So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

One of the most common phrases which come out of my mouth when chatting with an athlete who feels beat-up, or when we're at the track during an infernal workout - and one which has come from many of my own coaches in the past - is "listen to your body." What do coaches mean when that pithy and somewhat nebulous phrase comes up? More often than not it means "dude, you're not getting enough rest; it's quite likely you are overreaching, and you're not adjusting your workout efforts to reflect the prevailing conditions."

At local run events and social gatherings I've talked to folks who train with other groups at the same time I train my athletes. They've asked what our particular workout was on a given day, and said something along the lines of 'I should probably come work out with you, because your workouts appear to be a little easier.' When I hear that I'm not certain whether to be honored or offended, because I know we're also working our butts off. But, after taking a minute or two to read the unspoken message, I figure I'm doing the right thing.

When there's no major racing in the immediate future it's silly to be blasting 800-meter repeats at six-minute-per-mile pace with a quarter-mile jog recovery...on a day when the heat index is in the triple digits. That's why, I think, my coach never had a workout written down on paper for us...and I find my drive to the track is the best time for me to figure exactly what I'm going to assign. I have a good idea as far as what I'd like to do, and then I adjust accordingly given the weather and health of the athletes. Is it hot? Humid? Are we beat up? Is there a race coming?

I coach on perceived effort. What an athlete feels is 60-percent of their maximum ability on one day can be faster...or slower...on another, depending on weather conditions, stress, diet, and so on. And during this time of the year, when the conditions are about a degree shy of suck, the statement 'make your fresh fresh' is not just idle chatter. I wear a Garmin 310XT, with a heart rate monitor strap, when I run. I want to know how my heart reacts to the effort the rest of my body is putting out.

Contrary to popular belief, the heart is a demand reacts to demand signals from the brain and muscles, pumping blood to nourish, fuel, and maintain stable internal body temperature. A particular pace can have my heart beating at 145 at one time, and 185 at another time...once again, depending on stress, heat, humidity, hydration, and so on...even from one point in the workout to the next can show a variation. Since I know I'm a little less fit than my athletes, I'll look at my recovery...or lack of it...and use it to extend recovery intervals or pull the plug on a workout altogether. I've run with athletes who thought there were extra points for being the toughest in the workout. Unfortunately, many of them are now once a runner. For me the goal is to stay running as long as possible.

Heart rate monitors...nice tools, especially for guesstimating the effect a particular workout had upon your heart. Since the heart is a demand pump you can "kind of-sort of" get an idea how the rest of your body reacted to the workout's stress. The better-quality heart rate monitors often come with software, or will provide feedback on how long your heart rate was in a particular range...some will help you track how long your heart rate was in each training zone or ten-percent range between minimum and maximum heart rates (talking about max heart rate is another entertaining topic altogether).

I've borrowed and adapted a training impact score calculation which was developed by Dr. Eric Bannister in 1975. Each minute of "work" in a ten-percent window of predicted maximum heart rate between 50 and 100 percent is given a score: 50-to-59 gets 1, 60-to-69 gets 2, 70-to-79 gets 3, and so on. Those numbers are then added up to get a training impact score.

For example:

60-minute workout. The HR monitor data downloaded reveals:

3.5 minutes at 50%

15 minutes at 60%

12 minutes at 70%

6 minutes at 80%

5.2 minutes at 90%

So...I punch the numbers into my little Excel spreadsheet which does all the ugly mathematics I show below...
TRIMP = (3.5 x 1) + (15 x 2) + (12 x 3) + (6 x 4) + (5.2 x 5), or...

TRIMP = 3.5 + 30 + 36 + 24 + 26, or...

TRIMP = 119.5

Now, a 119.5 training impact score for a 60 minute workout means I averaged just a little below 70% of maximum heart rate (119.5/60 = 1.9916), probably 69%. I could probably deal with a workout at that level on a regular - near-daily - basis. Things get a little silly when, for example, you do a 60-minute workout and the TRIMP is near or above 150. Some times if the impact score is two times or more the total number of minutes, I'll either rest or cross-train - easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy in the pool, or walk, or elliptical trainer at a very low resistance.
Naturally, n = 1. What works for one person might not, or probably won't, work for another.
But Bannister's TRIMP score provides me a way to gauge not only the amount of work expended over a single workout, but also over the course of a week. I can add up the total impact in an effort to incrementally increase workload (following the classic 'ten-percent rule') without going overboard.

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