Apr 5, 2017
Firstbeat Sports Monitor

Interview between John Lally representing Firstbeat Technologies and PIVOT Sports & Mike Potenza Director of Strength & Conditioning San Jose Sharks and Kevin Neeld, Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach San Jose Sharks

How does the Firstbeat Sports Monitor platform support your work as a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach in the NHL?

  • The NHL is one of the longest seasons in professional sports.  Each team will commonly play 13-16 games per month with no consistency to the format of days they play.  West coast teams will travel more than the east coast teams due to the proximity of franchise locations.  Given the compressed game schedule, travel schedule and requirements for mandatory days off per league rules, practice time is limited but still a valuable commodity.
  • When you have a limited amount of practice days during the year, a coaching staff needs to get the most out of the players tactically, emotionally, cognitively and physically.  A practice plan typically addresses all or parts of these areas, but what if the workload of that practice is too high and significant amounts of fatigue are caused the day before a game?

    • Herein lies the need for in-season monitoring of workload and intensity through HR.  In San Jose our goal is to monitor every practice during the season, which includes pre-season training camp.  Team workload/intensity and duration of monitored practice times are shared with the coaching staff so they have useful information when planning the next workday and the yearly work to rest schedule. 

* When you’re looking at real-time feedback or reviewing post-training reports, what are your “go-to” Firstbeat metrics?

– How do those metrics help with decision-making?

  1. Our “Go To” Metrics are the following: (please note, in addition to our post-practice review of data we track real time metrics during practice to make adjustments and recommendations when a player is exceeding workloads and to look at their HR recovery response between drills.)

    1. TRIMP: Used as our accumulative workload metric.  We take value in knowing the accumulation of workload based on intensity and duration of a session.  I used the TRIMP measure heavily when I first began using the Firstbeat systems. I continue to view TRIMP as an important indicator of total work stress and include several additional metrics that provide more detail to the story of the athlete’s activity. 
    2. TRAINING EFFECT (TE):  During short duration sessions/practices the TRIMP value may not express how intense the session is or if we have exceeded the appropriate work period when training certain energy pathways.  With TE we can see the level reached within Anaerobic Metabolism and prescribe the correct recovery strategy.  Generally speaking, higher levels of acidity are associated with sessions scoring a 4.0 or greater.  When we see these scores, our approach is to return PH to a normalized level and apply flushing type modalities like Marc-Pro and Normatec.  The “pumping” type modalities allow for circulation and lymphatic drainage of post-workout byproducts. 
    3. % of MAX HR:  During training we find it more valuable to look at this metric as a measure of HR recovery between drills.  The Max HR number is not concerning to us and we recognize every individual will be different.  The color-coding system of HR zones allows us to see beats of recovery during the rest period and gives an indicator to the coaches when full recovery is reached and the next repetition may begin.  Please note…. We provide this recovery feedback during conditioning drills with healthy-scratch players and injured players performing a reconditioning program.  WE DO NOT count player beats of recovery in full team practice for tactical drills. 
    4. HIGH INTENSITY DURATION MEASURE:  This measure has been a great addition to the system in that we can see how much time a player spends over 90% of Max HR.  During player specific conditioning sessions, we use this metric to ensure a player does not exceed a certain amount of time in the Max Intensity zone.  This metric acts as a check and balance for the specific energy system we are targeting in a particular session. 

* With the new Training Effect, what is the typical breakdown you see / would like to see in Aerobic vs. Anaerobic load?

– Differences by position, time of season, recent or upcoming schedule?

  • We look at our TRIMP and TE by position so to measure work to rest ratios of Forwards versus Defensemen.  A typical practice will have four lines of forwards and three lines of defensemen, which significantly changes the work to rest ratios per drill for those positions.  It is critical that we take into account each drills “cost of doing business” per position and plan recovery accordingly.

How do you share the findings and analysis with the coaching staff? What type of feedback are the players most interested?

  • The feedback the players are most interested in is seeing how fast their HR comes down after a drill.  We have explained to them that we want to see a quick HR recovery at the end of a drill and also want to see a quick recovery ability late in a practice.  That is the closest we can get to game-like measurement.  45-50 beats of recovery post drill, through an entire anaerobic practice is a great indicator of how “in-shape” a player is, but does not replace the metabolic experience of a game. 

Does it change (for players) based on the stage of their careers, whether they are younger developing players or established professionals?

  • I have found that very few young players are interested in looking at their HR report on a daily basis.  Those (young players) who are interested have a strong foundation in training and have great training habits.
  • I have experienced Veteran players who make it a regular practice to look at all aspects of their physical performance including the graphs of their HR recovery post practice.  It indicates that they view their bodies as their most important investment and they need to keep it performing at a high level to earn that next contract.  

Do you compare training load and individual player results between Barracudas and Sharks?

  • We compare AHL to NHL workloads and intensities in two ways:

    • Setting goals for player development—When programming for a young developing player we use our practices as a diagnostic to see beats of recovery post drill and recovery patterns through the QRT. After capturing we compare that player first to a positional player who is a few years older within our organization that we want that prospect player to grow into.  We also paint a long-term picture by comparing the info of that prospect player to a veteran player.
    • Comparing workload intensity from NHL to AHL—The AHL is a minor league affiliate to the NHL.  The leagues focus is development of young talent.  A critical part of an AHL player’s preparation is to practice at a pace and intensity that mirrors the NHL.  Coaches for the NHL team openly share their tactics of play with the coaches of their AHL affiliate.  This ensures that when the player is “called up” to play in the NHL they understand strategy, tactics and the competitive identity of the NHL team.  This is a format for building success for that player.  Our use of the HR system ensures we can compare and match the time spent in practice and time training to the correct energy pathways.

Your team will be among the first to utilize the new Firstbeat QRT app, what type of feedback or advantage do you expect to get?

  • With the Firstbeat QRT app we are looking to implement a simple, non-invasive diagnostic to help intervene on sleep enhancement and recovery programming.  With such a long season of travel and games, a premium needs to be put on recovery training and programming.  As a performance staff, this is where our focus lies.


* The NHL currently doesn’t allow HR monitoring during games, which creates challenges in terms of comprehensive load monitoring.

– How do you work around this obstacle?

– Does this place a premium on recovery data as the other side of the coin?

  1. It is a major missing piece of the puzzle that we do not have game data from HR monitors or GPS units because we do not know the cost of a NHL hockey game and the stresses that go along with that.  The frequency and physical component of games per week is very high both in the regular season and in the playoffs.  This being the case, missing game data forces performance coaches to only draw conclusions from sub-maximal practice data that only can be compared to practice and not the main show!  To further dissect the issue, by not monitoring games, performance coaches do not have a reference for the metabolic specific zones achieved in games.  These are extremely useful pieces of data that would be used to assign HR training zones for players who earn substantially different time on ice (T.O.I.) accumulations. 

How has Pivot Sports Global specifically helped you to understand and implement the Firstbeat Team System and the relevant heart rate & training load data into your program with San Jose Sharks.

1.  My experience with John Lally and Pivot Sports has been nothing less than stellar.  My biggest need when making the commitment to a HR monitoring system was the tech support and instruction of the systems capabilities.  This is my 11th season in San Jose and from the moment I met John he has exceeded my expectations for support by coming to our training and development camps to analyze training data and by being available whenever I have system management questions.  He has become a tremendous resource to discuss heart rate training in the sport of hockey and he has a unique approach when analyzing the training load of our sport during the season.  Over the years our collaboration has grown from general tracking of player HR into analyzing the specific HR zones of high minute players and looking at a structure to track HR load of specific drills.

To what extent has your work partnership with PIVOT Sports been successful over the years

2.  Over the years John has been a great resource for me to bounce questions off of especially when the challenging moments of the season were presented to me.  One specific occurrence was during a late season losing streak.  John helped me view practice HR data in a way that showed the level of fitness our team possessed during this losing streak.  The data reflected that our players HR recovery after intense game-like drills was very high, thus indicating we were a fit team and conditioning was not an issue.  He also provided me with advice on how to present the HR recovery data in effort to help educate our coaching staff.  That instruction from John was extremely valuable from a coaching and team management standpoint because it brought context to the physiology that we were looking at daily.


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