“Conditioning is your best hold.” Karl Gotch
We all know what it’s like to have lost a match because we were too tired to perform up to our capabilities. In the eyes of the athlete their perceived problem is a lack of conditioning. The athlete’s thoughts immediately move to adding more conditioning to their current regimen. At a certain level this makes a lot of sense, but like most things in jiu-jitsu it’s never quite so simple or straightforward. We’re going to explore two ways you can measure your current level of conditioning. This information can be used as a starting point to access how your training is affecting your baseline cardiovascular fitness. For others it could be used to determine if you should allocate your training time to other aspects of training such as strength or technique. Finally, the next time that your jogger friend say she’s in better shape than you are you can give her empiric proof that she’s probably not right.
As your conditioning improves, your heart gets stronger and is able to move a larger volume of blood with each beat. This in turn allows you to meet your body’s needs with fewer beats. Measuring your resting heart rate (aka basal heart rate) is the most commonly used method to objectively measure a person’s overall fitness. Basal heart rate is so common because it is the easiest method, requires the least equipment and has a long history of use for this purpose. Lower heart rates typically correlate with a higher level of fitness and have historically been used as a rough estimate of overall fitness.
• Measure it first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up. Before any caffeine or excessive movement.
• Always measure with your body in the same position. For example, always measure while lying down or sitting in a chair. Changes in body position can affect your heart rate.
• Use the same measuring methodology each time. Do not switch between manually taking your pulse, using a heart rate monitor and/or using an app on your phone. Pick one and stick with it.
There are many, many ways to measure your resting heart rate. Regardless of the method that is used to measure the beats per minute there are a few factors that should be constant. For more consistent results you should do the following:
You’ve set up a consistent environment in which to measure your resting heart rate and it’s time to get to business. The least expensive method is to take your pulse at the wrist or neck for a given period of time and do a little math to determine your beats per minute. There are also dozens of apps that measure your heart rate with the built-in flash. Moving a step beyond that is to pair your phone with a chest strap. Chest straps can transmit information to your phone, iPad or a dedicated monitor and are considered to be the most accurate and versatile tool for measuring heart rate.
I mentioned earlier that a low resting heart rate correlates with a higher level of fitness. Your next question should be, “What is low?” In Joel Jamiesons book, Ultimate MMA Conditioning, he states that the majority of the fighters he works with have a rHR in the mid-to-low-50s. For the general population a resting heart of 70 is the standard; below that is good and above it is not.
Taking Your Pulse
• Wrist: Finger tips of your index an middle finger on the opposite wrist, slightly below the base of your thumb.
• Neck: Finger tips of your index and middle finger on either side of the neck, just below the angle of the jaw.
• Press lightly to feel the pulse and record the number of beats in 20 seconds.
• Multiply that number by 3 to determine beats per minute.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
“Providing a glimpse into an individual’s autonomic nervous system profile, heart rate variability measurements accurately pinpoint an athlete’s location on the fatigue-recovery-supercompensation curve.” Joel Jamieson
Your heart beats at a different rate based on your breathing patterns. Your heart rate (HR) may be 60 beats per minute (BPM), however that doesn’t necessarily equate to the metronome-like pattern of 1 beat every second. Sometimes you’ll have more or less time between each beat. Typically, HR speeds up with your inhale and slows down as you exhale. The difference between these two rates is your heart-rate variability (HRV). HRV is a quantitative measurement of how your body is reacting to stress, physical or mental. Higher HRV scores are associated with athletes that are better conditioned and changes in HRV can be used to assess an individual’s recovery from previous training and to determine efficacy of the athletes training regimen.
Like rHR it is crucial that you have a consistent methodology when measuring your HRV. Some products will provide specific suggestions, but if there aren’t recommendation use the guidelines outlined under rHR on how to consistently measure. Measuring HRV is more complex than rHR and requires some specialized equipment. There are two HRV products that I’m familiar with: iThlete (www.myithlete.com) and BioForce HRV (www.bioforcehrv.com). To use the iThlete HRV app ($9.99) you’ll need a Bluetooth capable chest strap (~$50.00) or an adapter for the strap you already have (~$25) and a device to run the app. BioForce HRV is purchased for $198 to $258 depending on the package. BioForce HRV is the only product I’m aware of that includes a conditioning manual and that manual is written with fighters in mind.
While there are established standards for resting heart rate, HRV is unique to each individual. The rule of thumb is that the higher your HRV the more conditioned you are. Joel Jamieson has mentioned that most of the professional fighters he works with have HRV scores in the 80s and 90s. I want to stress again that the number isn’t as important as the changes you see due to your training.
Resting Heart Rate vs Heart Rate Variability
There’s really no reason why you can’t test and track your resting heart rate. It’s free, takes a very short amount of time and can give you some good information on your overall health and fitness. If you’re a hobbyist there’s no reason to go beyond rHR. This is also what pretty much everyone who’s not a dedicated athlete uses to determine if they’re “in shape.”
In the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, HRV “turns it up to 11.” To decide if HRV is useful you’ll need to answer the following questions: first, can you commit to measuring your HRV every morning and track fluctuations (the app does the tracking)? Next, are you going to adjust your daily training based on the information you’re given? Finally, can you afford whichever product you choose?
How Blood Flows Through The Heart
Wrapping It Up
I’m a huge fan of HRV monitoring and training IF you’re going to be compliant with data collection, understand the information you’ve been given and make the correct adjustments. If you’re not going to commit to all of those things, just stick with resting heart rate. Do you need it to be successful? Of course not. It’s just another option in the toolbox. The utility of that tool is going to be determined by the end users. For more information on HRV I’d highly recommend the websites already mentioned, as well as Andrew Flatt’s blog: www.hrvtraining.com