ALLOUT Performance: Making Better Decisions

Based in Germany, ALLOUT Performance’s team of coaches, scientists and medical personal specialize in organizing the training process for a broad range of clubs and sports federations. Going beyond a standard consulting role, ALLOUT places a full-time performance coach with each of their member teams, a roster that currently includes the German Olympic Committee, the Women’s National Basketball team, and ice hockey teams including Grizzlies Wolfsburg and Klagenfurt AC.

Shortly before Wolfsburg challenged heavily favored Red Bull Munich in the finals of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (and after which ALLOUT-connected coach Mike Pellegrims was promoted from an assistant role with Wolfsburg to head coach at Klagenfurt), we had the opportunity to speak to Gerrit Keferstein, Founder and Performance Director of ALLOUT Performance.

Omegawave: Based on your experience as a coach and consultant for multiple athletes in multiple sports, what are your thoughts on monitoring external versus internal loads?

Gerrit Keferstein: The way we look at it, to make a good decision for the upcoming training or restoration strategies, we need to weigh INPUT versus OUTPUT.

INPUT is everything we throw at the athlete. This stress load can be measured externally (GPS, Accelerometry, weights, reps, speeds, heights, etc) and/or it can be measured internally (heart rate, lactate, temperature, oxygenation, etc).

OUTPUT is the athlete’s response to a previous input—and this only works with a baseline. For example, you measure jumping ability before training, then train, and on the next morning you measure jumping ability again. This monitoring process can be done with established monitoring parameters like jumping, grip strength, HRV, resting heart rate, urea, etc.

Now, a certain INPUT should always lead to a certain OUTPUT, meaning a defined training session should lead to a predictable amount of fatigue in the different bodily systems on the next morning. At least, it would be great if it would. Programming would be so easy! Unfortunately, training is not linear like this.

The factor that we often forget is the thing BETWEEN input and output: the athlete.

Every athlete at every point in time has a unique internal environment, made up of the status of the central nervous system, autonomic regulation, their hormonal system, and many other systems working in concert. To keep it simple, when talking to athletes, I always refer to this unique functional state as the athlete’s “stress reservoir.” Sometimes that reservoir is full; sometimes, it’s empty.

And, depending on the internal environment during the time of training, the athlete’s response to that training will be different. Sometimes, the same workout might leave you SHOT the next morning (this training had a high cost); and, sometimes this same exact workout will leave you fresh the next morning (this training had a very low cost).

THE COST OF PERFORMANCE, or the cost of adaptation, or the cost of a training session, is determined by the current internal environment of the athlete’s organism.

And I think this is something very unique that Omegawave brings to the table. It does not measure heart rate during the session (INTERNAL INPUT) and it does not measure jumping abilities the next morning (OUTPUT). The thing it measures is the factor in between—the athlete—and their “stress reservoir.” Their internal environment. Omegawave measures how costly the next training, competition, or glimpse of high performance will be. And that is a piece of information that has been very helpful for us in addition to looking at purely INPUT versus OUTPUT

OW: Can you elaborate more on the weekly process, such as how do the athletes measure, how many times per week, who sees the measurement results, etc?

GK: Well that really depends! Actually, the only reason we use Omegawave is to make better decisions. And recognizing good versus bad choices is only helpful if we have a choice in the first place! That sounds obvious, but let me explain.

We use Omegawave to make choices in two areas: training density (Intensity/Volume) and restoration methods.

If training density is not negotiable—maybe because we are on the road with the national team having games every two days—we don’t measure, because we couldn’t change anything even if we wanted to.

On the restoration side, there are some teams that first need to be introduced to general concepts of regeneration and restoration. They need to be taught optimal sleep, optimal nutrition, optimal supplementation, and optimal restoration strategies. When we assemble a “restoration toolbox” with a team, the question automatically arises from players and coaches: “Okay, now that we know these different strategies, how do we know WHEN to use WHICH strategy?!” And that is when we bring in the monitoring process that includes Omegawave.

OW: What have been the biggest changes in the way you train your players thanks to the information that Omegawave provides? Can you also give a few concrete examples of how physiological data taken before practice changed the way the athlete was subsequently trained?

GK: The one thing we learned in the past ten years of working with high level athletes is that responses to training are simply not predictable.

When looking at the training process from a sports science point of view, you would think we’d have knowledge about how athletes react to certain training methods and how long it takes them to recover. And we actually do, but only “on average.” We don’t know anything about individual responses. I couldn’t predict how YOU will feel tomorrow morning after a defined session, let alone predict how you will feel after a whole training phase.

From a biological point of view, there are a multitude of stressors acting on the organism of the athlete. These stressors—be it training, games, food, thoughts, social interactions—all have an adaptational pull on the athlete. Some are synergistic, some are antagonistic. These stressors and adaptational responses work in a non-linear, very complex way and I don’t think that it’s predictable (at least not for me).

That’s why we don’t use the crystal ball of long term periodization anymore. We just look at how the athletes react to a training or a series of training sessions and decide from there. That’s the one thing we changed. We don’t look into the future and predict what’s going to be best for the athlete next week, next month or next year. We just let the body of the athlete decide.

I know that’s a scary thought for some, because it involves admitting that we don’t know anything of what is GOING to happen. But we know it’s best for our athletes, because we can react fast and make adjustments. We replaced the idea of conventional periodization with the idea of fluid (or dynamic) periodization for the same reason we replaced road maps for a GPS in our cars: it gets us from A to B quicker, with less traffic and without the real-time road blocks that are not drawn in on our paper maps.

In terms of concrete examples, in the team setting we look at long term progressions of indicators and act accordingly and subtly. We look at how the nervous system and metabolic systems of the athletes react to a training phase (3 weeks) and make subtle adjustments for the next training phase. This might involve changing drill setups and moving line-ups. Mostly players do not even notice. We give individual restoration strategies for the players after practice. Not every day, but every player will get feedback maybe once a week where he should be heading in terms of nutrition, supplementation, and sleep.

In the individual setting, we use the “Windows of Trainability” idea. We do not write out training programs for a whole phase: we give the athlete a “bag of workouts” that are enough for approximately 3 weeks. Every morning they measure and then pick the workout that best fits THEIR current adaptational situation. So maybe an athlete’s cardiac system is completely shot, and they will pick a speed session. Or their CNS will be down, but their cardiac system is ready to do work. In that case, they can choose a “conditioning” session. When they have great recovery, an athlete might be done with their “workout bag” after 16 days; if their recovery is not optimal, they might need 4 or even 5 weeks to complete the training phase—and that’s fine.

OW: How easy has it been to take this information and use it in practice, given that you have twenty-plus athletes on the team and a very busy schedule every day?

GK: To tell you the truth, it has NOT been easy and it still is not easy! We are in a special situation in many ways. I myself have studied medicine, we have sports scientists and therapists on board, and we always work with more than one person full time on a team. That does not make us smarter, but (at least in the rational German tradition) it helps with starting the dialogue with team doctors, therapists, coaching staff, and players. And we still struggle. We are very, very cautious about how and when we open this “can of worms.”

We want it to be a PULL mechanism and not a PUSH mechanism. What I mean by this is that we approach it the way that using Omegawave is the logical next step for everybody on staff. That takes a lot of hours talking about regeneration, training response, adaptation, training load/volume and many, many, many times just saying “I don’t know, I don’t have enough information” when coaches ask for the optimal training load or restoration strategy.

When staff and players are behind the idea of individualization and educated decision-making, then I think self-sufficiency is key. As a coach, you have to juggle 1000 things and everything has to be done yesterday. The key is teaching athletes how to use the system themselves, have cheat sheets that help the athletes to find the optimal restoration strategy themselves, and make yourself as a coach as obsolete as possible. You will always be busy, but at a higher level. We always want to bring the athlete to the point where they don’t need us anymore.

OW: How do you achieve player buy-in?

GK: In the beginning, we made a mistake and talked too much about regeneration and injury prevention—at that time, we got buy-in from very old players and very young guys. These guys do everything to stay in the game or get in the game. But most players, especially the great ones, don’t care about that. There are guys in their mid-twenties who are on top their game, have never been injured, and are completely bulletproof. They don’t care about injury prevention and regeneration.

When we started to address it from the performance point of view and stopped using words like “injury prevention” or “regeneration,” we got a lot more players onboard. When we talked about results and improved sprint times, improved jumps, improved attention and decision-making during the game, they started to listen. Having them listen is only step one, though. Step two is having them understand that the only reason we use the technology is to make THEM better. It is not to fulfill our own egos, but to make better decisions for THEM.

Step three is having them FEEL how it helps. It is certainly easier to FEEL the way massage or caffeine works, than it is to experience that good decision-making helps them. In ice hockey, we mostly get the feedback during camp or during the end of the season when players say: Last year’s camp felt WAY harder, even though we did the same stuff or I have never felt this fresh during the playoffs. And we get those things from NHL veterans and German players alike.

OW: How has the Head Coach used the information? What did you do in order to convince him of the benefits?

GK: We try not to convince coaches of anything—we are in the same boat and need to find solutions for every day situations. Like I said, sometimes we do not use monitoring or Omegawave, because as a team we might decide that teaching the players work ethic and team cohesion at a certain point is more important than running optimally-timed practices. It is more of a step-by-step process, and to be honest, monitoring and technology will always take a back seat to establishing good core values, work ethic, and team cohesion.

So, when we discuss practices or players with coaches, we always focus on habits, character, and work ethic. During the middle part of the discussion, we discuss what the data says and combine that to make a good decision.

Regarding data and technology, I like Fergus Connolly’s metaphor of the dashboard in a car. Having the data about the players is great, just a like a dashboard in a car is great. It lets us know how fast we are driving, at how many RPMs the motor runs, and how much gas is in the tank. We look at that every once in while, but mostly we have our eyes on the road.

Regarding using the data for decision-making, we try not be too “trigger happy” with the interventions. We don’t have players rest when their data does not look good and I would not recommend anyone doing it. We make really subtle changes, like discussing sleep or nutrition with a player that is “in a rut,” or we cut practice durations by 10-20 minutes, or we change the timing of work/rest during practices. I think making those subtle changes on a consistent and long-term basis is FAR more powerful than dealing in absolutes.

OW: What have been your most significant takeaways and experiences from using Omegawave?

GK: Haha, there are so many, mostly good experiences and some, let’s call them “disappointing” experiences.

The ONE thing I really like about using the system with athletes is that it creates questions! Questions are always the beginning of a positive change and a good dialogue. You measure an athlete once and they will have hundreds of questions. The more answers you have, the more questions they will ask. At some point, you obviously have to say: I don’t know that yet and that is fine. But in the meantime, you have been discussing many things regarding their development from the perspective of regeneration, training focus, individualization, sleep optimization, food, supplementation, etc.

But it’s also dangerous, because if you cannot answer any of the questions, the player will lose trust really quick. And I have had that experience in the beginning. That is why I always caution coaches about using a technology too quickly if they don’t fully understand it. And let’s be honest here, Omegawave is just not easy to understand, especially when you look at the training process from a sports science perspective and not a biological perspective.

We are a firm believer in the scientific method and creating “test-retest” scenarios for everything we do. But that does not mean that we are not allowed to do things that have no level one evidence.

Most level one evidence starts with somebody out there trying something and doing field tests to validate their own approach. If it doesn’t work, then toss it; and if it does work, somebody can pick up on it and do further research while you continue. I think it really helps that there are more and more field studies being published of athletes or teams successfully using the Omegawave technology and philosophy.