Recovery: How and when?
I have been training hard towards completing a 24-hour event later this summer. Everything is going well, but as I increase the amount of training, I'm
worried about how much I can reasonably do before overtraining. I'm self-employed and work from home, so have as many hours as I want. I know the importance of recovery but how do I know when enough is enough and when it's right to start training again? A triathlete I know said resting heart rate is a good indicator of recovery, and measures it with an application on their phone. Is this possible or even advisable?
Good question, Lee. Training is one thing, but unless you set aside sufficient recovery periods, you're not going to get the adaptations needed to see any improvements.
The problem is knowing exactly when you need to rest and how long for. Your body will give you certain warning signs when it needs rest, but these aren't always easy to interpret, and your body and mind can be notorious liars when it comes to training and rest.
How many times, for example, have you felt like you absolutely don't want to undertake a prescribed training session because you feel fatigued only to find that when you've warmed up you are absolutely flying and get a really good session done? Also, it's a lot harder to determine what the cumulative effect of regular training over time is on the body.
Fortunately, there are more dependable indicators of fatigue and recovery levels. The traditional way is to record your ‘metrics' each day - recording resting heart rate, sleep hours, quality of sleep and general mood state. With experience, you'll recognise patterns and significant deviations from the norm. For example, elevated heart rate and gradually decreasing sleep quality are good indicators that you need to recover.
Modern technology also provides some very useful tools. Power analysis software records cumulative stress and intensity factors based on how long and hard you ride using a tested measure of your fitness (for example, your threshold power) as a benchmark figure.
What your triathlete friend is talking about sounds like ithlete, a very useful application that runs on the iPod or iPod touch and some tablet computers which uses heart rate variation (HRV) as a way to determine cumulative training stress as well as the impact of individual training sessions.
HRV is a measure of the time between your heartbeats as you breathe in and out and research shows that it's a good indicator of the cumulative stress from your training. The ithlete app (www.myithlete.com) is a very simply a way of measuring this HRV, and gives you an indication whether or not you should be training that day.
Whatever system you use, the more experience you gain and the more you compete, the more information you will get regarding how your body responds to the various training intensities and what kind of recovery you need. This is why it's a good idea to always keep a training diary to eliminate any guesswork.
Huw Williams is a BC level three coach
This article was first published in the February 9 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.