Rufus Spiller is a Graphic Designer and a BJJ Instructor and competitor. This site covers his thoughts on life and training.

Fighting Myself, Heart Rate Monitoring in BJJ

I'm always interested in seeing if there is a way of informing my training and getting more out of it. To this end I started looking at Heart Rate Monitors and Heart Rate Variability while I was in Romania back in May. In all honesty the main thing I have discovered over the last three month is that I don't listen to advice! However it has given me some good insight.

Lets start with equipment. I started out using the HRV app's ability to track heart rate using the camera on my iPhone. This worked pretty well but I was curious to see if I could get more accurate data, I mean how accurate can it be if it is just using my phone camera. Add to this I could not track training data this way without stopping during training. So I bought the Wahoo TickrX this seemed like it was going to give me the ability to track my heart rate during training as well and, as it has memory, it would continue tracking if it lost signal from my phone.

Hairy Guy Problems

First problem came when I put the strap on the first time. I'm too darn hairy. Heart Rate Monitors actually work through the strap not the tracker itself and the strap needs contact with the skin all the time. When I first put it on I could not get a reading and I figured I might have a dud. Then I did some reading and a few people were mentioning that they had the same issue. Some suggested KY Jelly (or more expensive conductive gel) and others suggested shaving. I did buy the KY but after taking it to the club once I decided that it just looked too creepy so I went under the blade. So now I have a weird hairless strip under my pecs but better readings!

I also noticed that I got really odd readings from the HRV app in the mornings using the Wahoo TickrX. No matter how still I was it would jump between 45 bmp and 150 bpm. I still can't work out why, but I have now ditched using the Wahoo for HRV in the morning and gone back to the finger over camera method which is much more stable (the variation is between 45 bpm and 65 bpm).

All the data I have I have been uploading to the site on my Training Data Page.

Training Data Insight

So for training heart rate monitoring the Wahoo TickrX is great. It does sometimes come off due to an errant toe but in the main it gives me some good data to work with. It's early days but I can see that in most 90 minute sessions I stay below my burn rate between 10 and 15 minutes. Burn means my heart rate is below 144bpm and I am increasing my aerobic ability and forcing my body to burn fat as a fuel source. Apparently burning fat is good, so check one for training!

I also get into a burst mode where my heart is over 171 bpm for between 1 and 5 minutes over the same 90 minute training period. Burst mode is where my body is burning carbohydrate as the primary fuel source increasing my body's ability to buffer out lactic acid and prolonging my ability to sustain an uncomfortable pace. The burst mode directly correlates with sparring heavier or faster opponents. No huge surprises so far I hear you say. 

However when I compared a 90 minute training session to a 46 minute cycle there was some interesting stuff. Over 46 minutes cycling I was in burn for just over 10 minutes and I was in burst for over 13 minutes. So far I can't replicate this intensity in a BJJ training session but I presume this is because the cycle is constant exercise whereas the BJJ session, however hard, has breaks (drilling, partner changes, round times etc). The obvious take out is that if you want to increase your burst levels you probably want to do something that pushes you continously. This is particularly important if you are a competitive BJJ athlete as that burst mode will come into play during those wars and recovering between bouts.

Heart Rate Variability

Ok so now to the troublesome one. HRV is best used to inform how intensely you should train based on the concept that a nervous system that is reacting continually to change is working better than one that is less responsive. I am seriously over simplifying this but that is how I look at it.

The data tells me that I have a below average resting heart rate for my age and gender. I have above average level of recovery and heart rate variability. This is no huge surprise as I am in pretty good shape. The problem comes when I look at the recommendations that this data gives me. Often it will tell me to limit intensity or rest on days where I want to train. On other days it will recommend more intense training but I am having a rest day. 

Here we come to the crux of the problem. To really benefit from the data you need to collect it and then react accordingly. However if you are hell bent on self improvement in BJJ it is really hard to say, 'HRV is low, I'm going to have a day off' or you get called out by some beast in training and you say 'Nah, bro my HRV is low today'. So, I at the moment I am aware of the data but I am not using it correctly. On the other hand wearing a Heart Rate Monitor in training is giving me a good insight into how much effort I am putting into training and how I could push on further.

How hard should you train?

Finally, I was inspired to write this blog post after listening to the excellent Raspberry Ape Podcast by Daniel Strauss with Nick Gregoriades. During their conversation they got onto the topic of how much to train and Nick had a very different intensity to Daniel saying that he trained BJJ 3 times a week and Yoga 3 times in contrast to Daniel's 8 training sessions a week. I was chatting to one of my team mates and he mentioned that he had heard that Keenan Cornelius only spars twice a week and we both acknowledged that the Miyao brothers claim to be on the mats 7 hours every day. I guess that throws up the following questions; What is the optimal intensity of a BJJ training session? Should high level practitioners rest on days when they should as per other athletes? What could a rest day look like?

I guess I need to find out.

From survival to position

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