Monday, July 25, 2011

Resting Heart Rate and Overtraining

What is over training? From Wikipedia:

Overtraining is a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes.

Some of the symptoms of overtraining are:

§ Persistent muscle soreness

§ Persistent fatigue

§ Elevated resting heart rate

§ Reduced heart rate variability

§ Increased susceptibility to infections

§ Increased incidence of injuries

§ Irritability

§ Depression

§ Mental breakdown

I have had a heart rate monitor in one form or another for about 10 years. While heart rate monitors are not the be all and end all of exercise training equipment they do contribute much value. A few years ago I had a fancy Polar heart rate monitor. This monitor had several types of fitness tests (OwnZone, OwnIndex and Overtraining test). The overtraining test took your resting heart rate while supine (lying down) and then had you stand for 3 minutes to determine your Orthostatic heart rate (difference between resting and standing). It would then compute a number to determine your training score from 1 to 10 (1 being not enough stimulus and 10 being completely over trained).

The problem with this test was that I had to wake up in the dark, fumble for the heart rate strap (which had to be moist in order to record an accurate heart rate – you can figure out how I moistened it – yuck, horrible taste), listen for a beep to tell me to stand up, and finally stand in the dark while staring at the bed in a creepy manner for 3 minutes. Yes, this was awkward for me as well as my significant other. On more than one occasion she awoke rather startled at someone standing in the shadows watching her sleep. Not a good method to foster romantic bliss.

But I did it every morning for a few months. It was a lot of trouble. So why was all of this procedure worthwhile? I was not recovering from my workouts very well. I was extremely fatigued. I could not stay awake past 8 or 9 in the evening. I was not able to produce quality workouts. My muscles hurt and I was in a foul mood. I was having a lot of trouble. The stresses in my life were taking a toll on my body and my training was suffering.

I could not quantify why this was happening. In retrospect it was a form of acute stress disorder (if not post traumatic stress disorder). My body was producing large amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone) and it was taking its toll. I continued to exercise and train. Unfortunately, I have used exercise and training to combat the stresses of life. And a few years ago I was under so much stress that I was trying to exercise more and more. I was at a breaking point. Enter the resting heart rate.

I was able to start to quantify my overtrained state with the heart rate monitor. Heart rate is one of the number one indicators of overtraining. Some of the stress subsided and my fatigue reduced. Because of the trouble, I stopped checking resting heart rate.

I have now found a new device that allows for me to record my resting heart rate without being creepy; the pulse oximeter. This is s device that checks your pulse and blood oxygen saturation instantly. While blood oxygen saturation is not necessary valuable to the endurance athlete (your blood oxygen concentration better be pretty darn close to 100 percent if you are athletic and training) resting heart rate has never been easier to measure.

You can find a number of pulse oximeters at Amazon ranging from $22 to $35 (includes a case). Since I like to measure things anyway this is another easy metric to include.


The box


Pulse oximeter


Sitting at my desk

My resting heart rate this week has been between 40 and 42 beats per minute.  If I see a gradual rise in the range of 5 to 10 BPM I will know that I am under too much stress and take precautions.


Tri4Success said...

Good (and important) post. I've been meaning to grab one of those pulse oximeters. Thanks for reminding me.

Unknown said...

Great tip! I have always wanted a good way of measuring my RHR without having to wake up and hit my HRM light... all the while cranking my HR up a few beats.

Ransick said...

Cool little device. Thanks for the info.

Lindsay said...

nifty! i used to check my RHR every morning... and rest if it was elevated. i wonder if some of my recent health problems were caused by pushing it too hard ... hmmm. might have to splurge on this little monitor thingy.