Technology continues to drive the ability for our common sports scientists (exercise physiologists, strength coaches, and personal trainers) to assess and prescribe exercise. However, are sports professionals taking advantage of this newly acquired potential? This week I had an opportunity to research and discuss methods and tools for evaluating and programming specifically for cardiovascular performance. I came across various options from polar heart rates to wearable technology such as the Microsoft band. And as I read, discussed and browsed through websites I thought about one question. Do such advances in technology particularly our ability to measure and assess factors such as cardiorespiratory intensity fit practically within our settings? And are these technological advances currently better resources than tools of the past?
After reading ACSM’s recommendations and suggestions for the various modes of exercise testing I started to think that maybe I might be missing the boat when it comes to providing appropriate recommendations for exercise intensities to athletes and/or clients. I had long forgotten of the tools such as the Karvonen formula or the VO2 reserve method which have been both described as more accurate than the “percentage of heart rate max” method. The percentage of heart rate max often seems like the most ideal way to evaluate or program design for a large number of clientele or athlete. It’s also relatively simple; we take an individual through a difficult session and determine percentages of their max. We know that anything above 90% of this intensity becomes intense and a range from 40% to 60% of this value can be described as moderately intense. However when it comes to application of this technique both experience and research suggest this to be an ineffective model. Using the HRMax technique makes it more likely for us to underestimate or overestimate intensities in our exercise evaluations or prescriptions. Additionally, we often see that the ranges for various individuals are large. One athlete may have a max heart rate of 200 beats per minute where another may have a max heart rate of 180 beats per minute and any sort of recommendation based on their max will result in largely different intensities even if they are provided the same workload. Gaining an understanding of their individual range from their rest to their max gives us a greater ability to accurately provide our recommended workload. By determining the range between their maximum and minimum heart rate we can multiply this number by various intensities and gain a better understanding of their true workload.
Technology now gives us the opportunity to determine these values with minimum invasion of space and time. Whereas in past years, exercise professionals may have relied on large expensive devices used to measure VO2 or uncomfortable heart rate monitors, today there are several convenient tools that allow for frequent use. The Microsoft band, a small wearable band that fits around your wrist and the various wearable fit tools can take measurements of heart rate not only at rest but in your sleep. Additionally, they can also be used for determining maximum heart rates during various exercise sessions. With this new found ability we can now give our clients or athletes wearable fit tools and take them through exercise sessions and gain further insight on each individuals range. Such information provides us with a greater understanding of individual performance.
However is this amount of information necessary in assessing or providing clients and athletes effective and progressive training programs? While there is much to be gained from knowing an individual’s heart range and maximum level of intensity it may be not necessary. The RPE scale has been shown to be just as an effective model for assessing and prescribing intensity and it is far less expensive. In 2004 Researchers at the University of Technology of Sidney, Australia demonstrated that session RPE was considered to be a good indicator of physical stress or intensity during soccer training. Researchers purported it to be a useful piece of tool for trainers and coaches. They also discussed certain limitations of wearable devices like the heart rate monitor. Wearing such devices are often precluded during competition or games making it difficult or impossible to know if heart rate training intensity during games have any relationship to the levels experienced during practice sessions. In contrast, tools such as the Borg Scale or RPE can be used anywhere with relative ease.
Technology continues to grow rapidly and each day it seems we are provided more and more information. Information that may be useful in helping us to know more about a person’s potential such as range in heart rate. As we gain these new tools it’s important that we develop a systematic approach for evaluation. We must first consider how these tools represent advancement. We must then ask if such devices are effective in providing information that we consider to be useful to our setting. Furthermore we must always evaluate whether these tools are better than those of our past. And lastly, it may be useful to think how technological advances can be used in conjunction with methods of the past.