“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Monitoring training load and recovery in team sports

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by Ben Capostagno and Wayne Lombard

In a recent editorial for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Iñigo Mujika highlighted the importance of quantifying training load.(3) If an athlete shows positive adaptation to training, it is important for the strength and conditioning coach to know the exact training load the athlete was exposed to. Likewise if the athlete shows a maladaptation to training, accurately collected training load data will indicate whether the training load was excessive or insufficient. One of the simplest ways to quantify training load is to multiply the duration of the session in minutes by a rating of perceived exertion for the session. For example, if a training session lasts 60 minutes and the athlete rates the session as 5 out of 10 for intensity, the training load should be 300 units.

Once the training load has been accurately quantified it is crucial to monitor how the athletes are responding to the imposed load. Daily monitoring has become more popular within sports science as athletes are constantly exposed to ever increasing training loads. The daily monitoring commonly takes the form of questionnaires and should include a subjective rating of fatigue. In addition, Kenta and Hassmen (2) identified four key areas of recovery that should also be monitored;

  • nutrition and hydration
  • sleep and rest
  • relaxation and emotional support
  • stretching and active rest

If the athlete is actively engaging in these four areas of recovery, but still reporting high levels of fatigue, then the planned training load should be adjusted accordingly.

It is important to partner the subjective measures of recovery with an objective measure. The most common target of objective measures is the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is connected to a wide variety of systems within the human body and thus makes it a suitable target to monitor the overall well-being of the athlete.(1) Non-invasive measures of the autonomic system’s status include heart rate variability (HRV) and heart rate recovery (HRR). HRV appears to be gaining momentum as the objective measure of choice within teams and individual athletes. However, there is currently no clear consensus on the measurement and interpretation of HRR and HRV and therefore should be used with caution.

In conclusion there are simple, validated measures of both training load and the athlete’s responses to these training loads. Coaches and strength and conditioning experts are encouraged to use these or similar methods in order to manage their players during a competitive season.



1.     Borresen J and Lambert MI. Autonomic Control of Heart Rate during and after Exercise : Measurements and Implications for Monitoring Training Status. Sports Medicine 38: 633-646, 2008.

2.     Kentta G and Hassmen P. Overtraining and recovery. A conceptual model. Sports Medicine 26: 1-16, 1998.

3.     Mujika, I. The Alphabet of Sport Science Research Starts With Q. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 8: 465-466, 2013.

About the Authors

Benoit Capostagno completed his BSc degree (cum laude) specialising in the Sport Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch in 2006. He continued his studies at the University of Cape Town’s Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine completing his honours with a first class pass in 2007. He is continuing his postgraduate work with his PhD at this same unit and is investigating training adaptation and fatigue in cyclists. He has been a consultant with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa’s High Performance Centre’s Cycling Division since 2009. In addition, Ben has also assisted the Springbok Sevens Rugby team with monitoring the training status and levels of fatigue in their players since the 2008/2009 IRB World Sevens Series. Follow Ben on twitter @BCapostagno

Wayne Lombard completed his undergraduate and honors degrees at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban). He then joined the Sports Science Institute of South Africa as a Biokineticist and Performance enhancement specialist at the High Performance Centre. He then went on to complete is Master’s degree and is currently registered for a PhD in exercises science at the University of Cape Town, focusing on athlete monitoring of training loads, recovery and fatigue. Wayne has worked with various of South Africa’s top athletes in all sporting codes, including some of South Africa’s Paralympic and Olympic athletes. Follow Wayne on twitter @waynelombard.  You can also visit the Sport Science Institute of South Africa Website at http://www.ssisa.com/pages/high-performance/-high-performance-services.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Coaching Matters: Around the Web September 2013 | Underground Athletics

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