A common question I get asked about our Vertical jump Coaching service is "how many inches can I expect to gain?" Now as much as I would love to be able to say something specific like "9 inches in 8 weeks", the truth is there are so many variables outside of the workouts themselves that can have an impact on the results making such predictions is actually impossible (and to be blunt about this - people who do make such claims about specific results are lying to you).
You see, when it comes to athletic training each person IS different. Here is a list of just SOME of the things outside of the actual training program that can, and indeed do impact how much an athlete improves:
Custom Training: Sometimes the need for a custom training plan is rather obvious.
As many of you know my belief about ANY form of training is that from an actual programming point of view having a customized workout based on the individuals needs as they relate to a specific goal is the fastest way to get results.
This isn't a great revelation by the way, most good coaches and trainers would agree with this view. But even with a custom training program there are still all those other outside factors at play. The question this raises is how then do you account for them in building and designing workouts?
This is where Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training comes in! What exactly is HRV? In really simple terms HRV is the variability in the time between our heart beats. If there is a high level of variability in those times it essentially means that the parasympathetic nervous system is more active. If the variability is low it means that the sympathetic nervous system is more active.
What is the difference between the two? Well the sympathetic nervous system is the one that kicks into gear to creates a response when you introduce a stress into your life (such as a training session or a big night out on the town). The parasympathetic system works to negate those stressors.
Accordingly a low HRV score indicates that you are in a state of being stressed by something (workout, life, illness etc), while a higher HRV reading indicates we are feeling pretty good and can take on some more challenging tasks (in the form of harder, more intense workouts).
So now that we know the basics of what HRV is let's go back and take another look at those variables outside of a the program and see if we can find a use for HRV in our training. If you think bigger picture you will notice that all of the things I listed earlier share one thing in common. Age, gender, training experience, diet, genetics, lifestyle - all of these are factors that impact how quickly our nervous system can recover from the stresses in our lives.
Why is this important? Well for any athlete (and power athletes in particular), the central nervous system is the key to optimal performance. If you have been performing heavy squats or a high volume of depth jumps every day, the chances are your CNS will struggle to keep up with the demands you are placing on your body. When this happens athletes get sick, they get injured, they lose motivation, and their results can stagnate or worse, go backwards.
However imagine if you could quickly and easily measure how well your CNS had recovered and adjust your training accordingly. Well guess what, you can!
This is exactly what HRV based training is. Sticking with the simple terms, HRV training is the process of adjusting your training volume, intensity, load, etc based on your daily HRV score (i.e. The state of your CNS activity. Either it is in a stressed - sympathetic state, or a recovered - parasympathetic state).
So how does HRV training work? Well like everything else these days, it can be done using a smart phone app. You also need a typical heart rate monitor and a wireless HRV receiver to plug into your smart phone but these aren't hard to come by nor are they particularly expensive.
HRV training is essentially a 3 step process.
Step 1: Wake up, and take your HRV reading. It takes less than 5 minutes. Total.
Step 2: Depending on your HRV reading you adjust your training volume and intensity up or down.
Step 3: Get great results while minimizing time wasted through over OR under training.
I have been using a BioForce HRV kit since late March. Not only have I regularly set new strength PR's in my training, but since the middle of May I have also managed to lose 20 pounds in weight through regular sprint training and calorie restrictive dietary changes (both known CNS stressors), as well as a more conscientious approach to sleep. In that time I have not had a single injury, nor have I been sick, in fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say I have not felt this energetic and healthy in a long time.
Now granted, there will be a certain amount of this health and well-being attributable to the warm weather, healthier eating, and better sleep habits, but the real difference maker I feel has been the way I have catered my daily training loads based on my daily HRV readings.
Let me show you an actual example of how I have been using HRV training in practice. Below is a screen shot from my HRV readings over the past week. As you can I have been green for the past few days meaning I was recovering well from my workouts and life hasn't been too stressful.
If you look at yesterday's reading however it dropped 11 points and was now in the orange. Now the HRV score could have dropped for a number of reasons including new training stimulus (I upped the weight of my KB swings from 70lb to 100lb), broken sleep, or maybe it was for reasons unrelated to training.
In the long term it is a great idea to track the things in your life that could potentially be causing stress to your nervous system so that you can learn how your body responds and adjust your behavior accordingly, but in the immediate term it doesn't actually matter too much what has caused the drop. What does matters is that I needed to make a decision about how to train yesterday.
My original scheduled workout was another session in the gym but as it was still early in the training week I put that weights workout on hold and instead shot some baskets at the YMCA for 30 minutes, performed some low volume band resisted sprints for 10-15 minutes, and finished with 10 minutes of weighted core work.
The result of taking an easier day yesterday has my HRV back up a few points and into the green zone. Knowing I am now more ready to train allows me to head back into the gym and attack the weights again with confidence.
As you can see you still need to exercise a degree of judgement with HRV training. If for example it was a Friday and I knew I was having Saturday and Sunday off, I might've still gone ahead with my weight's session knowing a few days of rest were forthcoming. If I was still green but my glutes and hamstrings were really sore from the heavy swings I might also have modified my workout to account for that as well. The HRV score is a representation of the state of your CNS, not muscle fatigue and soreness.
Another modification I could've made yesterday if my HRV was still green would've been to INCREASE the workload. A week of successive green HRV readings indicates that I am probably not training hard enough and have capacity to do more. HRV training isn't only about knowing when to back off, it is also about knowing when to ramp up.
One other thing you might have noticed about my two HRV readings is that there is only a small difference in the actual scores yet one is Amber and the other is Green. The reason for this is the that the BioForce system has recognized that Tuesday represented an 11 point drop off while today was a stabilization and slight increase. What this means is that while the HRV score itself is an absolute figure (fitter athletes tend to have higher HRV scores), the Red, Green, and Amber ratings that the system provides are based on other factors including average HRV scores of the user and changes either up or down in the scores.
You can get great vertical jump gains from having a customized workout plan, but when you combine it with HRV and adjust your training sessions accordingly you can really streamline your training efforts to another level and get even better gains.
The way that HRV training allows you to quickly adjust your training load either up or down can be a very effective tool in order to both help minimize fatigue and injury, and optimize training loads and volumes to match YOUR ability to recover. The best results always come from having your training program customized to suit you, and if you are looking to take your training to another level, HRV is simple and effective way to help achieve that.
I am sure I will get asked where you can get a good HRV kit from so here is my response in advance. The main two places I know of that supply good HRV training kits are Ithlete and BioForce.
Both are excellent. The main differences I have found are that the BioForce measurement takes 2 minutes versus 1 minutes for the Ithlete. I also think the Ithlete app is a little better because it allows you to track a lot of other variables such as sleep quality, diet, mood, stress levels etc.
The big plus for the BioForce kit is that it comes with a truly fantastic book about HRV training that explains EVERYTHING you need to now including what it is, what measures, how to do it, how to modify your workouts and so on.
This HRV Training book by the way is easily one of the best books on the training and recovery process I have ever read (and that is saying something because I have read a LOT of books and journals). It is well written, easy to understand, and will add a lot of value to your training process.