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Learning to win with your heart

                      HRV analysis as training support and competition preparation in Karate

                                          from Michaela Rein, München

In October 2015 I started using HRV analysis as a training support and competition preparation in Karate under the direction of therapist and HRV specialist Punito Michael Aisenpreis. Nine months later I became German champion. This is how heart rate variability helped me reach my goal:

I have been doing Karate since 1997 and have been a member of the German National team of the DJKB (traditional Shotokan-Karate) since 2007. During this time I managed to win several titles, including Team European Champion in 2013 and Juniors German Champion (age 18-21) in 2010 and 2011. In August 2015 I had to have an operation due to cartilage damage of my right ankle. I had to walk with crutches for 8 weeks and was not allowed to do any karate training for 6 – 9 month – a difficult situation, both physically and mentally. My goal, however, was clear: After this injury layoff I wanted to start training again quickly and perform well at the German championship on 4.5.2016 (nearly nine months after my operation on 10.08.2015), so I would still get nominated for international competitions by the national team coach.

Together with Punito Aisenpreis I used the 5 minutes short-term analysis of the heart rate variability, a one minute HRV performance test, a HRV analysis from a 24-hours ECG and daily HRV biofeedback routines of 20 minutes. At first, baseline values were set with the help of the daily 5 minutes short-term analyses and the one minute performance tests, so I could see what I could still improve on (e.g. short-term regulation, regeneration, activation and mental stress). With the help of the 24-hours ECG and the related HRV analysis, I was able to finely adjust my sleeping behaviour as well as hours spent on training, studying and regeneration. Moreover, I could plan my training accordingly regarding extent, length and intensity (i.e. I was able to see if I was fit or not and if I would perform well in each training session). Also, I was able to identify disruptive factors and to prevent them. It was especially hard for me to lower my stress level (mental stress), but the 20 minutes HRV biofeedback routines helped me to relax and to try to “breathe away” the stress.

When I started doing the HRV analyses, I did not feel very good, both physically and mentally (mostly because of my operated ankle). I had major doubts about myself and about if I was ever be able to get back to my old level in Karate or to achieve even more. Those doubts however, soon faded because of the HRV analyses and biofeedback routines. I noticed a big difference in my confidence and also in the way that I trained. I was becoming more relaxed and satisfied with myself and I did not get agitated quickly over little things. Overall, I was happier and in a better mood. Of course there were also some minor setbacks, especially once I started to train regularly again after the operation and noticed that my foot did not do as well as I had hoped for.

The longer I worked with the HRV analyses, however, the better it became. I also noticed a difference in my training compared to before the operation (and before the HRV analyses). I often felt more motivated and positive about training. I desperately wanted to train Karate properly again and also felt that I would definitely be able to get back to my pre-operation level or become better still, even if there were some setbacks, of course . In the last two months before the competition, the HRV analyses especially helped me to be more ambitious and confident in training and to get over the pains that my bad ankle still caused me. I mostly felt as good in training as I had before the operation, or even better. I knew that I could do well at the championship. Before the operation, when it came to competing, I was often afraid of losing. This feeling never even occurred before this competition. The HRV analyses surely helped me to change my attitude towards competitions in this way.

On the actual day of the championship I felt very good. Even though we’d had major problems getting to the venue (a cancelled flight and a subsequent hour long car drive - we only arrived at 3 am on the day of the competition), I did not let them get to me and was able to concentrate fully on the competition. Immediately every fight I was really motivated and not, as I have experienced it before, immensely nervous. When competing, I often used to think about how strong my opponent was and what would happen if she beat me. Mostly, I was rather relieved than really happy about winning a fight. At this competition, however, I only thought about my strengths and about how I would win the fight.

In the end, 9 months after a major operation, I became German champion in the individual category as well as in the team event and also kicked out the other female members of the national team in the progress, who had become European champions just one month before. I owe this success to intensive training and my great Karate teacher but also to a high extent to HRV analyses and biofeedback routines which changed my mentality and gave me ever more confidence. I also feel different outside of sports; I am definitely more relaxed and positive than I used to be.

Of course my goals are to go on competing successfully and to get nominated for next year’s European Championship and World Cup and even win a title there. It remains to be seen if this German Championship was only the beginning and if I can reach even higher goals with the help of the HRV analyses, but I feel positive and very enthusiastic. I can warmly recommend the use of HRV analyses and HRV biofeedback as training support and competition preparation!

5 min heart rate course of a professional athlete

The analysis of the heart rate variability shows the current state of the autonomic (vegetative) nervous system. This part of the nervous system controls performance and regeneration. It can either be in “regeneration mode”, in “performance mode” or in “stiffness and burnout mode”. The HRV biofeedback trains inner relaxed motivation and creates a state of regeneration of the body and mind.