How heart rate variability may revamp the training methods for professional and amateur athletes alike.
Over the last several years, technology has invaded nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Our cell phones give us access to high speed internet anywhere at anytime, our cars use GPS and talk to us to give us turn-by-turn directions to wherever we want to go, and we can carry around thousands of songs or dozens of movies on iPods and other pocket-sized devices.
Just about any way you look, technology has dramatically changed the way we communicate and the speed in which information travels. The one area that technology has failed to have any real impact is in the way people train. Even as the sport of MMA continues to evolve from the early days of fighting—with no time limit, no gloves, and next to no rules—the way most fighters train has changed very little.
Day in and day out, fighters go to the gym and hit the bag, spar, roll and train with an intensity rarely matched in any other sport. Most take pride in their hard-nosed approach, and the daily grind of such training has become a hallmark of training to be a fighter. This is how combat athletes have trained for centuries and how they still train today.
As countless fighters have found out the hard way, this relentless intensity invariably takes its toll on the body sooner or later. In just the past year, more than one main event fight has had to be cancelled because one or both of the fighters have been injured during their training camp. It’s becoming a rare occurrence to have an entire card where at least one fighter doesn’t have to pull out due to injury. It’s no coincidence that many of the fighters suffering such injuries have been in the fight game the longest.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Ironically enough, the technology that offers the power to give combat athletes a way to see better results and stay healthier has roots that date all the way back to the 1960s and the space race. Back then, the Russians were looking for effective ways to train their cosmonauts and measure the stress on the body while functioning in space.
In their search, a simple and non-invasive technology known as heart rate variability (HRV) emerged as an important tool in revealing how much stress the cosmonauts were under over the course of their training. This same technology gained awareness in the west in the 1970s and 80s, but its use was primarily limited to clinical research and medical applications. The Russians, however, had already begun researching how this technology could be used to monitor the training of elite athletes, and several years were spent developing a system for exactly this purpose.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Heart rate variability, or HRV for short, is based on a simple measurement of the rhythm of your heart beat at rest. Contrary to popular belief, the heart does not beat with a steady pattern like a metronome, but rather with a natural variation in the time frame from one beat the next. The reason for this is because when we exhale, our heart beat slows down, and when we inhale, our heart rate speeds back up.
This constant push and pull on the heart rate leads to a natural variation in the pattern of our heart rate as can be seen in the image below. Each of the blue lines represents the amount of time between heart beats and at rest. The pattern of this variation reveals if the body is under stress or recovering from it or in a well-rested and healthy state.
During periods when the body is under stress, such as during intensive training or recovering after your workout, this pattern dramatically changes as the body increases the heart rate while simultaneously decreasing the natural variation that’s seen during more rested states. In such periods of stress, a much flatter pattern can be seen in the heart rhythm, and the heartbeat more closely resembles a metronome.
When the body is exposed to long periods of intense training and it accumulates fatigue, the heart rhythm is also different, and the variation is increased well above of the natural variation that’s seen in a healthy and well-rested state. The large fluctuations, seen in the image below, reflect the body’s attempt to rest and recover back to normal in the face of the daily grind and the stress of hard training.
By analyzing the pattern of the heart beating at rest, HRV technology is able to provide an inside look at how well you are recovering from your training. If you are training more than your body can handle and headed towards overtraining, HRV is able to detect it and provide you with the necessary feedback so that you can make changes before you overtire and end up injured.
In many ways, training to improve your fighting skills, fitness, and overall performance is a delicate balancing act. If you push yourself too hard, you can over train and run your body into the ground. If you fail to train hard enough, you can end up stuck in a plateau and train for months without seeing any real improvements. Heart rate variability helps you walk this fine line and push yourself to your body’s limits without going over.
Using this approach, heart rate variability makes it possible to get better results, often with less training, because you can optimize your training in a way that’s never been possible before. Legendary MMA Trainer, Matt “The Wizard” Hume advocates this new approach: “Old school training methods were to just train as hard as you can…try to gain every advantage by being tougher than your opponent. The evolution has been that now we monitor the systems in the body. We try to steer away from overtraining, as well as making our guys train hard. We still have that attitude that we want to train harder than our opponents, but we also have the attitude that we want to train smarter as well. HRV technology takes away the questions that the athlete has and the guesswork that the coaches
The UFC’s Tim Boetsch has been using HRV technology for over a year now and relied on it as he dropped down to the middleweight division. He wanted to make sure the extra stress of dropping weight didn’t have a negative impact on his training, and after trying HRV technology, he was very pleased with the results. “I wasn’t getting sick as much, I was just getting great results. Everything has gotten better. I know that when I step into the ring, I’m ready to go. My
conditioning is far better, my state of mind is better, and I’m just a far better fighter all the way around because of this technology.”
THE FUTURE OF TRAINING
In large part, the advancement in technology is about information. Better technology means having access to more information and having access to it faster and more conveniently. In the coming years, the technology of training will continue to advance and heart rate variability is just the first of this next generation of personal devices that offer powerful information to help athletes and coaches make smarter training decisions and guide the training process.
Thirty years ago, this information was only available to elite Russian athletes and cosmonauts. Just a few years ago, heart rate variability systems cost up to $35,000 or more and were only used by the biggest sports teams in the world. Today, this technology is available on smart phones for less than the cost of a typical heart rate monitor.
The future of training is about using information that can help you train smarter, rather than harder. With the right information, it’s possible to get better results in less time and avoid the constant injuries and that feeling of being run down and overworked that’s all too common in combat sports.
The use of technology—such as HRV—represents the next step in the continuing evolution of MMA training and finally gives combat athletes a way to take their training out of the Dark Ages and into the 21st century. HRV provides fighters with information that helps them train as hard as they should, not as hard as they can. Just because the sport is about fighting, that doesn’t mean it has to beat you up.
HOW YOU CAN USE IT
BioForce HRV is a revolutionary new heart rate variability system designed specifically for hard working combat athletes. Utilizing a heart rate monitor and your smartphone, it gives you an accurate measure of how well you’re recovering in just 2.5 minutes. This allows you to optimize your training on a daily basis which translates into better results in less time. BioForce HRV has been used by MMA stars such as Tim Boetsch, Rich Franklin, Bibiano Fernandes, Demetrious Johnson, and many more. To learn more, visit www.bioforcehrv.com