To Train or not to Train…that is the question…

If you are like myself, you don’t always need to seek an excuse for missing a training session!, however when we are consumed in high impact / volume training, for instance when preparing for Ironman or other longer distance events, we can lose sight of the all important recovery elements of training, and ultimately fail to fully adapt. For the last few years I have been working to a pre-defined training plan using the 4 week cycle of 3 on 1 recovery, but when work gets in the way find the programme is always being modified and end up not really sure when to take recovery or not, and for how long.

If you know me, I like data driven decisions – maybe not as much as Steve Legge, Dan Prescott or Alf Collins, these guys look at data more than they train….but I do think data has its place when making training decisions. So recently I have started monitoring Heart rate variability (HRV). There is many ways you can obtain this metric, many of the modern sports watches such as Garmin and Polar offer an ‘app’ that will give a figure, more recently I have been using an iPhone app. Whichever you use, be sure to stick with one, as the figure may well be relative to that measurement device and not easily comparable, such as power is with cycling.

So what is it?. HRV is a metric/status of an individual’s physiological stress level. When used in the context of training, it can be a key tool to help monitor training load, identify when you need to recover and hence seek to optimise performance. It basically takes the approach used from old school resting heart rate to another level. When you take your traditional heart rate you get a single figure, but in reality your heart does not beat at a constant frequency. Stresses from life can have an impact on this frequency, so work, family, sleep and training load/intensity all count. By monitoring these disruptions and the impact on our training, we can look to make better decisions on training, rather than following a simple 3-4 plan as explained above. What HRV seeks to uncover is the time differences between these beats, unfortunately with some confusing numbers that can put people off using it on a daily basis. The process needs to learn, so it is not as simple as a figure of ’10’ means ‘x’ etc, and it will also disappoint some users because you cannot compare what one figure means for one person to the next – so my 400 watts of power no longer can be used to compare with Dans 300 anymore.

I don’t intend to make this blog a technical report on what the HRV features mean…..because I don’t know myself!. There is a lot of articles already out there that will explain this much better than I can ever do. I would just add that as a general rule, heavy training will reduce your HRV the following day, and you are looking for trends over time to predict when you need to take an easy or recovery period.

The only purpose of this is to introduce this concept to our members as a consideration to monitor your HRV and use as a tool in your approach to training. If you already use it, let me know your thoughts when this is posted in Facebook by dropping a comment on there. If you start to use it, again, keep the comm’s coming as I am keen to understand if Wigan Tri / HUB members are getting any benefits from this approach. Graham Shipley, you have no need to comment but thanks for looking, probably the same applies to Stef Cornish….you needn’t trouble yourself either.

Thats it for now, keep beating…Ste



HRV measurements via Garmin or Polar products – please check functions before any purchase. Many app’s are now available such as ithlete, and rely on 3rd party bluetooth enabled heart rate straps or similar equipment.

I was using the Garmin, but found I was not taking regular measurements (i.e., daily) because I was not wearing the HRM strap in the morning. More recently I have come across a smartphone app HRV4Training (just search this in the app stores). This uses the phones camera and flash unit to take a measurement from your finger tip, and collates other variables that may impact daily status. Its pretty cheap too!

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