Interview with Dave Tenney

Today, I’m happy to have coach Dave Tenney of the Seattle Sounders (MLS) on the site. I first met Dave a couple years back when he asked if I could evaulate some of the players on the team using the Omegawave because the organization was considering purchasing one for Dave to use.

Since then, Dave and I have talked regularly about training and performance and he’s an extremely knowledeable and experienced coach that really gets the big picture. He’s also always on the cutting edge of technology and is in touch with the latest new training tools and solutions out there to help improve the training process.

Dave, I’m sure that as a coach for a professional soccer team in the US that also has ties to some of the biggest soccer clubs in the world you are well connected and hear a ton about some of the newer technologies and coaching tools that are out there and on the horizon, where do you see our field going in the next 5-10 years and what role do you see technology playing in that? Are there any particular systems or tools that you are particularly excited about or think have a lot of potential?

I just came back from Holland, and I think GPS and systems like the Inmotio system are allowing us to measure the mechanical load of team training far better than we ever have before. We have never been able to so accurately measure what we do in the team training environment than we can now.

That is changing.

This will allow us to better comprehend the overload that takes place. If we can measure the metabolic load of accelerations and decelerations, then we can begin to program more precisely. This is going to be a rapidly evolving field, as, within five years, we’ll probably have smart shirts that can measure all of that, but do it faster and more accurately than now.

Dave, it’s been a couple of years now since you first contacted me about my use of heart rate variability, can you tell us a bit about how you first become aware of the technology and what prompted you to get in touch with me in the first place?

We noticed there were some European teams coming though Seattle for pre-season, who used what I would call a scientific approach to training, and were starting to figure out how to use it with the OmeagWave program. After coming by your facility, and seeing the information we were able to get from it, I decided it was an investment in improving how we prepare our athletes.

When I first started using HRV with some of your athletes from the Seattle Sounders, what were your initial thoughts as far as the information it was able to provide you with as a coach?

Beyond using HRV, we were also at the time using the Polar T2 system to monitor training loads. However, I was slowly becoming frustrated, because I didn’t really know what a “high” measurement meant. Did the players perform too much? Why was a certain player high?

My first thought was that this would be giving me a better indicator of why an athlete would be high or low in his HR response. It filled in a big picture to the puzzle. When you begin to understand the metabolic make-up of your athletes, and then get a good picture in how they typically fatigue, then all the other forms of training monitoring – Polar HR, GPS, etc. – takes on a new relevance

Based on the HRV results and feedback that I was able to give you, what impact did it have on how you approached training the athletes that we were testing? How was this approach different than it might have been if you had not been able to use HRV with those guys?

We could individualize our loading structure so much better. We could make earlier interventions with athletes because the residue of fatigue was there to be clearly recognized. There was less of a “put him out there and hope he makes it through”. It also opened up a whole new world of individualization of recovery methods based on the results we were getting.

And, lastly, it helped us really understand what was taking place with a guy. Maybe he didn’t look right, lethargic… This gave us the tools to recognize he was fatigued, and he needed us to back off.

Can you give us any specific examples of big changes in performance or fitness or recovery and such that happened with any particular players that were included in that first test group?

The first test group was given some specific recovery methods. We have it programmed well enough now, where we know what athletes need which type of soft tissue therapy post training based on HRV data. We’ve had our starting center midfielder here, just end the season leading the league in tackles won, and playing over 1,200 more minutes than previous seasons – after having nagging quad injuries that previous two years. I attribute this to how well we managed our system using HRV.

A second example is our right back, who we actually kept on the field and played more than we normally would have because he continued to have very healthy parasympathetic tone. We were deep into our 2010 season, and had multiple games per week, and the coaching staff felt this player needed a rest, because we had no cover for him and couldn’t afford to lose him.

I was adamant that HRV indicated there was little residual fatigue there, and other players who had played less needed a rest far more than he did. This player continued on and played every match the rest of the year.

Obviously the coaching staff and team must have seen some benefits from using HRV since they went out and spent the thousands of dollars it costs to get the Omegawave system, what all went into the decision making process within the organization to go ahead and spend the money and begin using HRV on a team wide basis?

I think there are two elements to this: (1) if top European teams have been using it, then it will have instant credibility with the players and coaches in MLS. So, it was actually my head coach who asked me to look into it after hearing that Bayern Munich and AC Milan had used it. (2) We have such a crammed, busy schedule that the management that can avoid injuries and optimize performance can have a huge jump on the competition.

So, since our head coach was in favor of it, and our first experiments at your place made it seem that it could be a useful tool, our club decided to invest in it.

Can you tell us how you’ve been able to incorporate HRV assessments into the grand scheme of the team’s overall fitness training plan throughout the off-season as well as the in-season? What other sorts of assessments and monitoring do you guys do aside from using HRV?

As I said previously, I use HRV to cross-reference Polar T2 data to refine the way that we look at HR curves as part of our post-training analysis. If a player is “green”, fresh, and healthy from positive HRV scores, then I become less worried about high HR values. In fact, this may be the perfect time to over-load him.

However, I am going to watch my loading on someone who may start a training week overly sympathetic dominant. Beyond that, we also measure power (jump mat) during the year, we will use the FMS. This is what we would do above and beyond the pre-season measurements we may take.

I know that for me personally, using HRV over the last ten years has really pushed me to learn a great deal more about the body and performance in general. Is there anything that really stands out in your mind that using HRV has taught you as a coach that you didn’t know before and probably wouldn’t have learned without the technology?

Yeah, it just opens up a new world to understanding the physiological impact of your games and training sessions. You learn to see and understand residual fatigue. The effect that overall stress has on athletes and their ability to make quality adaptations to training. Normally, this is something that’s been very difficult to do.

In reality, people have put together 8 week programs, and hoped they worked based on such a program with past athletes. This allows us to periodize in a week to week manner so much better.

Obviously you guys are a big team with athletes whose careers depend on their performance, but what advantages do you see HRV offering the average guy who just works out to stay in shape for a recreational sport or even just to stay healthy and fit? Do you think using HRV can help them get better results?

I think in some ways, it’s even more important for these guys. We have a generation of guys who like get in the weight room, or put on some running shoes and “get it on” every day. They don’t feel like they’ve done something until they pushed themselves to the point of exhaustion. A guy like this, without a coach, is due for some serious overuse injuries as he gets into his 30’s. This is where HRV comes in. A motto that I like is: “Always train as hard as you should, not as hard as you can”

That’s a great motto, I might have to steal that one!

Last question…your club has made the playoffs in each of its first three seasons as an MLS team and became the first ever MLS team to repeat as Open Cup Champions so obviously you and the staff there are doing a fantastic job of getting guys ready to play.

From the bottom to the top, what are some of the biggest factors that you think have led the team to being very successful in such a short amount of time? Based on your many years of experience as both a player and as a fitness coach, what do you think are some of the most important components to finding and maintaining success, both as an athlete and as a team?

If I could list how HRV (and our other methods) have helped us, I would say we’ve been able to get an edge by:

1) Measure residual fatigue on a weekly basis.

2) Create an individualized recovery protocol for almost every player.

3) Learn that training less often leaves our team fresher.

4) Make accurate squat rotation decisions, because we know which players are most likely to bring an optimized performance.

Thanks a lot Dave! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to everyone on the site. Is there anywhere that people can find out more about you or get more information on any future coaching opportunities like the mentorship weekend that you put together last summer?

Thanks Joel, just keep checking back here on your website, on strengthcoach.com, or find me on Facebook to find out about the Mentorship Weekend (will be in June 2012), or Internship program we have going on.

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  1. “where we know what athletes need which type of soft tissue therapy post training based on HRV data”
    Can anyone elaborate on this, specifically what relationship exists between therapy types and HRV data?

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