Season-Long Heart-Rate Variability Tracking Reveals Autonomic Imbalance in American College Football Players

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: To track cardiac-autonomic functioning, indexed by heart-rate variability, in American college football players throughout a competitive period. Methods: Resting heart rate (RHR) and the natural logarithm root mean square of successive differences (LnRMSSD) were obtained throughout preseason and ∼3 times weekly leading up to the national championship among 8 linemen and 12 nonlinemen. Seated 1-minute recordings were performed via mobile device and standardized for time of day and proximity to training. Results: Relative to preseason, linemen exhibited suppressed LnRMSSD during camp-style preparation for the playoffs (P = .041, effect size [ES] = −1.01), the week of the national semifinal (P < .001, ES = −1.27), and the week of the national championship (P = .005, ES = −1.16). As a combined group, increases in RHR (P < .001) were observed at the same time points (nonlinemen ES = 0.48–0.59, linemen ES = 1.03–1.10). For all linemen, RHR trended upward (positive slopes, R 2 = .02–.77) while LnRMSSD trended downward (negative slopes, R 2 = .02–.62) throughout the season. Preseason to postseason changes in RHR (r = .50, P = .025) and LnRMSSD (r = −.68, P < .001) were associated with body mass. Conclusions: Heart-rate variability tracking revealed progressive autonomic imbalance in the lineman position group, with individual players showing suppressed values by midseason. Attenuated parasympathetic activation is a hallmark of impaired recovery and may contribute to cardiovascular maladaptations reported to occur in linemen following a competitive season. Thus, a descending pattern may serve as an easily identifiable red flag requiring attention from performance and medical staff.

Flatt is with the Biodynamics and Human Performance Center, Dept of Health Sciences and Kinesiology, Georgia Southern University (Armstrong Campus), Savannah, GA, USA. Flatt and Esco are with the Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Dept of Kinesiology, and Allen and Keith, the Dept of Athletics, Sports Medicine, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA. Martinez is with the Dept of Cardiovascular Medicine, Atlantic Health, Morristown Medical Center, Morristown, NJ, USA.

Flatt (aflatt@georgiasouthern.edu) is a corresponding author.
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