As runners, triathletes, sportspeople, or even training in the gym, we love to get a tough workout done and often push through tiredness and sickness to tick the box and complete the training we said we were going to do, or that our coach has scheduled us, without listening to our body properly.
But what does that mean in reality? Just feeling a little tired today? bad nights sleep? a little sniffle? Or is there something more and can we learn to plan our workouts around recovery and rest?
So I have done some reading recently, mainly because my coach has been seriously berating me for not taking 'full' rest days in the last 3 weeks since I have started writing my own training plan. I've felt fine, so why take a rest day, right?
It turns out there is quite a lot to consider and its important that we measure recovery and include it in our training plans. Simply put, after a period of training load, we must have some form of recovery to allow the repair and strengthening to occur. Without it you may as well not do the loading in the first place, Recovery is where the MAGIC happens! It's what makes you stronger and faster.
The chart here summarises the different types of fatigue associated with training. Overtraining syndrome is highlighted as it is the one most commonly referred to but is the least commonly experienced.
Acute fatigue is normal after any workout and disappears after any workout and produces performance gains.
Functional Overreaching consists of a block of training where recovery is deliberately incomplete in order to apply a greater stimulus for adaptation. It usually lasts from several days to weeks when there is a deloading week to allow the gains from supercompensation to take hold.
Non-functional overreaching is where the accumulated fatigue is too much for the body to recover. In this case, no supercompensation takes place, so the athlete gets really tired but doesn't get a performance benefit for all the hard work!
Therefore timing of training, recovery between sessions is important as too much too soon results in non-functional overreaching, injury and illness.
The main factors that most affect recovery are SLEEP, STRESS AND DIET.
We can measure recovery in a few ways:
Subjective - Fatigue, muscle soreness, mood and
Objective - exercise capacity tests, hormone levels, nervous system.
Some coaches will say that subjective analysis and discussions with their athletes is enough, others prefer something more objective, and this is where HRV analysis comes in.
Heart rate variability is the variance between each heart beat. (your heart beat is NOT regular all the time!)
The higher your HRV, the better your autonomic nervous system is at dealing with stress. HRV takes into account both your fight/flight nervous system (sympathetic) and your rest/digest system (para sympathetic).
So how can you measure this?
The good news is that most Garmin watches have an 'HRV stress' test that you can take daily, seated, in a morning before you start moving around. Its important to take it at a similar day/time each day and start to build a picture of your stress levels.
Over time you will start to understand how your training and your life in general is affecting your HRV and can build your recovery days around this. For example if you wake up one morning and see your HRV drop dramatically it could be an indicator you are heading for a cold, and its time for a rest day or much easier day than planned.