Heart Rate Variability (HRV), The Warm-up, Cryosaunas and Recovery

Tuesday Training Tip Every week, ithlete will cover general questions on training and recovery, as well as specific best practices with Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

If you have a general question or a specific question on how to use ithlete you can email ithlete.support@myithlete.com.

Question 1: I seem to struggle in the trials and practice, even during taper periods. I have experimented with different warm-ups and don’t know what I should do differently to ensure I move onto finals as I am usually seeded 6-10th each week. I run the 100m but have a 200 and 400m background. Any ideas?

Answer:  A lot of different possible variables could be the culprit here. Most likely it’s the configuration of the week and I suggest using the same structure for a month and see what could be the problem with a process of elimination and trial and error. It’s not an exact science but the easiest way to get started is the sequence of workouts during the week. Many times the ingredients are correct but the order is wrong. Another possible tweak is the volumes of the sequence of choice. Finally look at the entire block or theme of the month and see if the plan is allowing for good racing. Sometimes a speed development block shows itself later as it creates a fatigue debt to the body.

Another problem I am seeing is that athletes are not warming up hard enough because conditioning seems to be less popular as athletes in the 100m tend to be less classically trained with a foundation of general fitness. Instinctually athletes tend to warm-up less if they are less fit, and the results reveal this. Many athletes think they are technically making mistakes in the races (coordinative degradation) but the primary reason is that no potentiation from some build up sprinting was not done. Don’t be afraid of getting tired, but be waiting perfect feeling as you could do too much. Just enough to taste the speed but not enough to get full.

Finally, athletes with great facilities and programs that include external equipment or the same meet schedule year after year tend to get stale or are hopelessly dependent on medicine balls throws and weight lifts to get going. This is fine for early training periods but coaches need to remember rehearsal should be similar to meets. If you need certain modalities and they are not available at athletic meetings (track meets), you will likely to have problems early in the rounds. Try experimenting with the above options and see what works with you with a training diary.

Question 2:  I saw Kobe Bryant talking about cryosaunas on ESPN and I decided to experiment with going to one and seeing if it made a difference in my HRV. I use Kubios and found a great reading immediately after but later that night I didn’t feel better and got sick. I play D1 soccer in the south and wanted to help my recovery from a busy training week. The price of the application is extremely expensive and I have to drive 90 minutes to get to the clinic. What can I do differently?

Answer:   Very good question. HRV is starting to make progress as an indicator of effectiveness of therapy and recovery, not just training load. Commercial cryosaunas are often not rooms (cryochamber) but freestanding barrels. While the brochure may say total body, it’s more of a torso and upper leg application. This means that the most important area, the receptors of the skull, are not getting the same sensations of a room. The immediate response of a commercial system will create a very rapid change but the effects are not lasting. One important point is that recovery methods are often sparks of stress to create a natural internal response, and too much or the wrong timing will backfire, especially when an athlete is financially stressed and driving long distances to get treatment. Biochemically the cold will not cause immunosupression, but chronic inflammation and life stress could be the reason you got sick.

Cold Water Immersion (CWI) has lost interest because of mixed reviews from the scientific literature and the rise of cryosaunas and cryochambers, but CWI still has use when athletes are in competition periods. College and Professional sports usually have competition periods based on commercial incentives, not ultimate performance, especially in the United States and Western Europe. Buchheit and colleagues1 stated in their conclusion that:

"The present study supports the likely benefits of using of CWI before and after supramaximal exercise performed in the heat. When used after a single exercise session, CWI significantly restored the impaired parasympathetic function to almost pre-exercise levels. Thus CWI may serve as a simple and effective means of accelerating parasympathetic reactivation during the immediate period following supramaximal exercise."

I would drop the drive and think about using conventional ice baths and save your money. Some athletes benefit from them while others may not respond well. I suggest taking your HRV scores in 30-90 second samples every hour for 6 hours to get a indicator of what your own unique body does.  Remember to rotate the use of it with other complimentary therapies such as soft tissue treatments and training off site to prevent staleness or training monotony.

1. Buchheit M, Peiffer JJ, Abbiss CR, Laursen PB. Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 296: H421–H427, 2009. First published December 12, 2008; doi:10.1152/ajpheart.01017.2008

  • This is great JImson to have this kind of information available to the track community! HRV is still relatively unknown and the word needs to get out there as to its usefulness in measuring recovery and stress tolerance.