“Ask Omegawave”: The Windows of Trainability—Applications (Part II)

“Ask Omegawave” is an educational series during which we will be engaging in informal Q&A sessions with members of Omegawave’s science team, including Co-founder Val Nasedkin and our Senior Research Scientist Roman Fomin. Read Part I, Windows of Trainability—Foundations here.

Question: If you are following a training plan and your Windows are in the red for the activity you have planned for that day, how much should you be changing your training plan for a one-day score versus for a more chronic situation?

Val Nasedkin: Let’s start from this question: Why are you doing the workout in the first place? And the answer is, you are trying to get a certain type of benefit. I don’t care what that benefit is—it could be improving technique, it could be improving endurance, or it could be a speed and power workout, it doesn’t matter. So, now, let’s assume—even based on one assessment—that I can tell you, yes, you can do it today… but you’re not going to get the benefit due to your current functional state. Would you still do it? So, for us, it doesn’t matter if the condition was there for three days or one day. What we do know is that it’s there. So if you come to a workout, and you measure your temperature, and it’s 103 degrees—do you say, it’s okay, it’s only one day, yesterday it was normal. Would you still do the workout?

Q: The “Old School” way is to toss out the thermometer and plow through whatever workout’s on the schedule, regardless of how you feel.

VN: The reality is, if I’m trying to get the benefit from this workout, I need to make sure the probability of that benefit is very high. If the probability of that benefit is low, but the probability of me being injured is high, then I’m going to really have to think about it. So, again, in our case, it doesn’t matter if [the red score] has been there for many days—that’s a different situation, and we do take that into consideration—or one day. For current Readiness, it doesn’t matter.

Q: With our system and the measurements we take, can we account for situations like “heavy legs” that might make someone struggle through a run, or the after-effects of doing a lift or exercise that you typically don’t do, which could create soreness in one specific muscle group without overtaxing any particular regulatory system?

VN: Let’s be realistic—of course biological cost can be affected by many, many different systems, so it doesn’t have to be only physiological. If you are biomechanically incorrect, it can also increase your cost. If you are injured, it can increase your cost. If you are sick, it can increase your cost. So, to evaluate the cost, you have to measure multiple systems. We don’t measure everything. We measure the primary physiological regulatory systems, and even then not all of them. That’s our limitation. We measure the central nervous system’s state, we measure the autonomic nervous system’s state, we extrapolate cardiac state from both ECG analysis and HRV analysis, we extrapolate the responses of your body to different types of energy work through ECG changes, and that evaluates physiological cost.

Those are parameters that are hard for humans to analyze by perception. Maybe when the situation is very extreme it’s easy to say “I’m so fried after that workout yesterday,” but from day-to-day activities, it’s hard for humans to say “Hmm, I think my central nervous system is not quite where it needs to be,” or “my autonomic balance is not quite there.” But it is easier for people to say “hey, my muscles are sore.” On a certain level, we can at least expect that people can recognize that condition on their own and apply that knowledge to changes in their training. If all of our systems that we measure say “great, green,” but you have muscle fatigue, my advice is, adjust your training to how you feel. We are trying to give people information based on things that are very hard to perceive. Muscles are a lot easier to assess subjectively.

Q: So, for example, if you suffer a minor ankle sprain while running, would you expect any change in your Windows of Trainability from that?

VN: It comes down to how aggressively the body will attack this problem. Certain injuries will show physiologically, because as the healing process starts, the physiological processes of the body changes. If it changes significantly enough for us to measure, we will see it. In some cases, we will not see it—because it just did not produce a significant response. But for the runner you mentioned, the problem is still there in their ankle. So, please, make your own decision and be smart about it, even though our system says your biological systems are fine.

Roman Fomin: Using Omegawave, we are getting information from supported systems. Supported physiological systems. Without them, you cannot survive. Without some muscles, or even an arm or a leg, you can. But without your heart or your brain, you can’t. So our assessments are 100% based on the functional state of those supported systems.

We have to get this information because if we can see issues inside those systems, it doesn’t matter how perfectly your muscles feel. If you have issues in your engine… say your car, right now it looks perfect, it could be those most expensive car in the world, but if your engine is poor, it’s not going to perform.

Q: Moving from individual athletes to a team sport setting where perhaps you have a lot of moving parts, fast-paced practices, skill coaches & position coaches in the mix, and the action on the field requires all four qualities of the Windows of Trainability in some combination, with all of that going on, how do you suggest coaches apply the Windows concept on a basic level?

VN: First, let’s talk about the objective of the training process. What we believe is that through proper training, you can create an organism that keeps these windows open all the time. That’s the whole concept of training. Let’s assume that you did not train them in such a way that keeps these windows open: the windows are closing and opening as you go along. The goal is still the same—for competition day, you want them as open as possible.

So, we see different coaches apply different strategies during the week. If the windows are closing and opening all the time, it means your athletes are not as quick adapters as they should be. And then of course you can separate them into different groups based on these windows. We often see that, even in professional sports—we need to realize that there is primary training on the pitch, field, or court, and there is secondary training, in terms of conditioning, recovery, and so on. And these windows should be taken into consideration, both by the professionals responsible for primary training on the pitch, court, or field, and those responsible for the conditioning. If you use windows on the pitch—and some coaches don’t use it at all, and that’s fine as well—but when you go after the pitch training, into your conditioning specialist, based on these windows that specialist can say these people should do more recovery today, these should do this type of recovery, these people can go and maybe do a little more work.

Q: Not including in-season, during training how much of an impact would you want to see from a max-out, high intensity session. Should an intense training day lead to the window being in the yellow or red the next day, or are you actually training to maintain green-green-green from one day to the next?

VN: This is a very good question. In our opinion, the better developed the athlete is, the more likely they will have green windows most of the time. But during certain training cycles, continuous green windows are not always optimal for further development. Because if you want to continue to improve, you have to find the stressors that will trigger your physiological responses and create a state of fatigue that will affect the windows. If you can’t find those stressors, you probably will have an open window all the time, but your additional improvement will be somewhat limited. During the pre-season, my belief is that you do have to find adequate stressors that will cause enough fatigue in the athletes to change their functional state, which will affect the windows—that fatigue will in turn create supercompensation, and only through this process can you force the system to move to the next level of its functional state. In-season, this same concept may be applied, but only infrequently—so, the windows don’t have to be green all the time for every athlete, but they should be open on performance days or days that call for the hardest training.

RF: Always important—train the trainability. Trainability is the ability of your body to accept a training load effectively, to adapt to a load and produce a very high training effect. So, why do we need to improve trainability? We should apply more and more training load because it will lead to better adaptational responses and produce better adaptations.

Train the trainability is a key concept, and people have to follow this. Otherwise, the principle “the more the better”—let’s make each of our training sessions harder than the previous one—it could lead to very negative effects.

VN: Train the trainability means you can process more work. Because the process still stands. If I can train more than you, I will do better than you… but only under one condition: If I train more than you AND I still get the positive effect. So “train the trainability” means train your ability to train more. And the only way you can do it is by decreasing the cost you are paying for training. The better your trainability, the lower the cost you are paying. It means you can do more work with less cost, and that will transfer into better results.

Q: Assume you have a marathon runner who is looking to lower their time, they are 6-weeks out from race day, and their window to train endurance is always in the yellow, dipping into the red, yet they know they have a certain amount of miles they should log week after week—how much should they change their training plan to emphasize other qualities and what can be done to open the window on a more regular basis during the final weeks of training? Is it more important for them to put their legs through the requisite number of miles, or should they be sacrificing preparedness for Readiness.

VN: Actually, there is quite a simple answer to all of that. As soon as you take into consideration the laws of biology, it answers everything. Under no circumstances is it beneficial for you to work when your body is not capable of receiving the load and forming proper adaptations to it. Under no conditions is it beneficial.

CAN you do it? Yes. But you will be doing it at the cost of your future performance and your entire health. Now, the primary goal in the case that you described, when the window is shut, you need to find out why is it shut down, and do everything you can to open it up. It means optimization of your training. And sometimes, that means no training at all. A very good example—way back at the beginning of Omegawave, in 2000, we were working with an Olympian in the 5000 and 1000 meters, and all the data was showing red, red, red. And our advice was “stop it.” Decrease the volume, decrease the intensity, and the answer from the athlete was very simple – “I can’t. I have three months until the Olympic Trials. I can’t do it, I can’t decrease my training.”

Sure enough, after a few more weeks, breakdown—injury. Now, by default, she can’t do anything—with only two months left until the Olympic Trials. So the athlete doesn’t train at all—she can’t—for the two months. Then, she competes in the Olympic Trials and qualifies for the Olympics. So, what’s the point of this story? The point of this story is that the reason she made it was due to an enforced “recovery-by-injury.” And if she would not have had that “recovery-by-injury” imposed on her but undertaken proper recovery methods? If she would have been willing to decrease that load 3 months in advance, she would have achieved two goals: A.) she would not have gotten injured, and B.) she would probably have performed even better in the Olympics.

The point stays the same—biological laws are a real thing. When you are physiologically not in a position to support certain activity, don’t do it. Because you are only going to damage yourself. Always, under all circumstances.