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Polar Overtraining Test


A new test based on the heart rate to measure an overtraining condition has been developed in Finland. This Overtraining Test in Polar Precision Performance Software shows a threatening overtraining condition in time, far more and easily than laboratory tests.

The test has been developed by Dr. Arja Uusitalo, specialist in sports medicine, at the Research Institute for Olympic Sports in Jyväskylä, in collaboration with the Finnish company Polar Electro, the original developer of wireless heart rate monitoring. The test is based on the material of the doctoral thesis of Dr. Uusitalo, reviewed at the University of Tampere in October 1998.

The Polar Overtraining Test applies the latest knowledge of the connections between the heart rate and the physical condition. According to the most recent information, the heart rate at rest and during exercise, the heart rate variability, and, for instance, the recovery heart rate after exertion, accurately depict the performance level of the athlete's and exerciser's cardiovascular system.

Heart rate as a reliable indicator of an overtraining condition

The Polar Overtraining Test is the first objective method suitable for field use, reliably showing early warning signs of overtraining or of an already existing overtraining condition. Other methods available, for instance tests based on the measuring of stress hormones, always require blood samples and laboratory calls.

The measuring method based on the heart rate can partly replace extensive laboratory testing. This test takes into consideration the individual differences between athletes by measuring the initial level of each athlete prior to the training season. These initial values serve as references during the training season.

The new Overtraining Test is based on the capability of Polar's most advanced heart rate monitor, Polar Vantage NV, to detect and record the heart rate variability. The method measures the heart rate variability and the heart rate in an orthostatic test. Changes in the heart rate and heart rate variability caused by standing up are compared with initial values at the beginning of the training season. Changes in the heart rate warn about a threatening overtraining condition, also indicating the type of overexertion in question.

The heartbeat can be measured in real time with wireless ECG accurate heart rate monitors. Polar Electro have intense collaboration with the world's leading research institutes and universities in this field. - We are presently running several studies to further develop methods based on the heart rate for the needs of athlete training, fitness exercise, and rehabilitation, says Dr. Raija Laukkanen, Research Manager at Polar.

Direct feedback from the trainer's own body

The Polar Overtraining Test is carried out by means of the heart rate monitor and a specially designed computer program. According to Dr. Arja Uusitalo, the method is specially designed as an aid for athletes, coaches, and sports physicians.

- The initial measurements are made with the heart rate monitor in preferably standardized conditions. It is most convenient if the athlete makes them when getting up in his own home in the morning. He lets the monitor register the heart rate for some time while lying down, then entering the interval of getting up into the monitor, after which he continues to measure the heart rate for a while after getting up. The information registered in the heart rate monitor is transferred into the computer, explains Dr. Uusitalo.

The initial measurings form the basis for the follow-up during the training season. The computer analyses the new data recorded by the athlete¥s heart rate monitor, and provides a detailed account of the situation.

Dr. Uusitalo points out that an overtraining condition always has to be taken seriously, as it may have long term, and sometimes even permanent consequences. Some athletes never reach their former top performance level after an overtraining condition. - The most demanding task for the coach and the athlete is to find out the cause of the overtraining condition and how to control it. What makes it easier, is that a new test will tell whether the condition was fatigue, caused by an acute stress situation, or an athletic burn-out as a result of too heavy training.

It is particularly important for young athletes to avoid training too hard which might lead to an overtraining condition. The subjects of Dr. Uusitalo's study were 18-35-year -old athletes used to hard training, but according to her, the test can also be recommended as support for the coaching of teen-aged athletes.

- Young athletes are highly motivated, but they lack both experience and knowledge about the reactions of their body, as well as about the progress of the training process. This is why it is difficult for them to recognize an overtraining condition, or warning signs prior to it, Dr. Uusitalo points out.

An easily accessible Overtraining Test is a good aid for young athletes when learning to listen to their body and to recognize its ways of reacting to changing physical pressure.


Uusitalo A. Ability of non-invasive and invasive methods of autonomic function measurements and stress hormones to indicate endurance training-induced stress, Doctoral thesis. Acta Universitatis Tamperensis 621, University of Tampere, Tampere 1998.

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