ithlete Pro

 

I wasn’t sure it was possible but ithlete HRV measurement and analysis just got even better with ithlete Pro

 

Editor Jan Birkmyre sporting the colours of the elite National Scratch Race Champion on her way to another win

 

If I am honest I was a bit slow to engage with ithlete Pro simply because I believed that the basic ithlete app that I was already using on my iPhone was perfect just as it was.  The quick daily readings have become an established part of my morning routine and the HRV reading, along with the advice given and its simple traffic light system, has guided my training for over three years now.  The results speak for themselves – even though I am now in my late 40’s I am still managing to ride PB’s and continue to sneak the odd win at an elite level too.

 

The biggest change that resulted from my use of ithlete is that I now take adaptation time only when I really need it.  In other words using ithlete has taken the trial and error out of managing the training and recovery balance, which means that I now train harder, pushing confidently beyond my limits and venturing into the realms of overreaching, safe in the knowledge that ithlete will warn me before this overreaching turns into overtraining.

 

Looking at my training diaries from the days before I used ithlete to monitor my HRV it is clear that the recovery that I took, which was dictated by a formulaic training plan, was too much and often poorly timed and as a result I did not reach my full potential.  Coupled with that, I caught every cold that was going around and so lost even more training time to illness.

 

So there is no doubt that measurement of my HRV and taking the daily advice offered by ithlete has been a good thing for me and that is not simply my opinion, I have hard facts to back that up.  So what I wondered what was all the fuss about ithlete Pro?

 

ithlete Pro timeline

 

First of all I guess it is good to know that the people at ithlete have not been resting on their laurels – they are continually working to improve the product, but how do you improve upon something that is already so good?  ithlete Pro is a subscription based app (yes, that means you have to pay a monthly subscription but at £2.99 that’s not going to make much of a dent in the monthly outgoings, not if your “carbon habit” is anything like mine anyway!) and with that subscription you get a cloud based service with some very interesting additional data.

 

I love numbers so, once I had sync’ed my data with my new ithlete Pro account, I spent some time looking at my stats going back over two years.  What was immediately clear was that I would be able to better understand what affects my HRV and consequently my ability to train more consistently – oh yay, even more training would be possible! 

 

The phone based app, which in my case is teamed with a Bluetooth chest strap to take the morning HRV measurement, now allows for the collection of additional data on a number of subjective measures: training load, sleep, fatigue, muscle soreness, mood and diet.  What ithlete Pro does so beautifully is to show any combination of these measures plotted with the daily HRV reading, a moving average HRV and your heart rate at the time of the reading.  This has really helped me understand the relationship between each individual measure and my HRV.  For me sleep stands out as the most significant factor affecting my recovery and therefore my HRV reading, and armed with this knowledge I plan to make some changes to positively affect that.

 

The next thing I noticed but initially did not pay proper attention to, was the Training Guide.  My reasoning was that I had a perfectly good coach and surely that was his job.  It does not help that I am not one for reading the instructions – I tend to just get on with it!  Curiosity eventually got the better of me when I realised that the advice offered by the Training Guide was sometimes different to that given with the daily reading on my phone.

 

ithlete Pro Training Guide

 

It turns out that the Training Guide is a whole new way of looking at energy and recovery.  On screen it is a bubble chart that sits just below the daily readings and plots recovery against activation.  Recovery is your HRV relative to your baseline over a 30 day period, whilst activation uses average R-R intervals (essentially your resting heart rate) captured during the HRV measurement and it is a calculation over the same 30 day period. 

 

Research has shown that these measures are important in flagging non-functional overreaching and overtraining, so based on these readings ithlete plots a daily bubble for you which will fall into one of four zones that prescribes the type of training your body is ready for; normal, light, rest or high intensity.

 

Here’s the science bit for those, like me, who want to understand a bit more.  The key to the Training Guide is that the average R-R interval (your heart rate) is controlled by both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, whilst the HRV measurement correlates well with just the parasympathetic, so taken together these measures give an insight to both nervous systems branches*.  Since the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action whilst the parasympathetic nervous system controls the body whilst it is at rest, you might assume that when one is dominant the other is dormant and indeed in a healthy unstressed body that is the case.  However studies have shown that they do not always work in opposition and when this happens it indicates the individual is moving towards non-functional overreaching (over training). 

 

Jan Birkmyre on her way to another World Masters Title and World Master Record

 

The ithlete Training Guide monitors how these two nervous systems are working and it gives you daily advice based on whether your energy and recovery are in the normal range or whether one or the other is impaired and if so it suggests that training intensities be reduced or rest taken to allow the system to deal with whatever stresses (work, life or training) the body is currently struggling with.

 

I have to say I’m sold, the training guide now rules my day.  I look at it immediately after taking my HRV and whilst enjoying the cup of coffee that has had to wait until after the reading has been taken.  In my experience, the bubbles are a more accurate reflection of how I feel and having read some of the research behind the measures, it is difficult to fault the science.

 

So if I thought ithlete was good before I would have to say it is great now and I have still to investigate the interface with other products like fitbit which could help me understand and tackle my sleep issues.

 

If you want to find out more, their website is myithlete.com

 

* The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action, it mobilises the fight or flight responses such as increasing the heart rate, increasing the release of sugar from the liver into the blood – under sympathetic control the body tenses and becomes more alert, while the parasympathetic nervous system controls the body while it is at rest.  It restores the body to a state of calm and is known as the rest-and-digest response, including decreased heart rate, muscle relaxation and increases digestive processes.

 

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