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Quantifying Stress and the Effects on Training

These are my notes from a presentation titled “Quantifying the Effects of Training and Life Stress on the CNS” given by coach Rick Crawford at the November 2003 Ultrafit coaching symposium.

In order to quantify stress you must define it. Stress comprises of physical and mental stress. Physical stress = training. Mental stress = family harmony, finances, sponsorship, work demands, travel, etc.

Coaches must consider an athlete’s life as a whole in order to quantify and manage stress. Many coaches only consider physical stress. An athlete’s mindset affects performance. An athlete needs to be passionate, excited and having fun to train effectively and produce top performances. A depressed athlete who hates his bike will train poorly. This is an extreme example. You may see similar patterns in your athletes at much subtler levels. A coach may design the perfect training plan based on scientific methodology but if the athlete following it is bored or doesn’t like it daily training will be mediocre at best.

“If the CNS does not approve of a training method it will not work. There needs to be a smile on the athlete’s face,” says Rick.

Case Study  A professional road cyclist was prescribed specific training intervals based on power to do. He did them alone. Training data from these sessions showed power numbers lower than expected and RPE significantly higher than expected. Mentally they were very draining sessions and took long to recover from. These sessions were a chore he did because his coach told him he needed to do this to get faster. This same athlete would hit higher power numbers for longer with a much lower RPE and have quicker recovery during group training rides. He loved riding with a group, working with others, attacking etc. Physically these group sessions had more training effect and used up less mental energy units, leading to higher performances.

To achieve the best training effect in athletes a coach must be clever in designing a training plan that not only follows scientific principles but also one the athlete loves. Athlete joy overrules standard training methods. Athlete joy is necessary. Coaches need to think outside the standard training methodology box.


 Energy Bank Account Analogy   Each athlete has an energy bank account. He must put energy units into the bank in order to have any available to spend. For example, a supportive family will put energy into the account. An unsupportive family will drain the account. In order to train effectively and reach optimal performances the account must be in the black every day.

Rick designed the following method to quantify this stress score. It is a balance sheet that is added up daily, weekly and monthly to give a stress score. On a daily basis rate each of the following on a score of 1 (low) – 10 (high).

Stress contributors       

1. Physical including workouts, any other physical labor at work or home i.e. did you re-roof your house on your rest day?

2. Mental

3. Emotional

Recovery contributors

1. Sleep

2. Recovery/rest

3. Therapy. This is the catch all category that includes massage, counseling, shopping sprees etc. A shopping spree would go in the mental stress category for me but one of my athletes can recover from a 1⁄2 IM with one shopping spree! It was funny to me that Rick actually mentioned this. Whatever puts points in an energy account varies by athlete. Therapy also includes diet, for example, if an athlete had a hard travel day and only had airplane food, McDonald’s and is dehydrated the Therapy score would be very low. Not a positive factor in terms of recovery.

Here is an example of my day on Monday November 03, 2003.

  Score (1-10)Day S scoreDay balance
 Day R score
To calculate daily balance, take whichever day score is greater and subtract the other from it and give it the prefix of the greater value. In the above example, the day balance ended with a R2 score and put 2 energy units into the account.  A different day with an S score of 20 and R score of 6 would put the energy account in the red with a S14 for the day.

The value of this system to a coach is the ability to scan down training logs looking at S scores, R scores, daily balance, weekly average and monthly average to identify red flags and averages over time. A daily S2 score is ok for one day but every day for a month is not ok.

The value to the athlete is increased awareness of their energy account balance and ability to manipulate stress and recovery variables to keep their energy bank account in the black. Athletes play games with this and will do a day with a huge R score before a high volume training day to “bank some points” in their account to keep the weekly average in the R’s. When adding up R and S scores the athlete sees they have control of the situation. They need to rack up R points in order to spend S points on a training session.

“The coach is the banker” says Rick and needs to call the athlete when the energy account goes in the red.

By Lynda Wallenfels Google+

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