Portrait“Champions under the microscope” (1/7). The first part of the series of seven portraits of athletes with exceptional physical and mental abilities, scrutinized by science, immerses us in the monitored routine of the most successful biathlete in history.
For a long time, Martin Fourcade got up early… and engaged in a curious routine. When you get out of bed, put on a pectoral belt, return to horizontal position, start the stopwatch for eight minutes. Then, standing, restarting the stopwatch for eight minutes. And, finally, a small prick on a finger. Before sending the recorded data to the computer. “That’s what could take the longest when the connections weren’t working!” », recalls with a smile the French biathlon champion, 34, one of the most successful in French sport. Before ending his career, in March 2020, he was five times Olympic champion, thirteen times individual world champion and seven consecutive times winner of the big crystal globe, that is to say the general classification of his discipline. between 2012 and 2018.
Is this strange routine the secret of his success? In part, because, while he was having breakfast, his trainer, Stéphane Bouthiaux then Vincent Vittoz from 2018, was busy on his computer to make the figures come out of this morning session speak and to know which program of training concoct.
Everything starts from the heart. The belt and the watch record the champion’s heart rate, but it is above all the tiny variation in the difference between two pulses that is the determining parameter. At the turn of the 2000s, several scientists, including Laurent Schmitt, physiologist for the French cross-country skiing and biathlon teams, discovered that this heart rate variability (HRV) was an excellent way of knowing the state of fatigue of a person and their state of recovery, and therefore to adapt training.
“These deviations of a few milliseconds are in fact modulated by the activity of the autonomic nervous system, which notably controls the heart”, summarizes Laurent Schmitt. More specifically, these intervals inform about the balance between two antagonistic systems, the parasympathetic, which slows the heart rate and promotes recovery, and the orthosympathetic, which speeds it up to produce more energy. HRV information is also coupled with blood measurements of lactate concentration – produced by burning carbohydrates – to refine the table describing the athlete’s state of fatigue and recovery.
“To reactivate the “para”, we did long sessions at low intensity. For the “ortho”, it was more dynamic, with sprints or leapssummarizes Stéphane Bouthiaux, now technical director of the French biathlon teams. But sometimes the result could lead to the decision to do nothing. »
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