Dr Darren Burgess, Port Adelaide FC
Darren is one of the best-known high performance coaches in football, having previously been involved with the Australian National team, The Socceroos, as well as English Premier League stalwarts Liverpool. He has a PhD in sport science, a reputation as a hard driving fitness coach, and includes training camps in the heat of Dubai as part of his pre-season team preparation.
Our involvement with Darren goes back to 2010 when he started using the ithlete mobile app with a few selected players at Liverpool. He liked the simplicity of use as well as the good quality feedback he was getting, but needed a way to scale use up to the whole squad. It was a discussion with Darren that led to the creation of the ithlete Team app, which is still in daily use at Liverpool.
Darren kindly agreed to answer some questions about what he sees that is useful in ithlete heart rate variability (HRV) and how he uses it to maximum effect.
How did you first hear about HRV and what made it interesting for you?
I read about it in 2009 while I was researching some monitoring practices I could potentially use for the 2010 World Cup. I was interested because it’s a very passive measure. I started using it with Liverpool FC with a few of the more compliant players. Found it very reliable and had a lot of success with using ithlete to assist in modifying training loads.
When I moved to PAFC we ordered 45 for use with every player as we were planning on increasing their training loads substantially and I wanted a reliable, easy metric as I didn’t know the playing group and I didn’t know what their perception of effort was so didn’t really want to rely on [subjective measures such as] RPE.
What’s your answer to the compliance problem in team situations?
It can only really be education. Convincing the players you are there for them, and not just to collect data. At PAFC, we started collecting data EVERY day over an entire pre season with a 94% compliance rate for 44 players. After a few weeks of establishing baselines/norms for various scenarios we started acting on the data toward the middle/end of our 16 week pre season.
Do you have players monitor their HRV every day? Would you ever measure on game day?
I ask the players to measure three times per week, we choose the days we are training – that makes it a lot easier for the players to remember. We have measured on game day a few times with some interesting results! There’s quite a range of trends in the team to big games, trial matches, pressure games and even home v away matches.
Has the ability to collect subjective metrics at the same time as HRV led to additional insights?
It allows you to immediately and visually (using you Team App) correlate to workload as well as players sense of their own wellbeing. This pre season we have adjusted players training based on the combination. We have also established relationships between HRV and injury as well as other screening/monitoring tools such as GPS and RPE.
When you have focused preseason on developing aerobic fitness, have you noticed trends in HRV during the training itself?
We have definitely noticed a trend over our 4-month pre-season for an increase in HRV amongst our players as fitness for the season builds.
What’s different about the ithlete Team App compared to other team data gathering / athlete management systems?
The simplicity is just outstanding. The fact that the players can complete the collection in 1 minute and I can view their data remotely and compare it to the team and themselves within seconds of this is largely unique to ithlete and is a critical feature on training mornings when time is limited.
How did you use ithlete during The Recruit TV series & what insights did it lead to with respect to the selection of the potential athletes?
Each potential ‘Recruit’ completed an ithlete reading each day. The interesting thing was when the Recruits knew it was ‘Challenge Day’ (a day when they knew they were going to be put in uncomfortable situations such as jumping off buildings and helicopters etc.) their readings were all over the place!
What do you think needs to be done with HRV technology or educational aspects for HRV to be more widely used?
I think the technology is pretty good and with the intro of the Team App, the analysis is becoming sufficiently detailed. I think a further understanding of just how HRV is related to human behaviour/performance would assist, along with some more applied research.
Does HRV allow better selection and individualisation of recovery acceleration strategies in teams? (e.g. ice baths, cryotherapy, pool work, low intensity aerobic work, massage, supplements etc.).
I think there are some forms of recovery that address neural stress/fatigue better than others. So if we can pinpoint the type of stress the body is under then we can certainly be more specific with our recovery modalities.
Darren can be found on twitter @darrenburgess25