As coaches, we focus on making training programs and practices to ensure that our athletes are in peak condition to perform successfully during competition. And, we often like to push the boundaries of our athlete’s level of physical capacities.
But in doing so, are the athletes ready for the next practice or training session? Have they recovered adequately? What is their level of ‘athletic wellness’ or readiness?
The Training Equation
There are two sides to the training equation – the workout and recovery. As discussed in the book Peak Performance, Growth = Stress + Rest.
Stress is the workout or practice plus all the other stressors in the 22 hours or so of the athlete’s life away from the gym and practice field. Of course, rest and recovery are part of this time away from training and is important for the coach to consider if growth and adaptation to training is to occur to its fullest.
When training occurs without adequate rest and recovery, there is ‘maladaptation’, diminished performance and an increased risk of injury and illness. In some cases, athletes can develop ‘overtraining syndrome’.
Athlete Monitoring 101
This leads our conversation into athlete monitoring. GPS technology like SPT can monitor the work load of the athlete but it is also important to know (and monitor) the other side of the training equation – how the athlete is coping with the stress of training (and other life events)?
Monitoring athlete well-being is essential to guide and inform training and to detect any progression towards negative health outcomes and poor performance. The options for monitoring athlete wellness range from time-consuming and expensive objective fitness and fatigue markers like jump tests, heart rate variability or recovery, cortisol, immune markers, etc. to quite simple and feasible paper-and-pencil surveys.
Many teams are relying on the latter –the subjective, perceptual athlete wellness or readiness surveys, which commonly include about 3-5 questions on sleep, fatigue, energy level, stress, mood and/or muscle soreness. Athletes complete each question by choosing from five responses on a Likert scale (e.g., 1 = terrible sleep, 5 = excellent sleep).
As an example, a study of collegiate football players which showed that “wellness may provide information about players’ capacity to perform within a training session and could be a key determinant of their response to the imposed training demands” used the following questions:
- “How SORE were you when you woke up this morning?” 1 = terribly sore, 5 = no soreness at all
- “How did you SLEEP last night?” 1 = terrible sleep, 5 = excellent sleep
- “How ENERGISED do you feel today?” 1 = no energy at all, 5 = totally energised
How can this information be collected and how often?
First, how often should it be collected? Have you ever had to complete a form on a daily basis? You got sick of it, right? And just started blindly circling responses! Yes, survey fatigue is a real thing. Therefore, it is recommended that the recovery and wellness survey be used 2-4x per week. And if you are to use it more frequently, it would be wise to progress to this mark.
There are several ways in which coaches have designed the survey and collected this information including hard copy paper-and-pencil templates, Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Google Forms – Adam Sullivan, and apps (Sportably, Athlete Monitoring, among others). In the end, it will depend on your time, your staff, your budget and your technology skillset.
Final Words on Recovery
Beyond monitoring, there is the question of – “ok, what can we do to promote adequate recovery?”. First, master the cornerstones of recovery – sound nutrition and sleep! Going into the details of both of these topics is beyond the scope of this blog and we will be addressing both areas in upcoming posts. In the meantime, 1) shop around the perimeter of the grocery store (fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, diary, and no packaged or processed foods) and 2) 7-9 hours of sleep per day including naps if needed.
And don’t forget to monitor training load and progressively increase and vary during the week and over the course of a season.