1st October 2014

Polar: Taking The Lead

After a groundbreaking summer for British sprinters, we caught up with Lloyd Cowan, coach of world 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu to talk about how technology is helping our new generation of sprinters.

Why do you think both the Men’s and Women’s sprinters are now performing so well?

A lot of athletes have had a chance to train really well during 2013 and 2014 leading up to the Commonwealth Games and European Championships. The pressure has been off slightly since the London 2012 Olympics and the athletes have matured from the junior to senior ranks.

The women are running great times and the guys are consistently at the top end of the performance scale and are progressing nicely. The whole team is in a great position looking forward to the Olympic and World Championship cycles in the next few years. We are being more consistent than we have been in the past and we are seeing more finalists from both the men and women.  

What role does modern technology play in this success and how do you monitor the fitness and performance of your athletes?

I’m very heavily into the recovery of my athletes and what the athletes’ hearts are doing, and you just can’t see what the body is doing internally without technology.

I often use Polar training watches and I’m constantly looking at how long it takes athletes to recover as it helps me put a plan in place for individual training programs. If the athletes are running at 80% of their maximum heart rate, I can see how long it will take them to recover between sets and sessions. I can plan how long the warm-up needs to be and what their energy levels will be so that the session is effective.

I also use the training technology if one of the athletes is ill as I can see that their heart rate hasn’t recovered as quickly as it normally would so I can therefore alter the programs accordingly. Using technology and Polar is key to helping with the planning and analysing of every training session.

Is everyone using this technology globally or are you at the forefront of sports science? 

British Athletics are aiming to be at the forefront by empowering coaches to have the knowledge on everything about the training of our athletes so that we can do the best job we can.

 It’s already in place for other sports such as triathlon and cycling, but it’s imperative for all coaches in athletics to know exactly what recovery is needed for their athletes to bring the heart rate back down to a resting rate and allow them to perform to the best of their ability.

I think British Athletics have done a good job pushing that knowledge forward and it’s nice to have the key partners such as Polar to give us the opportunity to use this technology.

You train with Polar heart rate monitors a lot.  In what way do they help you?

It allows me to see exactly what the athletes are doing in their training session. I can see if they are putting everything into the session and I also use the heart rate monitors to look at basic details – what are the athletes’ heart rates during sessions and how long does it take for their heart rate to drop during recovery?

Do you use your Polar watches to help you measure recovery?

Absolutely – the Polar products tell me if the athlete is ready for their next set or session as we don’t want the heart rate to shoot up straight away and for their performance to suffer.

It’s very interesting to see what they actually need for recovery. Coaches can presume that athletes only need 10 minutes recovery between sets but using Polar, we can see that their heart rates might still be too high and they actually need 15-20 minutes to fully recover.

Technology is not just for the professionals. Can heart rate training be used by anyone at any level?

Heart rate training is great for any level of athlete, from the very start all the way through to professional level. It’s a fantastic fitness tool and you can keep changing the level of technical detail that you need. It works for everybody and anybody and you can do it anywhere- you could even do it at work. I 100% believe in heart rate training and it’s a method that really works for myself and my athletes.  

What would be your best tip when it comes to heart rate training?

I always say to have fun watching your body work hard, seeing your heart rate change and improving your understanding about how long it takes for your heart rate to recover.

It will enable you to closely monitor how your fitness is developing. When you first start your session and you see that increase in heart rate, you can feel your body changing and you can start to learn when you are ready to change the workload.

It’s all about enjoying and challenging your fitness because you can see how you are progressing  and how your performance is improving.

Is it true that with modern technology, there is nowhere for athletes to hide nowadays?

Being able to see the work that the athletes put into their training is fantastic but we don’t spy on the athletes.

I’ve caught a couple of athletes out after they say that they’ve pushed themselves in a session when they haven’t and I can see that they haven’t because their heart rate is so low. I show them how heart rate training works and then they become interested in what their heart rate is doing at different stages of the session. It gives them an opportunity to see their training paying off as we can analyse the data and look at when they’re peaking so that I can help them to understand how they can push themselves and work hard.

Do you think we are approaching a golden era of a new generation of sprinters in Great Britain?

I think we are and it’s a talented generation that is coming through the ranks. You can see from the success of the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships that we are heading in the right direction but times need to be improved to be in with a medal chance and we’ve got athletes that are nearly there.

The bottom line is that we’ve got a lot of athletes that are capable of competing in major event finals and the ability to medal. They have the potential to do extremely well in the next three years and technology is playing a large role in supporting that opportunity.