Sports Training & Conditioning Zone!

Using Data to Help Clients Handle Stress


We often hear (and probably say) that common phrase, "I'm so stressed." While we talk about stress mostly in the negative (think: fear), it can also be positive such as exercise. So stress is pretty much anything that forces the body's sympathetic nervous system, which initiates hormonal secretions, to react. This necessary response helps the body adapt and can help us achieve our goals.

There are four main types of stress that impact performance:

  • Mechanical stress. This type of stress, experienced as pain, injury, soreness, or tightness, is force that's applied to the body's muscle and support structures such as bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

  • Neural stress. Activities like plyometrics, sprints, explosive lifts, or max strength work are done at high intensities which stresses the central and peripheral nervous system, resulting in fatigue.

  • Metabolic stress. Activities like long-distance running or cycling that focus on maintaining power output for longer periods of time at elevated heart rates induce metabolic stress, which places pressure on the systems that produce and restore energy.

  • Psychological stress. The most commonly discussed type of stress, psychological stress is the stress we put on our mental state, specifically our mood and our ability to focus and persevere. For many people, exercise can help reduce psychological stress. The exception: elite athletes.

So how do we assess our clients' stress?

To understand how stressed a client's body is, we need to look at their functional state, or their body's normal state at which it can manage stress and perform at its best. The types of stress mentioned above can impact the body's ability to maintain its functional state, impacting performance capabilities, stress levels, and overall well-being.

What data can be tracked by wearables to assess your clients' functional state?

While wearable technology has advanced tremendously, it can't track everything — yet. Here are a few ways you can use wearables and conventional testing to assess your clients' functional state.

  • Daily vertical jump or broad jump test. This simple test can give insight into the status of the nervous system. Decreases from the client's baseline indicate that power-based activities probably aren't the best choice that day for the individual.

  • Tap test. Tracking how many finger taps can be performed in a 10-second period and looking at deviations from baseline has also proven to be effective for assessing the nervous system's status.

  • Heart rate monitoring. To test the metabolic functional state, monitor heart rate. An elevated resting heart rate or decreased heart rate recovery can indicate a depressed metabolic functional state and help you determine the best volume and intensity for conditioning sessions. Many wearables will track resting heart rate, typically during sleep, and heart rate recovery can be measured during activity. To get this data, ask your client to perform a bout of exercise bringing their heart rate to a consistent point, and track how many beats per minute the heart rate drops during a 1-minute rest period. Slower-than-normal recovery would indicate the need to adjust volume and/or intensity of the session.

How can recovery mitigate fatigue?

Regeneration activities can be matched up proactively against different types of stress load to help facilitate recovery and minimize the impact of the activity on the client. Soft-tissue management techniques can be effective in proactively dealing with mechanical stress load, cold-water immersion can be effective at balancing the autonomic nervous system, and active recovery and compression are effective ways to address metabolic stress.

Learn more about making data more meaningful with our newest online course, EXOS Presents: Using Data to Help Facilitate Recovery, which was created in collaboration with Intel.