Why Should an Athlete Use a Pulse Oximeter?

  • To ensure an athlete is optimally oxygenated (sufficient oxygenated blood for premium performance and recovery)
  • To ensure optimal pulse rate (optimal oxygenation + pulse rate = better training, recovery and athletic performance)
  • To ensure optimal recovery has occurred for adaptation

Dotsie Bausch

Olympic Silver Medalist
Women’s Team Pursuit Cycling, London 2012 Olympics

“I use Masimo pulse oximetry as part of my Olympic training and recovery regimen. By tracking my oxygenation and pulse rate – along with numerous other biophysical and behavioral metrics – I use data to measure and improve my athletic performance and gauge my recovery.”

Masimo MightySat – A Day in the Life of Dotsie Bausch, Olympic Cycling Silver Medalist

Data from Masimo MightySat Gives US Olympic Cycling Silver Medalist Dotsie Bausch the Edge

What measuring pulse oximetry does for an athlete:

Pulse oximetry is used as part of an elite-level training and recovery regimen. In the midst of a taxing training protocol, monitoring O2 saturation gives an athlete an advantage over competitors by creating an ‘enhanced window of opportunity’ for recovery by providing the athlete with an internal education. An athlete can use pulse oximetry to guide daily training plans for intensity, volume, or a combination of both. SpO2, or ‘the fifth vital sign,’ is the next wave of information athletes should use to monitor their internal responses to training.

Quantifying overtraining is an athlete’s most important tool for staying on top in their sport. Being able to ‘catch’ signs of overtraining BEFORE an athlete is actually overtrained is immeasurably valuable. Many of the signs of overtraining (sleeplessness, moodiness, loss of appetite) do not show themselves until an athlete is in an acute overtraining cycle, and even then, it is difficult to identify what’s causing the symptoms, resulting in a lot of guesswork. For example, these symptoms may be coming from hormonal changes (PMS or IMS), dietary changes, emotional stress or mental fatigue. By using pulse oximetry, an athlete can eliminate the guesswork and detect early onset overtraining and re-evaluate their training plan before it’s too late, saving them weeks of frustration, down time and missed opportunities.

The variability of O2 sat measurements on a daily basis is what creates each athlete’s specific ‘recovery story’ as each athlete’s physiology is uniquely their own; therefore, their recovery process and protocols vary widely. Measuring O2 saturation each morning with the MightySat allows the athlete to hone in on their body’s own rhythm, making the MightySat unlike any other recovery tool on the market today. It can be likened to taking an internal body photograph.

Measuring O2 saturation has been critical in hypoxic environments for years, and now making that technology part of an athlete’s daily protocol will change the way they are able to make decisions on recovery, repair, regeneration, training and adaptation.

The specific Athlete Protocol using SpO2:

Each morning of training, the athlete checks the SpO2 number to ensure it’s in the high 90s — anything north of 97% at sea level is a sign that the body has repaired and recovered from the previous training tear-down regimen. The body is then ready to repeat the regimen, focusing on a strength and performance goal. Studies show high-oxygen saturation positively effects power output, and at high altitude, supplemental oxygen increases work capacity.

If the O2 saturation is 96% or below at sea level, the athlete is advised to back off of extreme training for the day to allow the body to fully recover. Ignoring that 96% threshold has proven to create an immediate downward spiral. If an athlete pushes past this indicator by repeating a training regimen as intense as the day before, the body will take longer to recover, essentially digging itself into a hole.

At 95-96% O2 sat or below, the body undergoes many adaptations, including structural and functional changes to hemoglobin, which are very important in an athlete’s repair process and should be taken into consideration. The protein called Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1) is increased with exposure to hypoxia. HIF-1 tells the kidneys and liver to make erythropoietin, which in turn tells the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. There are also several genetic adaptations that take place, such as higher mRNA levels to hemoglobin. These processes are very important to an athlete’s repair process, and if given the correct amount of time to rest, an athlete will return to training stronger while becoming more resilient, as they have made the optimal adaptation. Tracking O2 saturation numbers daily gives the athlete the advantage of knowing exactly how many days they need for rest and the optimal timing for returning to hard training.

On actual race days, an athlete can use SpO2 and pulse rate to validate they are optimally oxygenated before a race/peak performance output. It has been found that nervous breathing — the type of short, shallow, tense, almost hyperventilating breathing sometimes experienced prior to a stressful event — leaves the athlete prematurely gassed and not fully mentally prepared to compete at an optimum level. Using conscious breathing techniques to pull air deep into the lungs while keeping the heart rate low prior to a race gives an athlete better endurance and more sustainable power output, resulting in their best possible performance. Using O2 sat measurement to guide the athlete in this breathing exercise has proven to create the best possible oxygenation levels in the shortest amount of time.