Mapping & Accelerating Recovery with Omegawave: HRV (Part 1)

Mapping & Accelerating Recovery with Omegawave: HRV (Part 1)

The Omegawave is an excellent way to monitor training—as a matter of fact, it is one of the few methods that really makes sense, since it takes multiple physiological systems into account.

Omegawave can also be used to test recovery measures. There is, first of all, the natural recovery that comes purely as a function of time: waiting until the athlete’s organism has recovered adequately for an optimal response to the next workout. If you only train once or twice a week, this natural course of recovery will be sufficient. If, however, you train every day (or multiple times a day), monitoring your recovery becomes an essential part of training. In these circumstances, athletes and coaches are frequently on the lookout for ways to speed up the recovery process.

The first question you have to ask yourself is: what do I want to recover? This is a crucial first step, since recovery is not one wholesale process—many physiological systems are used during a workout, and though all of them will recover eventually, they will do so at a different rate.

We define three big blocks of systems for recovery: the CNS (measured by DC potential), the cardiac system (measured by HRV), and the energy supply systems (both aerobic and anaerobic, analyzed by ECG).

Over the past 15 years, I’ve tested the effects of almost every possible recovery method. To simplify matters, recovery can be supported by:

1. active means (exercises)

2. passive means (e.g. manual & physical therapies, thermotherapies)

3. nutrition and supplementation

I am not saying other interventions can’t or don’t work, but those are beyond the scope of this post. Let me start with HRV as an expression of the cardiac ANS (autonomic nervous system). Again, keeping it simple, the following two specific cases are found most often in athletes:

1. HRV is too low: an expression of sympathetic over-activity and/or parasympathetic (vagal) under-activity.

2. HRV is too high: expressing a dominance of the parasympathetic system, and/or under-activity of the sympathetic system.

What does this mean?*

1. HRV is too low: a normal response to any kind of training, but the athlete should return to their baseline within a couple of hours (and certainly after a good night’s sleep). If the HRV stays low over an extended period of time, this could be a sign of overstrain—and, if continued, could lead to overtraining, yes: sympathetic overtraining. This is mainly seen in explosive events.

2.  HRV is too high: a common response to aerobic training with a low intensity and high volume, mainly found in aerobic/endurance sports. If this situation continues, this could lead to parasympathetic overtraining, where the athlete has a high HRV, a low heartrate, and recovers quickly, but has difficulty performing well at high intensities (competition).

*(For users of the Omegawave Personal & Coach solutions, the Recovery Pattern index indicates vagal tone: scores above the middle green zone reflect a too high HRV (overly parasympathetic) while scores below the middle green zone correspond to a too low HRV (overly sympathetic).

An important issue is to distinguish whether these possible states are a normal, temporary state (e.g. recovery immediately after training) or if the state has persisted over time and is becoming chronic, limiting performance. The last variable—performance—will tell.

What to do:

— 1.) If you decide (and the decision is always yours!) that the athlete’s HRV is too low and has been for too long, you might consider the following measures:

  • ACTIVE INTERVENTION:
  1. Decrease: high-intensity training loads (such as speed work, explosive exercise, power training, weights, high lactate work)
  2. Increase: low-intensity-aerobic training load:
    –    stretch or yoga for 20 mins
    –    low HR (<130 bpm) aerobic training 20-30 mins, preferably low-impact exercise: swimming (15-20 mins), rowing, cycling or running on a soft surface (grass, sand) in a park or forest area
  •   PASSIVE INTERVENTION:

–    massage therapy, long, slow strokes (effleurage)
–    sleep: increase by 1 hour
–    warm bath: 38-40 degrees (Celsius) for 15-20 mins
–    abdominal breathing: up to 4-6 breathing cycles per minute
–    use biofeedback: relaxing in general, respiration, heart rate and/or HRV

  • NUTRITION & SUPPLEMENTATION

–    hydration: increase water intake with 1 liter extra
–    increase carbohydrate intake by 10%
–    supplementation: omega-3 and magnesium help to increase HRV

— 2.) If the athlete’s HRV is too high:

  •  ACTIVE INTERVENTION (Guidelines):

–    decrease (aerobic) training volume by 20-40%
–    increase training intensity (HR or velocity) by 5-10%
–    less steady state work, more interval or HIIT

(In real life, this is a tough nut to crack. The Reason: when focusing too much on increasing training intensity and reducing training volume, the sympathetic system might get even weaker. But also doing more low-intensity, high-volume, aerobic work might not work since this might be the cause of this state in the first place! Just a few days of no physical training at all is an option now!)

  •  PASSIVE INTERVENTION:

It could be an opportunity to take time to work on mental training such as biofeedback, breathing, visualization, etc. Or work on some weak spots like feet muscles and abdominals, or stretch some shortened muscles and engage in other kinds of therapy. Perhaps this is the time to try out a new technique or implement a new tool or gadget. Ideal recovery environment for this state: seaside or the beach.

  •  NUTRITION:

–   increase protein intake to at least 1.5 gram/ kg bodyweight
Enjoy trying!


Henk Kraaijenhof has worked with elite athletes in many sports. He now works as an international performance consultant in a wide range of fields, including corporations, organisations, military and police. He is an international lecturer in these fields and the author of three books. He has used Omegawave technology since 2001, and his company Vortx is the distributor for Omegawave solutions in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.

Bibliography:

  1. Israel, S: Zur Problematik des Übertrainings aus internistischer und leistungsphysiologischer Sicht; Med. und Sport, Vol.26, No.1, 1976, pg.1-12.
  2. Lehmann, M; Foster, C; Dickhuth, H.H; Gastmann, U:   Autonomic Imbalance hypothesis and overtraining syndrome; Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol.30, No.7 1998, pg. 1140-1145