Readiness is the measure of how equipped your body is to handle stress on any given day. This is a really valuable piece of information for strength and conditioning coaches to have because it can allow us to tweak our programs in order to apply the right amount of stress at the right amount of time. It can also help us know if our programs are doing what they are intended to do. So getting this information via some sports science tool is a great idea...on paper.
Heart rate variability testing is my favorite. I take my own HRV every single morning. It is regulated by the vagus nerve and measures the distance between my heart beats. This distance tells me how much stress my body is currently dealing with and shoots out a score of how ready I am to handle more. As I sit here and write this, I just finished my morning HRV testing and I got a 6 which puts me in the yellow (mid-range). Tomorrow, I kick off my 2-day genMAX seminar here in NYC and I want to be a 10 out of 10. So today, I will work on my recovery as opposed to crushing a hard workout so that I can climb to a 10 (or close to it).
Other options include the omega wave which involves putting a sensor on your forehead, and vertical jump or grip strength testing which measures your force output on a given day.
Don't get me wrong, all of these work but they have one major flaw. The client knows they are being tested. As soon as that switch is flipped inside of the brain, the test isn't 100% clean. If I put a sensor on my forehead and lay down for two minutes, you better believe your brain is going to react to that. At this point, it's about individuality. Some will have bigger reactions than others (this feels like the right time to learn a little more about weight-room empathy). I think readiness testing looks great on paper but from a practicality stand-point, there is still some work to be done.
When I worked in the NBA, I still needed this information but we were dealing with long road trips, late nights, 82 games and months of sleep deprivation. I knew that the testing results were not going to be great but they were going to have to play in the game anyway. My little heart rate strap wasn't stopping that train. I didn't want them going into the game thinking they weren't ready to play. So I needed to create some readiness tests where only I knew a test was happening and the players had no idea. Here is what I came up with.
- Touch your toes: This isn't necessarily a one size fits all model, however if the body is stressed, this will be limited if its ready to go, then it will be free. You'll have to have some baseline info on where they have been in the past but I think you would be surprised at the day-to-day changes here and if you've educated yourself, it is very valuable information to have.
- Magic Eye: Remember these old pictures? You stare at them and if you can un-focus your eyes, a 3-D image pops out. From what I know about the visual system, if your eyes can't un-focus, then your sympathetics are turned up and you're experiencing some fight or flight. So now if you can't see an image that you usually have no trouble with, I now know something valuable about the state of your central nervous system.
- Cobblestone Mat: These bad-boys were one of the first purchases I would make at the start of every season. Relaxed people can dance on these things. They can jump up and down and it doesn't bother them. Stressed out folks feel like they are walking on needles. So I just roll this sucker out in the weight room, have them walk back and forth a few times and gobble up the CNS info.
- Don't Be an Idiot: If we played four games in five nights in four different cities and three different time zones (this was a real trip we took with the Lakers in 2016-17), I don't need any device or magic pictures to tell me that they don't need any more stress. The best professional athlete strength and conditioning coaches are the ones that are most capable of helping them recover throughout the season. How close can they be to their best for eight consecutive months?
If you're interested in learning more about how you can master the weight room, the 4A Health Club is our far more effective, alternative to going back to school. The club is a community of coaches from, literally, around the world that gather to help make each other better. Every month we release a new course and archive them so you always have access.