Why You Should Measure HRV Through the Off-Season

by SIMON WEGERIFTrainingPeaks

Simon Wegerif is a serial entrepreneur, inventor, and biomedical engineer. He was previously an executive with Philips Electronics in the UK and Silicon Valley. Simon is a competitive cyclist and has also completed a number of triathlons including Ironman distance. He created ithlete, the leading, scientifically founded HRV app in 2009 after identifying an opportunity for using HRV in his own training. He is considered an expert on the topic, having read over 1000 papers and frequently consults with industry experts.

You might consider HRV to be a tool solely for measuring overtraining, but you can learn valuable lessons for the season to come during the off-season.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a relatively new method for assessing the effects of stress on your body. It involves measuring the time between heartbeats, which varies as you breathe in and out. Research increasingly links a high HRV (as in, more variation in the intervals between heartbeats) to good health and a high level of fitness, while decreased HRV (more regular, mechanical intervals) is linked to stress, fatigue, and even burnout.

Many athletes think of HRV a tool to avoid overtraining during the build-up to key events. However, HRV is equally capable of detecting other forms of stress on the body. This can be very useful in the off-season, allowing you to fine-tune your lifestyle so that you can recover more quickly when your training ramps up in the spring.

You can reset your baseline ready for the new season

A period of light training will reset your HRV baseline to a known starting point for next season. As the example below shows that, after three weeks, this recreational athlete’s HRV Average has settled at 77.3 and their resting heart rate at 72.6 bpm. These measures were taken in the standing position, hence the relatively high resting HR (it would be 10-15 beats lower lying down, however, HRV is best measured in an upright position). It’s recommended that endurance athletes take their HRV readings in an upright position, either sitting or standing comfortably, just after waking.

Test the impact of lifestyle changes independent of training

As all good scientists will tell you – change just one thing at a time and note the effect! The lack of large training loads allows you to try changing some of the key factors influencing recovery, and find out which have the largest effect:

Sleep

So much has been written about the importance of sleep for recovery, but having a metric like HRV lets you see the effect graphically, and this will reinforce your motivation & commitment to pay attention to sleep hygiene.

Diet

The benefit of a diet with more fresh vegetables, fish or reduced refined carbohydrates will make itself visible on your HRV, and help to reinforce good habits going forward.

Stress management

For most recreational athletes (and quite a few elites), mental, emotional and general lifestyle place a bigger stress on the body than training does. So being able to manage stress is very important, not only to give yourself the biggest tolerance for training, but for overall quality of life and happiness in general. Mental stress is caused by the difference between the load placed upon us, and our perceived ability to cope, so there are two ends to work on! Techniques such as mindfulness (i.e. focussing on the present moment), deep breathing, yoga, Pilates and even open water swimming are all powerful tools that improve our perception. You may be surprised at how large an effect one of these has on your HRV.

You can watch your baseline rise with purely aerobic training

Watching your HRV rise (and subsequently your resting HR fall) can act as a powerful motivator to keep the hours of long slow distance coming, when the thought of either going outside in bad weather or facing the monotony of indoor trainers seems an unappealing prospect.

Good HRV software (like the ithlete app) can also help you identify when your training volume is increasing too rapidly, by associating HRV changes with increases in your Acute:Chronic training load ratio (TSB) as shown in the chart below taken from the ithlete Pro™ app. You should also find that as your HRV baseline rises during recovery (The 8-15 of March in this example), so does your resilience to all forms of stress.

You can detect early signs of illness & take action

Training in adverse conditions (especially cold and wet) makes you more susceptible to colds and upper respiratory tract infections. HRV is a great barometer of when your immune system is becoming mobilized and can often give you a day’s heads up that allows you to wrap up warm, take some favored supplements (zinc, vitamin C, honey & lemon, Echinacea, etc.) and get an early night to give yourself the best chance of fighting it off.

The chart below shows an example of sudden sickness following an early-season training camp when the athlete’s immune system was in a weakened state. But it also shows how quickly recovery took place when the training was removed:

Although illness is usually accompanied by a drop in HRV (followed by a spike in resting HR), a well-conducted research study in swimmers showed a rise in HRV a few days before the cold symptoms started. This possibly represents an anti-inflammatory reaction by the body and is something that has been reported to us at ithlete by a few users, so worth looking out for.

Conclusion

If you’re not already a regular HRV user, the off-season is the perfect time to start. In the absence of intensive training, you can experiment with lifestyle changes and build a baseline that will stand you in good stead as a reference for when training intensifies during spring.

Debunking Our Most Commonly-Held Beliefs About Recovery

Source: Science Friday with Ira Flatow

Science writer Christie Aschwanden debunks our most commonly held beliefs about sports recovery with science.

How do you start to recover? Ibuprofen, ice, lots of water, and stretching might sound like good place to start.

But it turns out that following these seemingly logical steps for a faster recovery achieves just the opposite. Icing your muscles slows down the process of recovery. Too much water can be harmful. And stretching? You can put that in the same category as compression boots and cupping—they don’t help recovery one bit. Science writer Christie Aschwanden, author of Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, a new book on the science of recovery, joins Ira to share what she discovered debunking our most commonly-held beliefs about recovery with science.



Excerpt from the interview:

JENNY: So I have a question about using heat on your muscles instead of cold for recovering from a run. I’ve noticed that my lower back hurts a lot after I run, and if I use a heat pad on low setting, it seems to relax my muscles. Is there anything wrong with that? 

CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN: No, I don’t think so. And in fact, I think heat is a really nice way of relaxing. Heat actually increases blood flow, and that can be a good thing. If you think about the reasons why I think it isn’t helpful, you can imagine that heating would be helpful because instead of slowing blood flow it’s actually increasing it. So it’s sort of opening up the blood vessels and allowing more to flow through. 

There’s an idea that that can help speed the removal of metabolic, things that are left after your exercising. So I say if heat makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. It’s probably a pretty good thing to do, and it’s certainly very relaxing. 

The Power of Recovery

by Karl Nygren

The power of recovery cannot be over exaggerated. Without recovery the body is unable to elicit a positive response from training and is merely worn down. Proper recovery is, without a doubt, the largest missing link in skier’s training plans. While training breaks the body down, recovery is what allows the body to super compensate and rebuild stronger then before. Recovery is fundamental to successful ski racing and encompasses everything from small daily details to broader lifestyle choices.

Recovery commences the moment training terminates. Following training small recovery efforts provide enormous returns. Immediate dry clothes, water and food when the body is worn down provide the initial impetus for recovery. Waiting until the onset of cold and hunger is foolishly counterproductive. Food digested very soon after exercise is preferentially stored as muscle glycogen and the primary fuel source for future exercise. Therefore, a small snack with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein such as yogurt and a banana or chocolate milk is crucial. Taking care of the bodies immediate needs after training greatly aids proper recovery.

Once home stretching and showering help soothe the body into a relaxation mode. While working hard during training now is the time to take it easy. The ability to relax and rest is largely dictated my work schedules, family obligations, and the ins-and-outs of daily living but simple choice to maximize rest and minimize stress greatly aid recover. Actively seek to stay well hydrated and feed. The quality of what goes into the body dictates the quality of work produces so strive to eat healthy foods. Maximize rest and sleep while maintaining mental stimulation without which athletes often feel lethargic.

The power of recovery is seen most strikingly in the mentality with which skiing is addressed. Accepting that less is often more and that training rested allows for optimal performance is the first step. There is simply no reason to train exhausted. When worn down take time off. The largest obstacle here is accepting that rest is not lost training. Rather, rest is the training needed that day that will allow the greatest improvements. Therefore embrace rest like training and strive to do it well, free of guilt.

Ideally athletes would train multiple times every day, entering each workout 100% recovered and ready to flawlessly execute each session. Never starting tired the maximal benefit would be obtained from each practice and dramatic improvement would ensue. Such a world does not exit and a limit must be placed on training based on an athlete’s fitness so that exhaustion and over training do not occur. A training plan should be taxing yet productive. The goal of training is to elicit a positive response in the form of fitness, strength and speed. This can only occur if the body is allowed to adequately recover. It is not possible to enter every workout 100% recovered but recovery and training must be monitored so on-the-whole an athlete’s body is built up rather then worn down. A training log monitoring morning heart rate, daily training and how the body feels helps illuminate downward trends and when rest is required.

Training and recovery compliment each other in a delicate balance. Each provides no benefit without the other and therefore both require great attention. Recovery is training’s limiting factor. Therefore, it is only possible to effectively train as hard as your body can recover. For some this might mean additional training is possible. However, for many either less training or better recovery is necessary for optimal performance.

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Sleep to be an all-star. So how much sleep do the professional athletes get?

by Fatigue Science

In 2008, Usain Bolt broke records at the Beijing Olympics by being the first person in history to hold both the 100m and 200m world records. By the 2012 Olympics, Bolt became the first man in history to win 6 Olympic gold medals in sprinting.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.29.15 AMSo what does Bolt consider to be the most important part of his daily training regime? None other than sleep.

“Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body” – Usain Bolt. 

Here at Fatigue Science we know how important sleep is to an athletes performance, reaction time and recovery time. Our fatigue measurement technology is used by professional sports teams such as the Vancouver Canucks to ensure enough sleep is incorporated into athletes training regimes.

So how much sleep do the professionals get? And how can sleep reduction effect your performance. Find out by reading the below infographic. 

Key Infographic (see below) Takeaways:

  • By incorporating adequate sleep into their routine, tennis players get a 42% boost in hitting accuracy
  • Sleep improves split-second decision making ability by 4.3%
  • After 4 days of restricted sleep, athletes maximum bench press drops 20lbs
  • Roger Federer gets 11 to 12 hours sleep per night
  • Lebron James gets 12 hours of sleep per night

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