Heart Rate Variability – Why measure it?

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In view of observations of stress-associated variation in HRV and existing neurobiological evidence, HRV may be used as an objective assessment of stress and mental health
Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature

Heart Rate

The understanding of the relationship between Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and stress is increasing as the research in the area progresses. HRV is the amount of variation between heart beats, specifically the time between the R-R intervals. Two individuals who have the same number of heart beats per minute (BPM) can have drastically different variations in the time difference between R peaks.

R Intervals

Understanding the Autonomic Nervous System

In order to understand the role of HRV, it is important to have a general understanding of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is the part of the Nervous System which is responsible for carrying out involuntary activities (or things we do not have to think about) as the name suggests. Such activities include breathing, digestion and as we are discussing here the heartbeat. The ANS is made up of 2 branches: The Sympathetic division and Parasympathetic division.

Nervous System

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

The SNS is responsible for the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. SNS elevation occurs where there is a perceived need to be more alert and in response to increased perceived stress e.g. by increasing heart rate, breathing rate and inhibiting digestion.

Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

The PNS is responsible for the ‘Rest and Digest’ response and often holds opposing characteristics to the SNS. PNS elevation occurs where individuals are relaxed and focusing on restoration e.g. by lowering heart rate, breathing rate, and stimulating digestion. HRV provides an indication of the contribution of both branches. Contrary to what may initially be expected, a higher HRV is generally a sign of good nervous system balance (however it should be noted this is not always the case!) An individual with a balanced nervous system can switch to either a more dominant PNS or SNS state when necessary. The PNS is telling the heart to beat slower, whilst the SNS is telling the heart to beat faster. From a practical perspective it can be useful to consider why this would be beneficial.

Example 1

If an individual is seeking to sleep it would be favorable to be in a predominately parasympathetic state where relaxation and restoration can occur. If SNS stimulation is high, getting to sleep is going to be problematic as arousal is high.

Example 2

When taking part in exercise it is beneficial to have an increase in SNS stimulation. For example, when running around a football field SNS stimulation is required to increase heart rate in order to direct blood to the working muscles to be able to carry out the activity. Furthermore, optimal arousal can be beneficial to increase performance. If PNS was high, competition for blood flow would present between digestion and the working muscles. Furthermore, individuals could present as too relaxed and arousal levels would be lowered.

Monitoring HRV

As technology progresses, wearable devices (e.g. chest straps, watches) and apps that can track HRV have been released. Although the accuracy of these methods is questionable, many have been shown to be reliable at rest with more research necessary during exercise.

HRV Standards

HRV is an individualized metric. It is important that each individual monitoring HRV understands what their normal HRV is, rather than using generalizations. A deviation from one’s own norm can provide a useful insight into ANS balance. Therefore, rather than comparing between athletes, a more suitable comparison would be relative to the same athlete.

Why would HRV decrease?

A trend for lower HRV is indicative of one branch inhibiting the other. Often PNS inhibition by the SNS can occur as a stress response. If HRV decreases long term (over several days) it is a signal that the body is working hard and in need of restoration. A lower trend for athletes may signify functional/non-functional overreaching initially before potential overtraining. Other potential reasons for the trend may include poorer sleep patterns, a new training stimulus, an increase in daily stressors e.g. around college exam periods, poorer nutrition, or the onset of illness. Furthermore, an effect of the ageing process is a natural decrease in HRV.

Can HRV be increased?

It is generally understood that the more cardiovascular efficient an individual is, the higher their HRV is. As a result, it’s not a surprise that elite endurance athletes usually have the highest HRV. There are many ways to increase HRV, most of which essentially oppose those that decrease it i.e. monitoring training load, improving nutrition, placing an emphasis on sleep, and reducing daily life stressors where possible.

Putting it all together

Whilst monitoring HRV is not going to help athletes reduce stress on its own, it does provide objective data as to the well-being of athlete which in turn can help athletes recognize the impact of lifestyle behaviors, and potentially create a positive change. HRV does have the potential to improve training quality as the objective data can allow practitioners to identify athlete’s recovery status and therefore prescribe suitable training loads. As stress includes biological, physical, and psychological factors, HRV should be integrated within the overall athlete monitoring alongside athlete self-reporting when evaluating stress. The underlying cause of the stress response should be considered. In practical terms, for some, exercise may be the root cause of the stress, for others it may be the reliever.

What is Metrifit?

Metrifit provides a simple and effective method for athletes to record their well-being and training responses as part of its athlete monitoring package. Athletes can communicate with you everyday via psychometric data such as sleep quality, sleep duration, stress levels, muscle soreness. Session-RPE can be used for monitoring training loads and GPS information can also be integrated. To find out more about the Metrifit Ready to Perform product and gain insight on the physical and mental state of your athletes through our daily wellbeing questionnaire contact us at .

About the author

Michael is a Sport Science student intrigued by understanding the variables and key determinants that impact an individual’s (athlete or general population) readiness to perform from both a psychological and a physiological standpoint. His primary areas of research revolve around physical development and the role of nutrition, sleep and stress in physical development. Michael works in multiple strength and conditioning environments from Rugby to Soccer to GAA, and also runs an online coaching service at Synthesize Coaching.

Why Monitor

References

Interpreting HRV Trends in Athletes: High Isn’t Always Good and Low Isn’t Always Bad by Andrew Flatt

Inverted U hypothesis

Can Wearable Devices Accurately Measure Heart Rate Variability? A Systematic Review

Heart Rate Variability Explained: Part 1

Seasonal changes in physical performance and heart rate variability in high level futsal players

The role of heart rate variability in sports physiology

Endurance training guided individually by daily heart rate variability measurements

Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature

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Robert Karlsson, Professional Golfer

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2019-03-04T20:48:39+01:00

Robert Karlsson, Professional Golfer

“I recently started using the Metrifit system and have found it to be a very supportive tool in keeping me focused and accountable to my processes & commitments and on track to reach my goals. I have found it enjoyable and think that it is beneficial to professional golfers and athletes in sport.”
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Richard Deuchrass

Lincoln University Athletic Performance Manager

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2017-06-12T13:58:58+01:00

Richard Deuchrass

Lincoln University Athletic Performance Manager

"Metrifit has been used to gain a more in-depth insight into our student-athlete’s progressive athletic development and balance relative to their particular sporting and training activities, academic studies and total load. Metrifit doesn’t just help with optimising our Sports Scholarship students’ athletic performance. It assists us in helping them get the balance right between their sporting activities and academic studies."
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Derek Bol
Strength & Conditioning Coach, Valparaiso University
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2017-06-20T22:26:45+01:00
Derek Bol
Strength & Conditioning Coach, Valparaiso University
"As a school that cannot spend large amounts of money on athlete monitoring, Metrifit has provided us with a great tool for monitoring stress and athlete readiness at a great rate. Being athlete driven, we're able to get buy-in from the athlete, and drive individual or team wide conversations regarding lifestyle and performance education in the direction needed. Seeing acute and chronic stress on a real-time basis has greatly improved the way we schedule workouts and arrange travel during the season."
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Edgar K. Tham

Founder and Chief Sport & Performance Psychologist, SportPsych Consulting (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines)

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2017-06-12T18:03:35+01:00

Edgar K. Tham

Founder and Chief Sport & Performance Psychologist, SportPsych Consulting (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines)

"Metrifit is an amazingly easy-to-use yet comprehensive monitoring tool for training and recovery! The elite athletes we work with are able track and monitor their situations and states daily, in order to maximize their performance loads and recovery practices. This also helps our coaches customize the training programs ‎more effectively. I'd recommend this for any serious team / athlete or coach in wanting to bring out the very best in their long-term performances! "
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Academy Directory, SJ.B (St. Joseph’s Bray ) Academy

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2017-06-16T16:51:01+01:00

Niall O’Driscoll

Academy Directory, SJ.B (St. Joseph’s Bray ) Academy

"The success of young athletes using Metrifit was an interesting challenge in the Elite Soccer space… After six months of learning, creating habit with teenagers the project is a huge success…. 90% completion rate has allowed us deal with all the key KPI’s that are needed in their development. In our space with developing athletes…Metrifit is a godsend and is the most important tool in this space."
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Quinnipiac University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

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2017-06-12T17:58:50+01:00

Brijesh Patel

Quinnipiac University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

"Metrifit is an outstanding platform to track your athletes’ wellness. It’s simple to use, easy to implement and gives outstanding information on your athlete’s subjective wellness which can be used to assign training loads. I highly recommend Metrifit for any coach looking to begin implementing technology into their program"
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Joe O’Connor

NISUS Fitness, S&C Coach Clare Senior Hurling, Horse Sport Ireland and Limerick Senior Hurling

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2017-06-12T13:55:49+01:00

Joe O’Connor

NISUS Fitness, S&C Coach Clare Senior Hurling, Horse Sport Ireland and Limerick Senior Hurling

"While working with the Clare Senior Hurling team (2012-2014), Horse Sport Ireland (U25 European Eventing Champions) and currently with the Limerick Senior Hurling Team, Metrifit provides our team with critical information across a number of essential aspects of elite athletic performance. You don’t really know how your players are responding to training stimuli unless you have daily data and Metrifit provides and easy to use and highly effective means of finding this critical information."
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Head Coach, Irish Hockey

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2017-06-15T12:51:46+01:00

Dave Passmore

Head Coach, Irish Hockey

"When our players have been only training with the national team Metrifit allows me to liaise very closely with our conditioning coaches to manage load and intensity of training during training camps. I recommend it to anyone who wants an easy to use monitoring system."
"I've found Metrifit an invaluable resource. Not only to monitor daily wellness, readiness to train and training load within the squad, but also to monitor training load externally with additional external squads. Furthermore, Metrifit has acted as a key teaching tool, allowing young athletes associate good sleeping, eating and recovery habits to an improved sense of wellness and thus superior on-field performance."

Tommy Mooney

Strength and Conditioning Coach at DCU Sport and with Dublin Minor GAA

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2017-06-14T13:31:14+01:00

Tommy Mooney

Strength and Conditioning Coach at DCU Sport and with Dublin Minor GAA

"I've found Metrifit an invaluable resource. Not only to monitor daily wellness, readiness to train and training load within the squad, but also to monitor training load externally with additional external squads. Furthermore, Metrifit has acted as a key teaching tool, allowing young athletes associate good sleeping, eating and recovery habits to an improved sense of wellness and thus superior on-field performance."
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Erik Helland

Director of Strength & Conditioning and Head Strength Coach Men’s basketball, University of Wisconsin

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2017-06-12T11:42:14+01:00

Erik Helland

Director of Strength & Conditioning and Head Strength Coach Men’s basketball, University of Wisconsin

"The ability to acutely monitor stress and recovery and make the correct adjustments was critical to our health and performance throughout the NCAA tournament. Metrifit has a very strong educational component. With the information we get, I am able to clearly understand the habits and behaviors of our athletes, and how they may be impacting performance."
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Head of Fitness for International Football/Fitness Coach Men's Senior Team
Football Association of Ireland

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2017-06-16T15:11:55+01:00

Dan Horan

Head of Fitness for International Football/Fitness Coach Men's Senior Team
Football Association of Ireland

"Metrifit has been instrumental in helping our international Managers, Coaches and Medical teams to identify players who require modifications in training loads or who are struggling with some aspect of their preparation for, or recovery from, training and matches.  One of the big strengths of this technology is that it allows our Managers and Medical teams to monitor players both during international competition and outside of these times."
"Our coaches through Metrifit basically have an ‘X-ray’ vision into the habits and lifestyles and stressors their athletes have on a day to day basis, especially when they are not together. Thus the professional authentic relationships created through the casual conversations, reflection process and application provided is priceless."

Brian Clarke

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Brian Clarke

Head Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator,Noblesville High School

"Our coaches through Metrifit basically have an ‘X-ray’ vision into the habits and lifestyles and stressors their athletes have on a day to day basis, especially when they are not together. Thus the professional authentic relationships created through the casual conversations, reflection process and application provided is priceless."
"The cutting edge technology of Metrifit enables Managers, Coaches and Players to use this innovative technology to gain these crucial percentage points over their opponents in a technologically advanced yet easy to use web-based platform. The data collated on a daily basis greatly informs Management Teams while the educational aspect of the system really appeals to modern day athletes who are constantly looking for that extra edge."

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2017-06-14T13:24:03+01:00

Cian O’Neill

Kildare Senior Football Manager

"The cutting edge technology of Metrifit enables Managers, Coaches and Players to use this innovative technology to gain these crucial percentage points over their opponents in a technologically advanced yet easy to use web-based platform. The data collated on a daily basis greatly informs Management Teams while the educational aspect of the system really appeals to modern day athletes who are constantly looking for that extra edge."
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Michael Torres

CEO, Shift Performance, Miami

"What’s more impressive is the ability to utilize the basics but at the same time have the capability to explore detailed and intricate correlative data points that helps us as coaches gain the most from our athletes. Metrifit has also served as an easy communications hub to ensure essential information is passed to the appropriate team. We are excited to what the future from Metrifit will bring."
"I wanted to reach out to thank Metrifit for an extremely successful season. Our Regis University women’s side won the ultra-competitive RMAC with a 11-0-1 record. Our student-athletes reported in post-season interviews the positive use of Metrifit that enabled their own reflection about their bodies and also found value providing information to coaches for our strategic planning purposes. On more than one occasion, we recognized deviations from norms and were able to step-in with a quick chat to help a player get back on track or refer her to the proper support personnel for further assistance. Fantastic! "

J.B. Belzer
Head Coach, Women's Soccer at Regis University

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J.B. Belzer
Head Coach, Women's Soccer at Regis University

"I wanted to reach out to thank Metrifit for an extremely successful season. Our Regis University women’s side won the ultra-competitive RMAC with a 11-0-1 record. Our student-athletes reported in post-season interviews the positive use of Metrifit that enabled their own reflection about their bodies and also found value providing information to coaches for our strategic planning purposes. On more than one occasion, we recognized deviations from norms and were able to step-in with a quick chat to help a player get back on track or refer her to the proper support personnel for further assistance. Fantastic! "
“Metrifit has become a multifactorial platform that has helped up us provide deeper context to the decisions that we make on a daily basis in regards to the physical development of our student-athletes. We have intimately been utilizing both the subjective wellness questionnaire along with player training load data to drive professional conversation and actionable tasks to enhance the sporting results and quality of life for our student-athletes with unparalleled success.”

Kevin Schultz
Associate Director of Strength & Conditioning
Director of Olympic Strength & Conditioning
University of Wisconsin

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2017-06-20T12:12:33+01:00

Kevin Schultz
Associate Director of Strength & Conditioning
Director of Olympic Strength & Conditioning
University of Wisconsin

“Metrifit has become a multifactorial platform that has helped up us provide deeper context to the decisions that we make on a daily basis in regards to the physical development of our student-athletes. We have intimately been utilizing both the subjective wellness questionnaire along with player training load data to drive professional conversation and actionable tasks to enhance the sporting results and quality of life for our student-athletes with unparalleled success.”
"Metrifit provides immediate insight and feedback on the physical and mental states of the student-athletes.  It allows us to adjust practices and training sessions to accurately meet needs. We have been able to identify potential injury concerns, track current injury status and monitor return to play progress."

Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

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2017-06-16T15:08:31+01:00

Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

"Metrifit provides immediate insight and feedback on the physical and mental states of the student-athletes.  It allows us to adjust practices and training sessions to accurately meet needs. We have been able to identify potential injury concerns, track current injury status and monitor return to play progress."
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Graham Williams

Athletic Development Coach, MSc ASCC
Millfield School, UK

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2017-06-19T14:14:37+01:00

Graham Williams

Athletic Development Coach, MSc ASCC
Millfield School, UK

"Metrifit has enabled us to bring to life the complexiities associated with managing the academic, pastoral and sporting demands of pupils aged 13 - 18 in a UK day and boarding school environment It has provided another bridge between coaches and sports pupis, giving pupils a space to provide honest self reflection on wellbeing and providing coaches a head start on appropriate freshness and fatigue balance across the school week."
"The holistic approach of medical, physical, emotional and even tech/tactical; bringing together what we need to monitor and evaluate our University players. “If you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist.” I know we were the first Canadian University to use the program and I know many more will be asking for it in the future! I highly recommend Metrifit."

Tino Fusco, B.Sc. ChPC

Head Coach, Women's Soccer, Mount Royal University (Canada)

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2017-06-12T14:25:37+01:00

Tino Fusco, B.Sc. ChPC

Head Coach, Women's Soccer, Mount Royal University (Canada)

"The holistic approach of medical, physical, emotional and even tech/tactical; bringing together what we need to monitor and evaluate our University players. “If you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist.” I know we were the first Canadian University to use the program and I know many more will be asking for it in the future! I highly recommend Metrifit."
"Metrifit has been hugely beneficial in supporting our coaches and back room staff to track and monitor our players training loads, performance and readiness to train. Having a one-stop shop for collating all relevant information across a holistic picture of the player allows us to help prevent burnout, injury and provide timely feedback and communication to all."

Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Kerry Senior Football, Manager

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2017-06-12T14:01:46+01:00

Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Kerry Senior Football, Manager

"Metrifit has been hugely beneficial in supporting our coaches and back room staff to track and monitor our players training loads, performance and readiness to train. Having a one-stop shop for collating all relevant information across a holistic picture of the player allows us to help prevent burnout, injury and provide timely feedback and communication to all."
"The visualisation of data allows for easy discussion between athletes, performance staff and medical teams and offers the potential to predict and avoid issues which could hamper performance. Over the year the data has proven instrumental in our critical decision making. Metrifit is a excellent monitoring tool however the unsung additional aspect is the fantastic and tireless customer support."

Robert Walsh
Strength Coach
Nederlandse Ski Vereniging (Netherlands Ski/Snowboard Team)
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2017-07-25T14:10:08+01:00
Robert Walsh
Strength Coach
Nederlandse Ski Vereniging (Netherlands Ski/Snowboard Team)
"The visualisation of data allows for easy discussion between athletes, performance staff and medical teams and offers the potential to predict and avoid issues which could hamper performance. Over the year the data has proven instrumental in our critical decision making. Metrifit is a excellent monitoring tool however the unsung additional aspect is the fantastic and tireless customer support."
"We have been using Metrifit for the past season at Cornish Pirates. It has been greatly beneficial for us to have our wellness and load management data on one easy to access system. We have found this invaluable over the past season whereby Coaches, Physios and Strength and conditioning coaches can monitor both the psychological and physiological load of our athletes on a daily basis."

Paul Cremin

Head Physiotherapist, Cornish Pirates Rugby Club

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2017-06-16T15:06:04+01:00

Paul Cremin

Head Physiotherapist, Cornish Pirates Rugby Club

"We have been using Metrifit for the past season at Cornish Pirates. It has been greatly beneficial for us to have our wellness and load management data on one easy to access system. We have found this invaluable over the past season whereby Coaches, Physios and Strength and conditioning coaches can monitor both the psychological and physiological load of our athletes on a daily basis."
"Metrifit is an integral part of the set up within the senior and intermediate inter-county Camogie.  The data collected daily on the individual players is critical to the decision making of the backroom team including, managers, trainers, selectors, physiotherapist and indeed myself. As a nutritionist it allows me to monitor the quality of the player’s diet, energy levels, sleep pattern and overall wellbeing."

Yvonne Treacy

Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie

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2017-06-13T16:38:55+01:00

Yvonne Treacy

Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie

"Metrifit is an integral part of the set up within the senior and intermediate inter-county Camogie.  The data collected daily on the individual players is critical to the decision making of the backroom team including, managers, trainers, selectors, physiotherapist and indeed myself. As a nutritionist it allows me to monitor the quality of the player’s diet, energy levels, sleep pattern and overall wellbeing."
"The Metrifit RTP platform is an excellent tool to monitor, evaluate and make the right decisions for your athlete’s well being and performance. It enables coaches and athletes to track and sift through all the variables that underpin well being and performance on a day to day basis and to address an issue or potential issue in real time. A simply wonderful product."

Dr. Dale Richardson

CEO Achieve Total Performance Pty Ltd

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2019-03-04T21:38:45+01:00

Dr. Dale Richardson

CEO Achieve Total Performance Pty Ltd

"The Metrifit RTP platform is an excellent tool to monitor, evaluate and make the right decisions for your athlete’s well being and performance. It enables coaches and athletes to track and sift through all the variables that underpin well being and performance on a day to day basis and to address an issue or potential issue in real time. A simply wonderful product."
"Gaelic football is an intermittent high-intensity collision-based field sport requiring high levels of endurance, strength, power, agility, and speed as well as proficiency with gaelic-related skills. These components comprise the training modalities used at the elite level and the monitoring of such a vast range of modalities is central to peak performance. The athlete monitoring tool Metrifit allows us to do this and can keep us one step ahead of our competitors."

Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

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2017-06-12T14:23:50+01:00

Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

"Gaelic football is an intermittent high-intensity collision-based field sport requiring high levels of endurance, strength, power, agility, and speed as well as proficiency with gaelic-related skills. These components comprise the training modalities used at the elite level and the monitoring of such a vast range of modalities is central to peak performance. The athlete monitoring tool Metrifit allows us to do this and can keep us one step ahead of our competitors."
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