It happens. Sometimes mysteriously, or sometime eventually. At the end of every life death is waiting. At the end of every career retirement is there like the grim reaper. Somewhere between the start and end of a season a crash may occur, or a time when an athlete is injured or just hits a wall and performs poorly. Most of the time like a crime scene coaches are able to see why, only after stepping away from the trenches and seeing the big picture. Now with better research and sharing of history, coaches are now paranoid of being aware of doom because of predictive analytics. Here are a few examples of black swan dives.
One athlete decides to do track and field full time in HS and gives up lacrosse and football to be a monster sprinter, since he dominated indoors last year. With a flash of brilliance and showing more potential an interest he decides to go into beast mode and start training in the summer. He lifts weights, does some sprint training, and is feeling great for fall training. Sometime in November he is starting to get sick a lot, so he rests a bit to compete fresher. He has some light pulls during practice and competition, finds his joints hurt chronically, and is unhappy about giving up football as his team is in the Superbowl. His PR in January was nice, but just getting older and competing more he figured he would be the star in the state. He starts getting tired more and more (wakes up to school feeling constantly tired) and after running a 400m on a relay to help the team and barely finishes. His mom being a nurse thinks he has mono and a week later it’s confirmed. His outdoor season is basically lost and his junior year was a relative failure.
After an injury plagued year, one athlete finishes rehab and decides to be careful about his offseason soccer training and play it safe. He does light ball work and incorporates single leg exercises as he was experiencing groin pain during the spring. He returns to his college and the first week is Hades week and the strength coaches give him the Death From Squats, because they are overreacting to the single leg dumbbell people on the blogs. 9 sets of 9 reps also known as Dante’s Inferno is done, followed by a death circuit of battling ropes and sled pushes and kettlebell swings. The senior athlete being smart fakes throwing up by quickly chugging water and wins an academy award in order to pace himself for the end of hell week. The medical staff scared of Rhabdomyolysis has a secret meeting and decides to blow the whistle and order a day of complete rest because of soreness complaints. The team coach hearing about the players being overtrained gives them another day off. Sore from the first week the athlete must do alternate means for weeks and never is able to play 100% healthy, kissing his MLS chance goodbye.
The college hurdler is doing great. Winning a conference title and going to NCAA nationals as one of the favorites. Being a biology major he misses one day of practice a week, so he can graduate and get into medical school in the summer. The coach tapers him for nationals perfectly and he becomes an All-American again, but his time is too good, enough to final at Olympic Trials at a number 6 spot. He continues to train after June and he is struggling to do tempo. His girlfriend and parents are asking about medical school, and his bills are high from giving up the extra job. He checks Facebook and this guy named Romeo is now friends with his girlfriend who is upset that he is still doing that track thing instead of working at the lab. He flies to Oregon and barely breaks 14 in the 110m going all out in the first round. In the second round he places 4th and his season is over. The coach looks back and sees he missed 36 days because the one tutoring day he had to give up from practice. His body is sore everywhere and his sleep is so trashed he just watches youtube of the family guy at night to get sleep. He stumbles on a youtube of a overtraining conference and googles cortisol and finds himself convinced stress was the issue.
This happens to everyone, and the crash will happen more than we think because we are comfortable blaming injuries than hormones and biochemistry. It’s obvious to see on the MRI a tear, but physiological crashes go unnoticed. In fact overtraining or overreaching are relatively unknown and few agree on the existence of the problem. With crashes being more of a creeping disaster what can we do to prevent it? One of the best presentations I have seen was from Bill Sands at the USATF III school in Las Vegas. His studies and simple monitoring was way ahead of the nonsense I am seeing now. After looking at some of the best systems in the world here is what I believe to be the best with athlete monitoring.
Blood Analysis- Athletes need to get objective and precise biomarker benchmarks over a season to see why things are working or not. If your inflammation is too high and you vitamin and mineral status is junk, the quadro dynamo block phase system isn’t going to create freaks. Just a few times a year doing a complete panel or one that is accepted budget wise is vital. Vitamin D, Ferritin status, hormones, and even other markers such as CK are helpful.
Sympathetic Arousal- Cortisol is popular again but if you are not testing it with your teams don’t talk about it. HRV does have some relationships with the T:C ratio but I am more interested in night swabs and GSR to see how the athlete responds to life. Does the athlete live in fear or do they chill during down times? GSR is continual and wireless now, and the information is simple enough to see how athletes are coping with life beyond the time with us.
Daily HRV- I am a big fan of ithlete beyond the fact it has dropbox and other features. Portable HRV is perhaps the biggest game changer this year with athletes. Objective stress loads can clue us in to seeing the success of a training trip, the response to therapy, and how athletes do generally with the season. A 60 second morning test is the most practical solution one can do and with the export options ithlete is very team friendly for coaches doing weekly reports 24 hours before meets.
Joint/Nerve/tissue Monitoring– I think 30 seconds of finger painting using body maps is the best way to collect a lot of data quickly. Coaches will be able to see more rich data besides a radio button or checklist of 1-10 pain scores next year as one company is really doing a nice job of adding more specific and easier to collect data. An athlete can only spend 2 minutes a day collecting data, half the time is spent with HRV, leaving bursts of 5-10 seconds tops to get more streams. The medical data I see is often in sheets or reported forms that don’t summarize findings well from a timeline perspective. Complete reports are important but at a glance summaries are more actionable.
Food Check Points- Athletes will not do food logs unless they are desperate, 3 day recalls for nutritionists, or endurance athletes. A triathlete will measure pasta, a team sport athlete will measure the burger size for a club record. Track and field is between the two. I like photos of meals as they have time, location, and simple plate summary of what is eaten. Nobody wants to write it down but it can be audited if the blood and body composition data looks off. Coaches can prescribe foot and beverage practices in practice, and the consumption can be measured as well.
Sleep and Emotional Log- Food and mood is popular and neurochemistry is going to be the next big thing. Athletes need to write small life events or tap problems to see if it’s rooted in real world issues or just response to training and recovery. Zeo is a great solution for getting objective information on sleep and the actual sleep stages are measured. As smart fabric becomes cheaper and more consumer friendly, the pajamas will get sleep data instead of a band, but the band offers benefits with travel on planes as we re not going to see NBA teams walking in PJs to airports anytime soon.
Simple Workload Scoring- RPE and other general workloads are enough to get stress. Drilling down to how much glute work is possible now, but most interventions are about doing a recovery day, normal session, push it, or a day off. It’s amazing how a simple line plot can tell a story about when athletes start to break down. I am really excited to see what Mladen does with his Football Club this year, as he is very smart with training loads.
It doesn’t matter if one is not perfect. Sometimes attendance will be the most valuable measure. Perhaps body composition over a season. Perhaps a PCA or other screen will be enough to show what happened. The more we keep good records without compromising training to get data the better we can prevent the big crash.