Physiology in Rowing

New methods of monitoring elite rowers

As Richard Godfrey and Greg Whyte have explained elsewhere in this issue, a crucial element of success in elite rowing training is comprehensive and accurate monitoring of physiology. However, continual monitoring is not always possible or desirable; most rowers prefer to train not in the lab, but in their own environment where (even with the best coach) physiological monitoring is much more difficult. However, Italian scientists have come up with a possible solution – ‘remote power spectral analysis of heart rate variability’.

In the study, the researchers monitored a group of 18 rowers (average age 25.3 years) from the Italian national rowing team in the season preceding the Athens 2004 Olympic games. The rowers were monitored while partially detrained, at the mid-point of the training season and finally close to the games. As part of this monitoring, the athletes were fitted with a miniature ‘trans-telephonic ECG recorder’ – a device that measures the beat to beat interval of the heart during training, which can therefore be used to calculate the heart rate variability, giving information on how the athlete is adapting to and recovering from training sessions. Data was also collected on respiratory rates during training and the rowers additionally completed stress perception questionnaires and provided additional feedback about any physical symptoms related to training. The collected data was then downloaded via a modem to a referral centre, where the scientists were able to analyse the results. These were as follows:

  • The system of collecting and transferring data was successful; all the ECG recordings were transmitted by phone to the referral centre without any problems;
  • Surprisingly perhaps, no significant difference was detected in any marker of heart rate variability between athletes who subsequently won a medal at the Olympic games and those who did not;
  • The average recorded respiratory rate was faster in subsequent medal winners compared to non-medal winners;
  • Non-medal winners recorded significantly greater stress scores at the mid-point of the training season and close to the games compared to medal winners.

The scientists concluded that their system could be employed to provide early detection of psychosomatic symptoms resulting from long duration and elevated stress in athletes preparing for top-level competitions. More generally, they go on point out that ‘this [remote monitoring system] shows the feasibility of remote monitoring of athletes’ cardiac adaptations to strenuous training in the field, and that it could be used for improving individual training programmes, allowing athletes evaluation in their natural environment.’

J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2006 Dec; 46(4):598-604

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