Knowledge is power, so the more you understand about your body and how it works, the better an athlete you can become.
Author: Robbie Hudson
Measuring your oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate is important because it will enable you to:
- Know when to tackle intensive workouts
- Determine a scientifically optimal time to hit for a personal record
- Help show when you need to take a rest or active recovery day
- Determine if you are dehydrated, fatigued or stressed, and to make clear to you that this could be having an impact upon your training
The Masimo MightySat
The Masimo MightySat pulse oximeter measures light absorption in the finger to non-invasively monitor oxygen saturation and pulse rate. It connects via bluetooth to a free downloadable personal health app that then tracks the results over time. This allows you to make informed decisions and improve your rest, recovery and training. The parameters are also available on Apple’s Health App.
What is Oxygen Saturation?
"Oxygen saturation, in simple terms, is the level of oxygen available in the blood."
It is presented as a percentage, and represents a fraction of oxygen-saturated haemoglobin in relation to the total haemoglobin. Normal, healthy oxygen saturation levels range from 95 – 100%, and this allows the human body to perform its essential functions well. If you have a high oxygen saturation level, then your body will transport oxygen throughout your body more easily.
If you have low levels of oxygen saturation, then your body will transport oxygen at a lower rate, and you will feel fatigued. As a result, you will not perform to the best of your abilities.
Fatigue, dehydration and stress can all affect your oxygen saturation level, as well as altitude. If you have ever tried running, working out or hiking at high altitudes, then you already know how it feels to have to work with a lower blood saturation level, and how hard this can be. At higher altitudes there is less oxygen in the air. Therefore, when we breathe, it is harder to supply your body with the oxygen that it needs.
Anna Tunnicliffe using the MightySat to track her performances
Improve the Quality of your Recovery
As a general rule, strenuous exercise performed with regularity over time will improve your resting pulse rate. It will also improve your recovery times.
Watch the best athletes in your Box, or any elite level Crossfitters and one thing you will notice is how quickly they recover after a workout of the day (WOD) is finished. While half of the other BOX members might still be gasping on the floor five minutes after the end of the WOD, high level athletes often recover in a minute or less.
It is a good idea to track these times and results for yourself. A benchmark workout such as Fran may show you that your WOD time improved, but what about your recovery time? How long does it take your resting pulse rate to return to its normal resting rate?
To test this, you need to firstly establish your resting pulse rate baseline. You can then use that as the marker to compare other readings against. Tracking this statistic over time can be a great way to notice how your capacity to endure, and your fitness, is improving.
Find the Best Times to Tackle Intensive Workouts
Once you become more attuned to your pulse rate and how it changes depending on what you are doing, you can use this information to make more strategic choices about your training, workouts and any competitions you enter.
The constantly varied functional exercises of Crossfit are always shifting the ways in which you have to perform exercises. For example, working up to test a Squat Clean one repetition maximum 1Rm when you are fresh is completely different to performing the exact same exercise after 3 rounds of 50 Box Jumps and 50 Double Unders. For the latter you will be operating under fatigue, and you will begin the exercise with an elevated pulse rate. You can use the MightySat to monitor and track your pulse rate over time, and through this process you will start to undercover weaknesses and be able to fine tune the strategy that you apply based on actual physical results.
Ben Stoneberg monitoring his heart rate during WODs
Pulse Rate and Performance
Your pulse rate changes constantly to provide the necessary blood flow to deliver the oxygen your body needs. Generally, a lower resting pulse rate (40 to 60 beats per minute) means your body is performing more effectively and efficiently.
Go for a New Personal Record
Sometimes personal records just happen. Have you ever had that feeling when you feel strong and know that it’s the right time to push things forward? We all have good days and we all have bad days, but what if you could easily monitor when these days might occur? Well you can. With the MightySat you can see if your oxygen saturation level is optimal and your resting pulse rate is healthy without any indications of fatigue. Now you know, so it’s time to hit that new Snatch you’ve been thinking about!
Know When to Rest or Take an Active Recovery Day
As a rough rule, many of the top level Crossfitters will do up to 30 minutes of recovery for every 1 hour of training. Be honest with yourself, what does your training to recovery work ratio look like? When time is limited, recovery is often the first area to be sacrificed, and who wouldn’t rather do the WOD and skill session than extra foam rolling or stretching?
By monitoring your pulse rate and oxygen saturation rates, you can understand and see when you might be running yourself into the ground, and that it might be a more intelligent idea to skip a session and go for a light run, a slow swim or just rest completely instead.
Intelligent rest and recovery will help you to progress
A fully oxygenated body generally means a fully recovered and ready body. An SpO22 between 97 and 100% means your body is ready! If your oxygen saturation drops more than 3% from baseline, or if it is below 96%, this may be an indication that you need more rest and recovery. The same is true if you notice that your oxygen saturation takes longer to return to your baseline value.
Identify Factors that Affect Performance: Fatigue, Dehydration and Stress
Fatigue and stress are difficult to quantify, because often they have to be overcome in order to succeed. In training we continually push our boundaries and operate outside of our comfort zones in order to grow stronger both physically and psychologically. Stress is a natural physiological reaction (think fight or flight response) to the many different aspects of life that we negotiate, both in and out of the Box.
Long term exposure to conditions that you find stressful is not a good thing. Tackling a WOD that is out of your comfort zone, gets the adrenalin pumping and makes you feel a little anxious beforehand is perfectly natural, and is beneficial. The MightySat can help you to distinguish the difference and show you how both of these forms of stress are affecting your body.
As we all know, well programmed training with a great coach will help to lower your resting pulse rate because it is an indication of your increased physical capacity and fitness.
"By measuring your oxygen saturation levels, pulse rate and perfusion index and tracking the results over time, you can identify patterns that help you make intelligent decisions about your training and recovery."
For example, if your resting pulse rate is 10 beats per minute higher than normal, this may be an indication that you are dehydrated, stressed, or fatigued. You need to rehydrate, relax, or skip intense workouts.
Optimise every performance
Maximise Training: Finding your Baseline Measurements
The first step is to find your baseline measurements. A good time to test is first thing in the morning after you wake up and are well rested.
SpO2 – Oxygen Saturation
A measure of the oxygen saturation level in your arteries. Higher oxygen saturation indicates more oxygen in the arterial blood. Oxygen saturation can change due to a number of factors, including lung or heart function and altitude. An SpO2 between 97 and 100% means your body is ready!
At higher elevation starting at about 3,000 feet, it is normal for your SpO2 to be 3 to 5% lower. The higher elevation you go, the lower your SpO2 will be.
PR – Pulse Rate
The number of time your heart pulses, or beats, per minute. This parameter is useful for assessing overall fitness as well as exertion levels at a particular moment in time.
5 x CrossFit Games® Athlete Ben Stoneberg uses pulse rate measurements within his interval workouts.
- 4 rounds
- 8 overhead squats at 60% of your 1rm
- 400 m sprint
- Wait till your heart rate drops back to below 100 beats per minute before you start the next round
Ben Stoneberg perfecting his handstand hold
Pi - Perfusion Index
PI is the ratio of the pulsing blood to non-pulsing blood flow in your finger and is used to indicate the strength of blood flow to your finger.
Your perfusion index changes based on whether the blood flow to your body is going up or down, and whether the arteries in your fingers are narrowing (causing your fingers to feel colder) or widening (causing your fingers to feel warmer). There is no specific “normal” value for perfusion index, each person should establish their own baseline value and note how it changes over time. A higher perfusion index means greater blood flow to the finger and a lower perfusion index means lower blood flow to the finger.
RRp – Respiration Rate
This is the number of breaths per minute. It is measured from the amplitude changes to the plethysmographic waveform.
CrossFit Games® Athletes Ben Stoneberg and Anna Tunncliffe use respiration rate as a part of their interval training. Being able to monitor your exact number of breaths per minute allows you to control the intensity at which you train, and also gives you the chance to record your recovery times over longer periods of training.
For example, take Fran, a milestone workout. You complete this in the next few weeks and track your respiration rate and heart rate using the MightySat. You continue training for 2 months and do the workout again. You can then measure how your recovery times have improved based on how quickly these measurements return to their normal resting rates.
PVi – Pleth Variability Index
PVi is a measure of the dynamic changes that occur during the respiratory cycle.
Hospital Grade Technology and Benefits Over Chest Straps
“When you workout, you don’t want a strap that falls off, smashes against the equipment or becomes a distraction. You need to be 100% focused on the lift, skill or workout at hand, not worrying about something that might break during a burpee or chest-to-bar pull up.”
“When I train I keep my MightySat close to hand. This allows me to accurately measure whenever I need to before, during and after every WOD. I use it every day to track many things such as oxygen saturation! Knowing what this number is key to recovery and staying on top of my game!!”
“As an Olympic gold medallist and CrossFit Games® competitor, I understand how important it is to track my results over time, and be able to do this as accurately as possible. The MightySat is hospital grade standard, so I know it won’t let me down.”
Monitor, Track and Maximise your Training and Recovery
Monitoring and tracking your oxygen saturation level, pulse and perfusion rates over time with the Masimo MightySat will give you great insight into how you are performing and improving as an athlete. It will help you to identify factors that could be detrimental to your progress and help you make informed, scientific choices about when you should rest, how to improve your recovery and when you are in optimal condition to push through and break ground with new personal records.