If you have been working out regularly for any period of time, whether you run, lift weights, or train other forms of exercise, then you probably have experienced the sluggish and crappy days when you have to drag yourself to workout anyway. You head into it with zero motivation but want to make sure you still accomplish your training goals for the week. Somehow, you overcome that initial fatigue and soreness, hit some magical personal records, and have a great workout.
On the other hand, you may have had workout days where your body feels refreshed, your mind feels motivated, and end up being disappointed by a complete lackluster performance.
Anyone who has experienced these days can tell you that simply listening to your body might not always be the best solution to determine your recovery status, how hard you should train that day, or if you should even train at all.
What further complicates the issue of not knowing how recovered you are is that a lot of our perceived level of fatigue is dictated by our mind. We have an incredible ability, through motivation and discipline, to overcome fatigue and keep pushing forward even when maybe we should be backing off. While this might help within a workout or a competition, the “no easy days” mentality isn’t usually a recipe for longevity.
What can be used to easily track recovery and help to understand how hard you should be training?
Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
Increases in RHR have been shown to correlate with overtraining. Normally, over the course of a few hours post workout your heart rate will return to normal. Overnight it should drop back to your true RHR every night (+/- 3 beats/min). Thus, if you measured your heart rate first thing upon waking up, before even getting out of bed, you would be able to see if there are any changes to your average RHR. If your average resting heart rate is increasing over the course of several days this indicates a lack of recovery between workouts and could trend towards your body becoming overtrained. Overtraining can lead to a lot of serious consequences including lack of motivation to workout, depressed immune system and even increased risk of
injury. Clearly, a state of overtraining should be avoided all together.
How to practically determine your RHR and use this info to keep yourself recovered and healthy...
To determine your RHR you need to start taking your heart rate while still lying in bed each morning. All you need is a pulse and a clock (hopefully you have both). Count your heart beat for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4. The easiest place to find your pulse for most people is in their neck, located just to the side of the throat, under your jaw line. Apply 3 fingers to that spot in order to count your pulse (pointer, middle and ring finger). That number is your RHR in beats / minute.
Do this every day for a week. You should start to see an average number and should also notice that it doesn’t fluctuate by more than 2-3 beats / minute.
You can use this RHR knowledge in two different ways...
Once you know your average RHR, you just have to keep tracking and compare each day to your average number. If you see a day that is much higher (like 5-10 beats / minute more than normal), this indicates you should either take the day off or reduce the intensity of your workout. If you start noticing an upward trend in your average RHR, it may indicate your recovery is not keeping up with your workouts and you are heading towards overtraining. In that case you may need to take a couple days off or reduce intensity until your RHR returns to normal.
Hopefully, you can implement this technique to better understand the recovery status of your body, when to push yourself vs when to take a rest day, and ultimately to optimize the results of your training.
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