Kristina Kim

This season, members of the Yale women’s hockey team have begun wearing heart rate monitors to inform their workouts and monitor their fitness, joining the men’s team, which has used the technology for the past three seasons.

By wearing the monitors in practices and games, the players receive comprehensive data which coaches analyze in order to tailor practice plans and ensure that athletes are well rested for game time. Each time athletes wear the monitors, coaches receive information including players’ heart rates, aerobic and anaerobic exertion and calories burned.

“[The data] is not only information for myself and the other coaches but for the players,” said Stephen Volek, assistant director of strength and conditioning for men’s hockey. “Guys constantly ask us where their heart rate was at during practice.”

The heart rate monitor consists of a small elastic band, about an inch thick, worn around the torso, with a rubber reader that must be in direct contact with the skin. During practices and games, it tracks the player’s heart rate and records the data digitally. After practices, players receive an email with complete physiological data and a “workload” number ranging from one (“less strenuous”) to five (“overreaching”), based on the cumulative time a player’s heart rate spends in a given zone.

When Volek came to Yale in January 2015, the men’s hockey team had been using heart monitors from Firstbeat Sports, a Finnish heartbeat analytics company, but not as extensively as possible. Volek pushed the men’s program to incorporate the monitors into every facet of the team’s training.

Using the monitors, Yale hockey coaches receive a daily report of each player’s heart-rate data. They implement this information to plan lifts and practices at an appropriate level of intensity. Typically, Monday practices are the most demanding, and the difficulty tapers off as the week progresses.

“At the beginning of the week they have practices that are mostly anaerobic and at the end mostly aerobic so that we don’t burn our legs out for the weekend,” women’s goaltender Tera Hofmann ’20 said. “We are able to see how much time to put into recovery and hydration and that allows us to plan, for example, which days I want to do a recovery bike ride to get rid of lactic acid.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams also utilize the monitors in games from the moment pregame warmups begin until the final buzzer sounds, tracking heart rates of players on the ice and recovery times when they return to the bench. The heart-rate data helps Yale coaches determine when a player is well-rested enough to re-enter the game.

“When I come back to the bench for a break, the technology will register how long it takes for my heart rate to return to normal,” men’s forward Frank DiChiara ’17 said. “The faster my heart rate can return to normal, the better off I will be and the quicker I can get back out on the ice.”

Over the course of each season, the monitors provide a digital record of each athlete’s fitness, allowing players and coaches to track their progress. Men’s head coach Keith Allain ’80 said his staff follows player performance each week and throughout the season, tinkering with practice plans accordingly.

According to women’s defender Taylor Marchin ’17, she uses the data to compare her exertion from each week to the next and monitor her in-game fitness.

“In games, I almost always burn at least 1000 calories, my average heart rate is around 180 and my maximum heart rate is usually around 210,” Marchin said. “The monitor helps you realize just how much energy skating takes out of you, emphasizing just how important eating and sleeping right is.”

And in addition to practices and games, Volek has encouraged some players to wear the monitors while they sleep to better understand their nervous systems and stress levels. Using all of this information, Volek has organized the men’s team into three groups according to players’ average workload for games and practices.

Phoebe Staenz ’17, a women’s forward who earned a bronze medal with her native Switzerland in the 2014 Winter Olympics, said she also uses heart rate monitors when training on her own and over the summer to ensure she is pushing herself to improve.

According to Volek, hockey teams at other schools, including Penn State, Clarkson and UMass Lowell, have begun using heart rate monitors in recent years. In addition, other teams at Yale, including the men’s soccer team, use similar technologies.

“That’s where the strength and conditioning field is headed,” Volek said. “Professional [hockey] teams not only have a coach, but they have a director of sports science to sift through data.”

The men’s and women’s teams will both play Cornell and Colgate this weekend.