By Sue & Alex Bush
In this article, we are going to explain what biofeedback is and how it can help us make good decisions for progress in the gym.
Biofeedback may or may not be a newer term for you. The highly generalized definition is the process of gaining greater awareness of your physiology. On a micro level, we’re talking about your current macro breakdown, how you’re feeling, sleep quality, how you are dealing with the stress of life and training, etc. Pretty much any and all functions that you’re experiencing.
The more we learn about these factors weekly, the better we can adjust your program on an individual level to best match that response we want from our approach. We use this information as coaches to keep track of our clients’ responses and progress through changes of phases, types of training, nutrition protocols, cardio protocols.
Now that we know what biofeedback is…why does it matter?
Why It Matters
Within our check-in documents for our Physique Development clients, we’re not just saying, “Hey, how ya doing this week?” That’s sometimes hard to put into words and put your whole week into context. It’s good to have an overall average of your week, but the variables tell us what’s really going on.
Seeing the facts laid out in front of you isn’t just great for us as coaches to help adjust your plan – it’s also great for you as the client. Many of us enter fitness not knowing what they mean, how they all fit together, or that you have to keep track of them. There’s more to it than weight on the scale and hitting your macros. It’s going to allow you to be more reflective of the efforts you’re putting in, give you a deeper understanding of your body, how things interact with one another, and start to notice trends.
The Check-In Factors:
- Current Macros
- Current Cardio protocol
- Free meals or refeeds
- How many weeks on a training stimulus and which is their present stimulus
- Caffeine consumption
- Relevant or ongoing issues
- How well they followed the plan last week
- Supplements they’re taking
Then we have them gauge the following on a scale of 1-10:
- Energy levels during training
- Energy throughout the day
- Strength and endurance
- Digestion or bloating
- Appetite levels
- Stress levels
- Sleep quality and quantity
- Water intake
- Non-scale victories, how they felt, other notes.
Current macros, current cardio, weight, and measurements are all numbers-based & tangible pieces that we can track week-to-week and month-to-month to see if we’re progressing the way we want.
However, we can’t ONLY look at these numbers. If we live and die by the scale, that can be a crummy place where you are trying to see progress and completely forget about other factors that indicated improvement.
Let’s look at a few of the bigger factors you should be noting every week:
Training & Nutrition Symptoms
We’ll dig into how your training and nutrition went from an adherence perspective. Within training, we want to know what your energy was like going into those sessions, strength, motivation, where was your fatigue following the training session. Those different components are going to be essential for us.
Depending on the type of training stimulus you’re in, your coach will have some expectations of that type of training we lay out before diving into it. We might expect higher fatigue, more inflammatory response, or lower in both. You need to outline those details with your coach, and if you don’t know how to identify those types of markers, speak up and ask them to help you understand and get them the info they need.
Why this is important: Let’s say you’re on a training stimulus that shouldn’t cause too much fatigue, but you’re dragging ass – we need to address that. Your coach needs to know how to look at the factors outside of just training and macros to figure out why this is happening. Those two things can’t indicate things like peri-workout nutrition, food sourcing, sleep, stress – all of which could impact the training stimulus.
Stress is going to be a massive piece in all of this, and it comes in many forms: Emotional, relationship, physical stress from work and training, mental stress from work, or anything else you may have going on. We also need you to be vocal about this because managing stress in our body impacts our ability to perform, and it can also affect sleep quality and quantity.
Everything we do in and of itself is a stress on our system. Not all stress is bad stress – we need stress to some degree to form adaptations and become better. Which is why we train, right? But how is our body handling that stress? How are we responding? How are the energy levels? How are we recovering? How does that translate into scale weight, measurements, etc.?
Digestion is a slightly awkward topic that doesn’t have to be awkward! We want to address many components here: Any distention, bloating, quality and frequency of bowel movements, gas, or belching. However, all of these things are fixable with your supplementation, training, and nutrition. These could indicate too much stress, not absorbing food properly, meal timing, too much or not enough fiber, activity level/type, or any other symptoms.
It’s hard to talk about, especially if it’s a new coach-client relationship, but do not be embarrassed! The more vocal you are about these things, the sooner we can handle them so that they are no longer an issue impacting your daily life, training – especially if they are ongoing and abnormal symptoms.
If you’re a female and have extreme pain that affects your daily activities due to your period, you need to tell your coach – even if it’s a male coach. Cramps, a heavy flow, pain, whatever, you can’t withhold this and expect a coach to make the best decisions around your protocols with limited information.
Note: NOTHING should be TMI (too much information) in your check-ins. All of the “gross” or taboo topics are fair game because they’re going to play a role in the adjustments that we make to your training, nutrition, and supplementation. Again, this is why it’s so important to work with a coach you trust and have that genuine client-coach relationship with open communication.
By now, you probably see a trend here – the more you tell your coach, the better they can help you. Plain and simple. Let’s look at a real-life example:
A client checked in with us and her weight was up around 2 pounds from her last check-in. If we only looked at weight and didn’t ask any of these other questions, we might assume that she wasn’t adherent to her training or nutrition program and therefore we don’t need to make changes – she just needs to adhere better.
But then she informed us that she ate a larger chunk of her macros later in the day, closer to bedtime, she didn’t have a bowel movement the previous day, and she was stressed out about something going on in her life. All of that tells us that her slight uptick in weight makes sense. So, let’s address the stress and meal-timing before we change her macros.
When we don’t look at the complete picture, you could start making unnecessary changes to a plan that would otherwise work after addressing all of the other biofeedback markers.
Bottom line: Always ALWAYS take a second to step back and look at the biofeedback before you do yourself or your client injustice!
Want more on biofeedback? Head over to the Physique Development Podcast Episode 12 for a deep dive on this topic!