Peak Mental Performance Podcast — Measuring Athlete Stress and Improving Performance Using Heart Rate Variability

TAGS: improve stress response, monitor stress, BioForce HRV system, Ultimate MMA Conditioning, evaluate stress levels, Measuring Athlete Stress, Hans Sayle, Peak Mental Performance Podcast, improve performance, heart rate variability, Joel Jamieson, Joe Schillero, stress

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The term "stress" is most often used when we talk about having a hectic day or being late paying bills, but stress also includes much more than just those things. Back in 1936, endocrinologist Hans Sayle defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” For the competitive athlete, stress often includes:

  • Strength and conditioning training
  • Sport practice
  • Competition
  • Academics (if a high school or college athlete)
  • Relationships (family, friends, significant others)
  • Diet
  • A host of other factors such as environment, medical conditions, etc.

While many of those stressors are positive, they still add to the cumulative amount of total stress the athlete faces on a daily basis. Often, athletes and coaches focus only on one area of stress and then wonder why training or competition performance suffers for one athlete and not the other.


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There are many different ways to evaluate stress levels in athletes, ranging from technology such as heart rate variability (HRV), to simply asking questions to evaluate how they are doing when they come into the weight room. No matter how stress is evaluated, it is important to make a training program that provides enough stress to create adaptation (get stronger, faster, better conditioned), while allowing (and enhancing) recovery from stressors.

In this interview, I talk with strength and conditioning coach Joel Jamieson. Joel is widely considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on strength and conditioning for combat sports, having trained many of MMA's best athletes since 2004. He is the author of the bestselling book Ultimate MMA Conditioning and has worked with and consulted extensively for teams and organizations ranging from Navy SEALS to Life Time Fitness. His BioForce HRV system is used by teams in the NFL, NBA, MLS, NCAA, and more.

Joel and I discuss the impact of stress on the athlete, ways to monitor stress response using heart rate variability, as well as practical interventions for improving stress response in athletes to improve performance. It is a great discussion, and we get into many real-world ways to help athletes maximize their recovery and ability to handle the stress placed on them in both training and in life.

By the minute:

  • (2:02) What is stress?
  • (7:17) What happens when an athlete doesn’t manage stress correctly?
  • (13:50) What is heart rate variability (HRV)?
  • (19:19) New technology related to HRV
  • (26:15) Differences between athletes
  • (35:45) Common mistakes people make using HRV to dictate training 

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