Using Heart Rate Monitors to Maximize Performance and Minimize Injury

Cutting Edge Technology for Wisconsin's Aspiring Players

This spring, U14-U18 players at FC Wisconsin Eclipse have an incredible opportunity to use individual heart rate training monitors to help them learn how to train better and maximize training impact - while being safer and reducing risks of injury.

This spring, U14-U18 players at FC Wisconsin Eclipse have an incredible opportunity to use individual heart rate training monitors to help them learn how to train better and maximize training impact - while being safer and reducing risks of injury.

The spring season will be an unmatched opportunity to educate players and parents on the best training methodology used around the world to get a "continual positive upward trend" in performance without over-training or risking over-use injuries.  Below is a brief summary on how this methodology works, and how heart rate data is so critical to its implementation.  Understanding this methodology requires a 10,000 foot review of soccer fitness training, heart rate basics, and how they are combined.

Fitness Basics:

  • The "old school" of soccer fitness training prescribes fitness training as an isolated type of training.  This training usually involves a whistle, a test, and a stopwatch.  It does not involve a ball, technical execution, decision-making, or even a lot of soccer-like movement (cuts, changes of direction, jumping, etc.)
  • The “modern” version of soccer fitness training incorporates fitness as a part of playing – so that the physical demands of fitness are incorporated within soccer activities.  This type of fitness training is more sport-specific, more effective, more encompassing, and more efficient.
  • With young players, the “old school” version of fitness training is sometimes necessary to teach them what it means to be fit, or what it feels like to be at maximum effort.  However, as players become more mature and sophisticated, this is required less.  Top level players and teams do very little “old school” fitness training.  When it is done, it is usually for testing purposes or other “group motivational” reasons.
  • Improving fitness requires working at maximum effort for controlled periods of time (usually periods that are slightly longer than comfortable and that push the physical limit).  After “over-loading” the body in this way, the individual then requires “recovery” for a training effect to occur.  In other words, a fitness overload, followed by appropriate recovery, leads to the training effect of improved fitness.

Heart Rate Basics:

  • Every individual has a maximum heart rate (MHR) – the fastest speed at which their heart can beat.  This varies by individual (sometimes greatly), and over time (slightly).  Determining an individual’s MHR through testing is a key part of using heart rate data effectively. 
  • Every individual also has a resting heart rate – the rate that their heart beats with no activity.  This also varies by individual and over time.
  • When an individual reaches their MHR, they are performing at “maximum effort” (100% effort); it is impossible for them to physically work any harder. 
  • An individual’s heart rate (expressed as a percentage of maximum) at any given time is therefore a very accurate measure of how hard that individual is working, as well as the expected physiological impact of that work.
  • Typically work load and work rate, as determined by a percentage of MHR, is measured in the following heart rate zones: (i) time at 90-100% of MHR; (ii) time at 80-90% of MHR; (iii) time at 70-80% of MHR; (iv) time at 60-70% of MHR; and (v) time below 60% of MHR.  Through various calculations, the time in a training session that an individual spends in each heart rate zone can be combined to determine an overall “Training Effect” or “Training Load”. 
  • Using the heart rate monitors, the training loads at FC WI Eclipse are calculated from 1-5.  A general description of these levels is below:
    • A “5” is an overload day - a day of very high work load, and high physical demand.  Overload days cannot be done repeatedly without recovery, or players will accumulate fatigue rapidly, not get a training effect, and increase injury risk.
    • A “4” is a “threshold” day – a day of above average work load and demand.  Threshold days can be done (carefully) in succession.
    • A “3” is an “organizational” day – a day of slightly above average work load and demand.  Organizational days have minor fitness improvement.
    • A load in the upper “2s” is a “maintenance” day – a day where there will be little if any fitness improvement, but existing fitness level will be maintained.

Fitness + Heart Rate in Soccer:

  • “Modern” soccer fitness training incorporates a ball and heart rate data to maximize impact in soccer development and in fitness, and to personalize work loads.  “Modern” soccer fitness training is done (at most) 1-2 times per week, due to the need for recovery for the training effect to occur.
  • An example of a “modern” fitness training day at FC WI Eclipse would be a series of small-sided (4v4 games) with a work-to-rest ratio that did not quite allow for “full” recovery in between games.  This work-to-rest ratio insures that specific energy systems were “stressed” during the session.  Of course, to be a fitness day - players must give MAX EFFORT in these work intervals.
  • In terms of Training Load, a fitness day at FC WI Eclipse should have a training load above 4, and as close to 5 as possible.  If an individual training load is in this range, there will be a desired positive training impact (improved fitness).  If the training load for an individual is not in this range, then the training will not be effective as far as improving fitness.  After a fitness day (high Training Load), the next day of training must be lighter to allow recovery.  For FC WI Eclipse, this means that the subsequent day would have a training load between a 3-4.
  • At FC WI Ecilpse, a training report from every day of training is created from heart rate data to determine individual training loads.  This helps determine who can be pushed harder, who needs more recovery, and the overall impact of each training.  In other words, this training report helps educate, increase performance, and protect players.

The use of  heart rate monitors provides players and coaches with objective, factual data to improve their training – and the training effect. The objective data helps fine-tune training, helps motivate players better, and helps educate everyone.  This technology and the training methodology used by the club helps players have a constant upward trend in fitness and performance while reducing the risk of injury through over-training and accumulated fatigue.


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