, the problem is to detect overtraining,
      overreaching. We are now evaluating a heart rate based system (beat to
      beat measurement - Polar System Vantage NV) using heart rate variability
      (HRV). We try the same test as (I heard) is used in Finland - 5 min
      lying - 5 min standing - measure beat to beat HR and determine the HRV.
      Unfortunately, we have only little experience with this kind of test and
      I think it will need some time to bring it to a standard.
      As you mentioned some of the "usual" tests are rather expensive
      (catecholamines, ....) and a much greater problem to us is that they are
      invasive and therefore the use is restricted (we donĀ“t get a MD to the
      training every day).
      Our general idea is to find and develope diagnostic tools which can be
      used by the coach or even the athletes themselves - a heart rate based
      system workes quite well with some (well known) limitations (of course
      limited to sports that are at least in part dependent on aerobic
      As a remark I do not believe that lab tests are valid for top athletes -
      probably for beginners or younger athletes (we could see that the
      increase of performance could be detected in this group with both a
      running test in the lab and the specific tests on water - but again not
      in the highly trained athletes).

      Enid Brown <brown-e@...>
      Physical Activity and Sport Studies
      University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
      Your comments regarding lab/field tests finally
      struck a resonant chord in me. For over a decade I have been an
      advocate of field tests - but I have not always been a vocal
      advocate. For many of the reasons you describe, plus the expense and
      inconvenience of lab tests, field tests have appeared to me to be the
      only reasonble approach to regular monitoring. Unfortunately the
      apparently "simple" field test does not carry with it the panache and
      mystery of the sophistocated lab test. Perhaps there is an
      unexpressed fear that sport scientists would be out of work if just
      about anyone could perform athlete monitoring! The role I see for
      sport scientists is in the design and validation of field tests so
      that they, as closely as possible, mimic the demands of the sport
      performance while providing measureable, reliable results.

      Jay.T.Kearney@... (Jay T Kearney)
      ...Some laboratory monitoring has an inherent psychological
      value because it allows an assessment of status without requiring a
      maximum performance. For a high performance athlete the concept of
      attempting a "maximum" performance, especially if it is in or very
      near their competitive performance, is very threatening. There are
      also lots of sports where a single criterion performace test may not
      be indicative of the objective of the training period. I think there
      is still lots of room for our "inexact" markers of assessment...

      kirke001@... (Don Kirkendall)
      Duke University Medical Center
      You have touched on a topic that confounds many of us in the business. I
      have said that vo2max is like height and weight, just a descriptive measure
      of little importance or use. As for some of your specific questions:
      Heart rate monitoring
      European soccer (Dutch, some Scandanavians and Germans) have used those
      audiotape-paced shuttle runs to exhaustion once and take a pulse after some
      arbitrary sub-max run. they then repeat the test periodically to that
      submax run and take pulse again saving the athlete from going to exhaustion.
      Monitoring of overtraining
      Carl Foster champions a method of monitoring overtraining
      asking the athlete to use the RPE scale to rate the practice session. See his
      summary in MSSE recently on the method. He works with speed skating in the US
      and would guess they use the method.
      Time trials
      US cycling has used off and on a time trial (of varying distances).
      Pituitary hormones
      In Bjorn Ekblom's IOC book on soccer is a chapter on German monitoring of
      hormones in their athletes. Don't know just how much it is used in practice.
      Very expensive as you mention.
      We have developed a battery of field tests to look at the range of
      energy systems and have data on elite soccer players from U-12 through
      national team, men and women. Two tests are coaches favorites because the
      results seem to lend "objective" numbers to their gut feeling on the
      fitness of their players (300 meter shuttle and the "beep" tests). Others
      of the battery are more for general athleticism. For a description of the
      tests visit http://www.us-soccer.com/ then click on "coaching" and follow
      the link to "assessment of fitness" for information on the methods.
      I have come to favor some assesment of on-the-field
      performance. When properly motivated, the tests seem to be fairly sensitive
      changes in fitness. That first phrase ("When properly motivated") is the key,
      though. In the end, I work with ball sports which I think is mostly about the
      ability to recover fast rather than out-and-out endurance.
      What do you see or hear about in terms of training and assessment of
      agility. Big interest in ball sport coaches as that seems to be the main
      discriminator among and between athletes and from other types of sportsmen.

      Tom Switzer <tswitz@...>
      Yep, I agree about the VO2 measurements. They may have some
      applications with developing athletes, but are WAY too insensitive to measure
      minute changes, especially during the course of a season. They may be
      applicable to athletes coming off a long layoff going into a season. Lactate
      data is interesting. I've used a handheld analyzer both, in the lab and in the
      field. Lab results are comparable to bench assays. However, you need too much
      blood from a finger stick to get three usable drops for sampling, which also
      becomes cost-prohibitive at $2/strip. Additionally, field samples are easliy
      contaminated with sweat and grime, and again, most athletes don't like having
      sore fingers for days afterwords. It'd be nice to take an antecubital venous
      sample, but this poses legal considerations for us non-MD's. Maybe we could
      consistenly measure hydration status, as pernicious dehydration has
      detrimental effects on day to day training (at least in hot climes).
      Additionally, and I think most importantly, all the laboratory data is
      worthless if the athlete's head is not in the game. Motivational "concerns" are
      going to override physical performance changes. Can we eliminate potential
      placebo effects of such goodies as creatine or a shiny new bike?? Perhaps the
      most powerful ergogenic aid is a good shrink?!!
      On a similar topic, has anybody measured lactate, power output, VO2
      during motorpacing in cyclists? I have spoken to several
      cyclists and coaches who swear that motorpacing on the day prior to an event
      "primes" a rider more than any other pre-race prep. Physiologically speaking,
      the responses should be similar to that of riding in a big pack. Maybe it's
      the feeling of speed per unit effort which somehow "tricks" the body (placebo
      effect or psychosomatic?). The effects do appear to be real, as most of the
      riders who've prepared this way report, informally, that they feel ready, and
      their results support this...

      "John D Carney PA-S2, R.D., CNSD" <jcarney@...>
      I'm not certain if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but a
      while back, while reviewing literature on glutamine, I ran across an
      article which
      looked at glutamine levels in regards to overtraining. In addition, there
      was a glutamine article which addressed the countering effects of glutamine
      in regards to catecholamines...

      David Liow <liowda@...>
      ...One reason that I like VO2 max testing is that it scares lazy athletes
      (particularly in team sports) and makes them work harder in training.

      "Ebert, Tammie" <Tammie.Ebert@...>
      Tasmanian Institute of Sport
      ...with our rowing testing we [use] a submaximal testing approach where we
      have individuals work at an increasing intensity until they reach just
      over 4 mmol/L of lactate then the test is terminated. We are then able
      to plot lactate and heart rate versus power and determine the power
      output and heart rate at 4 mmol/L (also 2 and 3 mmol/L). We have found
      this test to be quite good at monitoring changes with training and have
      just completed some preliminary work in devising a similar test for
      This type of testing allows us to do it regularly without putting the
      athletes under the stress of a maximal test and it is quite sensitive to
      measuring changes after a month of training.
      I am also currently doing an assignment on VO2max and Lactate threshold
      as predictors of endurance performance. A large amount of the literature
      steers towards LT as a better predictor than VO2max due to the fact that
      it is close to the intensity that endurance athletes compete at. I would
      be interested if you had any research papers that you could recommend I
      source regarding this topic.

      p.pfitzinger@... (Peter Pfitzinger)
      UniSports Centre for Sport Performance
      University of Auckland
      ...[you wanted] information on the reliability of lactate measurement.
      Just happened to do my masters thesis on that topic. Please see:
      Pfitzinger, P. and P. Freedson. The reliability of lactate
      measurements during exercise. Int. J. Sports Med., 19:349-357, 1998.
      [I'm currently sorting through issues of the calculation of variability
      (coefficient of variation) in this paper.]

      David Rowbottom <d.rowbottom@...>
      School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology
      ...There is a reasonable amount of data to suggest that submaximal
      lactates may in fact be lower in an overtrained athlete. How can you then
      distinguish this athlete from another athlete whose performance is
      improved, and should also have lower submaximal lactates? In other words
      an improved performance and a reduced performance will produce the same
      result, rather than distinguishing them from each other. There is also
      very little data to suggest that submaximal heart rates are affected during
      I would support the notion of a time trial or competitive performance as
      the best option. Have a look at a recent paper from Urhausen et al. (1998)
      - MSSE 30, 407-414. They reported an endurance test at 110% anaerobic
      threshold in cyclists during normal training and after a period of
      intensified training. Despite a 27% reduction in endurance time to
      exhaustion (about 15 minutes instead of 22 minutes), there was no
      difference in submaximal blood lactate or heart rate after 10 minutes of
      the test, no difference in peak power output during a separate incremental
      test, and no difference in 10s or 30s anaerobic power output tests. If
      none of the usual physiological measures can account for the reduction in
      performance, should we be measuring them to check for overtraining?

      Mark Sutherland <perform@...>
      ...It may be worth checking this page out:
      [It sure is. This is one of the pages at the valuable Coaching Science
      Abstracts site http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/dept/coachsci/intro.html,
      maintained by Brent Rushall and Robert Carlson.]
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