UFC 130 Training Camp Wrap Up

In this final installment of my series on Tim Boetsch’s UFC 130 training camp and the use of HRV to manage the training process, you can really see the big picture of what a training camp really looks like from the inside out. The final result was a drop in Tim’s resting heart rate from 74 the first day I evaluated him all the way down to 54 at the end.

This is the lowest it’s ever been and as he makes the move down to a lower weight class, it was absolutely essential to get his aerobic fitness as high as possible. Dropping weight while trying to improve fitness and get ready for a fight all at the same time is no easy challenge and I relied heavily on the use of HRV to make sure everything was managed as effectively as possible.

There are two things that strike me as particularly noticeable when looking at the entire training camp graph from start to finish. First, you can clearly see microcycle patterns of loading throughout if you look at the changes in the vagal, sympathetic and stress indices.

These patterns would have been even more clear if I was able to get data every single day, but Tim didn’t train with me every single morning and taking readings later in the day wouldn’t have given the most accurate reflection of change. Tim also traveled out of town on two separate occasions for various things as well, so there are some missing data points.

Regardless, the repetitive loading patterns are evident as we see the weekly fluctuations. The most prominent view of this can be seen in the vagal index, which reflects parasympathetic function and thus the body’s drive to recover from the stress of training. The points where we see the highest short term changes in the vagal index indicate the points where Tim’s body was working the hardest to recover from training. This was due to mostly to acute loading but also somewhat to the accumulative stress of training. Managing these two things is really what programming and management is all about.

Next, the other patterns that emerge are the long-term trends, primarily an increase in the vagal index and a decrease in resting heart rate. Both of these markers indicate increases in aerobic fitness and are obviously an important component to getting in shape to fight. As I said previously, we were able to drop Tim’s resting heart rate about 20bpm over the course of the camp – a solid improvement by any measure.

The important distinction that can be made here is the difference between acute changes and long-term changes that we can see. The acute changes in these numbers mostly reflect the microcycle pattern of loading, while the long-term trends reflect accumulative training effects. In this case, these effects were improvements in fitness, but it can certainly go the other direction as well.

If Tim’s training had not been managed properly, the long-term trends would have shown either no improvements or even negative changes if the loading had exceeded his adaptive abilities and he had overtrained. In this case, both the weekly microcycle response and the long-term trends would have looked different and the numbers would have been well outside the norms established by the HRV software.

The upper limit for vagal index on the HRV is .46 and the highest Tim ever got was .40. I’ve seen athletes who were significantly overtrained hit numbers all the way up to .60 and higher, well above the normal limits. The same would have been the case for the sympathetic and stress indices as well. Because Tim’s overall training program was managed properly, however, everything was kept within the limits and steady improvement in his fitness and overall conditioning were made throughout the camp.

The take home message of this series is simply the importance of managing the training process. Far too often, athletes and/or coaches come up with a plan and then stick to it like it’s written in stone. While I didn’t get into the details of what Tim’s training program looked like, the real value is seeing the changes that were taking place on a daily basis and how important it is to monitor the training effects to make changes as necessary.

After the first week of training, I could see the training load was too high for Tim – which can be seen by looking at the huge spike in tension index – and we made adjustments to his training program accordingly. If I had not been paying attention or simply followed a set plan for him and kept the volume/intensity as they had been, he would have overworked. By making the changes early, I was able to keep him on track and prevent him from ever getting to any sort of overtrained state.

With the fight just a few days away, Tim is now in Vegas and getting ready to make weight. This is really the only area of concern left as far as his camp goes. Although I know his conditioning is better than it’s ever been and I have the numbers to prove it, dropping to a lower weight class for the first time is always a challenge and there is no way to know exactly how an athlete will respond until they do it.

I’ve seen athletes go into a fight in great shape only to have to cut too much weight to the point that they put too much stress on their body and they end up looking terrible in the fight. I’m confident this won’t happen to Tim and he should have no problems making weight without incurring too much stress, but again it’s the first time he’s had to make 185 so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

In any event, I’ll be heading down to Vegas for the fight on Friday so I may no respond to comments or questions posted here for a few days, but feel free to ask or make them. I’m looking forward to seeing the new leaner and meaner Tim Boetsch step into the Octagon and square off against Kendall on Saturday. I think it’ll be an entertaining fight and I know Tim will be ready to go. Since the fight will be live on Spike, he should have a big audience so make sure to watch it and give him your support!


  1. going back to the first article, what exercise protocols do you use to increase recovery and protein synthesis? Wouldn’t something like the tempo method be another major stress to the body?

  2. Woah- i just saw the pics from MMAWeekly’s photo gallery and Tim looks great. Leaner- but he looks solid, not emaciated at all. Hopefully you can let us know what weight he was at when he entered the cage that night. I’m am curious as to how much he weighed at the beginning of camp, and then the end of camp before the more drastic part of the weight cut.

    That being said, WAR TIM! As long as he watches out for sneaky submissions- i think Tim has the power to put away Kendall and I’m sure if Matt Hume has been coaching him on sub defense he should be able to wreck Da Spyder in the clinch.

  3. joel, thanks for providing this information. regarding vagal index: at some points in this series (part 2, second paragraph) you mention vagal index being down and its relationship to Tim not being recovered from training. During this portion of the series you discuss vagal index representing the bodies desire to recover from training and that you’ve seen athletes hit a vagal index of.60 (a high number) representing an overtrained state. In addition, for Tim, vagal index showed an upward trend over time, which you mentioned (along with RHR) might indicate better aerobic fitness. Would you mind explaining this value further as these representations of vagal index almost seem opposite of one another? Thank you

    1. It’s a bit complicated to answer in a short reply, but parasympathetic function correlates with aerobic function on an absolute level. In other words, aerobically fit athletes will have greater parasympathetic tone than less aerobically fit athletes.

      The way this index varies over relatively short periods of time is what indicates accumulated fatigue and the need for greater recovery. You want to see a certain levle of parasympathetic function and this shows the athlete is recovering and adapting, but when you see too much, that shows they are accumulating too much fatigue.

      You need to look at both the absolute level of the vagal index as far as aerobic fitness as well the degree to which it is varying over a given week or within a microcycle to determine the accumulation of fatigue. There’s a lot that a single number can tell, but you have to know how to look at it. All of this will be detailed in my upcoming book on HRV that will come with the new HRV system.

      1. joel, thanks for the response- that does make sense on a basic level. In the meantime (before your book comes out) would you mind suggesting some reading on the subject of HRV/parasympathetic tone that you’ve found useful?

        1. You’ll mostly have to look through research to find info on HRV. The book I’m working on to go with the HRV app will provide a better general overview and practical info on using HRV than anything else currently out there.

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