New tools let users dive into data that shows them the sweet spot between optimum recovery and optimal effort.
It's getting easier than ever to encourage recovery and avoid injuries from overtraining—thanks to a new wave of apps, wearables, sensors and analytic software.
"These are real tools that are helping people to understand how, and when is the optimal time, to train," says Bryan K. O'Rourke, president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council and founder of Vedere Ventures in New Orleans. These innovations help explain why health and fitness mobile app usage grew 52% in 2015 (Flurry 2016).
Whether you work with elite athletes or new exercisers, you know the power of recovery in optimizing fitness training and health. Training too hard without proper rest can lead to injuries and illness. Yet if the training is too easy, it's difficult to achieve goals efficiently.
"Recovery should be built into everything that we do, from the set, circuit, [and] session, to the week, month, block and year," says Patrick Jak, coach and director of metabolic testing at Todd Durkin's Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. "When coaches and trainers structure workouts, we must not only consider [type of] exercise, sets and reps, or interval intensity and duration, but how to monitor recovery and how to use recovery to guide and modify the plan." The key is to identify the sweet spot of ideal exercise, rest and recovery.
Recovery technology can help. Let's look at some intriguing technologies with the potential to enhance recovery and training.
Recovery Management Technologies
Getting the best performance from the latest recovery tools requires the expert knowledge and experience of a personal trainer. Here are a few products you can use to enhance clients' training recovery:
Heart rate variability (HRV) monitors. These measure the time between heartbeats, a marker for autonomic nervous system activity. High scores mean more parasympathetic activity, which is associated with a rested state. Low scores imply sympathetic activity, meaning the body is still in a "stress" mode, which suggests it may be time for passive recovery or rest. Apps like Vitness Rx, SweetBeat HRV and the BioForce HRV use either a Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor or another transmitter device to measure HRV; plus, they provide logging and reporting options with training intensity, volume and/or rest recommendations.
"After decades of glamourizing training harder, going faster, being stronger, the [fitness] industry is fully embracing the technology behind training smarter," says Jessica Corbin, founder of Vitness LLC and co-founder of REVITA5 LLC in Venice, California. Smart training means using trackers, wearables and apps that support the science of stress and the art of recovery, Corbin says.
Heart rate monitors (HRMs). HRMs are now Bluetooth-enabled to digitize data and measure heart rate continuously—identifying training zones, resting heart rates and time to recovery. Some use chest straps, and others, like the Apple Watch, are wrist-based. Several HRM brands, such as Garmin and Polar®, also offer a version of HRV along with heart rate monitoring. Most include an app for tracking and charting data.
"I use HRMs to identify when exercisers are ready for their next interval," says Jak. "Watching how quickly their heart rate drops gives insight into their readiness. If it takes too long after aninterval for their peak heart rate to drop to their recovery zone, it's a sure sign of fatigue. This becomes a red flag that more recovery is necessary to avoid risking injury or illness.
"I also like HRMs to track waking and resting HRs. This gives insight into how the body has recovered from the previous day, week and even month of training. If waking or resting HR is creeping up from the typical baseline, fatigue is building. If [athletes go] too long without building in recovery days or days off, injury or illness can occur."
Power meters. These devices measure force and speed, translating that data into wattage, a measure of workload. Historically, meters were limited to bicycles, but technological improvements are enabling more indoor gym equipment—like rowers, bicycles and Keiser® pneumatic resistance training equipment—to measure wattage.
A new product called Stryd is billed as the first power meter for runners. It includes a wearable sensor pod that measures energy output and other data during a run. All the data gets tracked via the Stryd app, which runners can simply clip to their shorts. Wearable power meters for different activities should become available in the near future.
Experts agree that power meters are a game changer. Jak says, "Wattage records actual workload, which can reveal precisely when it's time to rest. For example, if power from interval two to three drops a certain percentage—regardless of whether exercisers want to continue—we tell people to stop work for the day. Simply put, if the body can't produce [power], then pushing won't help, but it can cause harm. Better to pull back and get after it when the body is fresh."
Jak uses software to analyze power meter data and create a performance management chart, allowing him to observe clients' intensity and training stress through rolling exponential averages over short- and long-term views. Since declining performance is an early indicator of excess stress, the software provides Jak with valuable data to prevent overtraining.
Personal health coaching systems. Systems of this kind use cognitive computing to process data, to enable self-learning and to identify and solve problems—giving comprehensive feedback that guides athletes on their rest and recovery. Under Armour® worked with IBM to create a cognitive coaching system powered by IBM's Watson that will be combined with the UA Record™ app. The app integrates data from monitoring devices like Polar, Misfit and Withings®, as well as the UA HealthBox™, which includes a UA Band™, a scale, an HRM, and memberships to MyFitnessPal Premium and MapMyFitness MVP. The program aims to assess and combine personal, physiological and behavioral data, nutrition, expert training knowledge and environmental factors (IBM 2016).
Another artificial intelligence tech product coming in 2017 is Vi from LifeBEAM, which provides real-time training advice through a bio-sensing headset that the athlete wears while training. According to its creators, Vi learns over time and analyzes real-time personal and environmental data. Vi can recommend proper energy levels, optimal rest times, challenges and limits. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kH5iXm8P5I&feature=youtu.be.
"These systems represent a whole new era of cognitive computing and AI in action," says O'Rourke. "Before, we focused on the physical thing, but now we add in info on rest, nutrition and more. Ecosystems are emerging that can deliver maybe 80% of the information and advice that it would have taken a team of experts to provide—and at an affordable price."
Benefits of Technology Solutions
Studies suggest that recovery strategies can make a significant performance difference, and that highly individualized strategies appear to be most successful (Meeusen et al. 2013). Given this backdrop, exercise technologies provide the following benefits:
Objective data and awareness. Having objective data, instead of relying solely on an individual's opinion, shifts the focus from simply "feeling tired" to seeing indicators that the body is stressed.
Individualized programming. HRV and HR monitors; power meters; and/orsleep, nutrition, daily activity and mood logs collect data that can be combined with user feedback on energy level and mental state. This enables a highly individualized understanding of people's performance metrics, so that programs can be modified before injuries or illnesses occur.
Motivation from results. An individualized program helps exercisers progress steadily without injury. Elite athletes, meanwhile, can push at the optimal level to overcome performance plateaus. Thus, everybody gets motivated to keep training.
Improved mind-body connection. The art and science of recovery are ultimately about optimizing personal energy use: figuring out how hard to push, when to push more or when to back off. Learning about recovery markers can help people connect more closely with the subtler physical signals that indicate a too-high threshold of physical and emotional stress is being reached.
"It's literally about 'trusting your heart,'" Corbin says. "With HRV technology, we're able to translate the messages of your heart so you can elevate your self-care through food, fitness and mindfulness practices."
Experts agree that technology offers tremendous opportunities to optimize training. But it also presents some challenges:
The need to track data over time and personalize strategies. Because recovery is individualized, the best understanding of data comes from tracking changes over time. Trainers have an opportunity to help clients identify the most relevant information and figure out how best to create strategies that address what they've learned.
Jak recommends using analytic software and looking at subjective aspects. "Objective numbers are only part of it. Specific periods during which an individual must push through and overload the system are required to create true adaptation."
Personal insight. At the end of the day, we are not machines. "Numbers are fine, but [trainers should] use the numbers to dig deeper, ask questions and get clients and athletes to journal about their thoughts, feelings and motivation," Jak says. "Sometimes those responses can provide insight into mindset before the technology can show the numbers that support that it's simply time to rest and recover."
Privacy. Security issues are important, because most data collected isn't protected by HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, notes Carol Torgan, PhD, FACSM, principal of Kinetics Consulting in Bethesda, Maryland. "Keep in mind that there are many issues about the data that's being measured, including exactly what is being collected, who owns it, whether it's being shared or sold and if so, to whom and for what purpose," Torgan says. "The more sensitive and accurate trackers become, the more they will reveal about the wearer's health and medical conditions."
Torgan predicts that trackers will keep getting cheaper and smaller, with more accurate sensors and better algorithms that allow more continuous monitoring of more physiological variables. "These will be combined with environmental measures, and eventually genetics, to create a more holistic story of a person's health journey—whether it's cycles of workout and recovery, maintaining wellness or managing a chronic condition," Torgan says.
Combining this data with cognitive computing, AI and analysis creates an even greater need to humanize what it all means and give clients more motivation and support. Fitness pros have an opportunity to use these technologies—with heart and with knowledge—to be powerful facilitators of personal achievement and transformation.