Find out when to take rest days by tapping into your body’s optimum rest and repair times
Tough training sessions are essential for improving performance, but they also break down your muscles, erode energy levels and compromise immune function. It’s only as your body recovers that your performance improves, and the tissues stressed by training are rebuilt and reinforced.
So, if getting fitter is your goal you can’t afford to neglect recovery when planning your training. In fact, many coaches believe that you should measure your fatigue levels daily to decide whether you are rested enough to train at all.
For anyone struggling to fit their training around the pressures of work, a family and social life, all this rest and recovery sounds like wasted training. But unless you can recognise when all these pressures become too much, you’ll end up losing weeks of training due to injury, illness or long-term fatigue.
For athletes who use high-intensity sessions to squeeze extra fitness from limited time, being fresh and ready to train hard is essential because slogging through intervals with tired limbs reduces the fitness gains achieved.
Sometimes it can be hard to know when to train and when to rest. People often think ‘no pain, no gain’, and feel guilty about taking a day off. And that’s why I want to show you some methods that can help you decide when to rest and when to train, without any lingering doubts in your mind. By knowing the best times to train or rest you can train more consistently and ultimately become fitter than ever before.
MIX IT UP
Traditionally, coaches and experienced athletes recommend an easy day following each hard session, and to allow one complete rest day per week to help keep fatigue at bay. Wisdom also suggests that an easy week each month where training time is reduced by 30-50% allows your hard training sink in, meaning you are completely recovered and ready to tackle your next week’s training.
The simplicity of this approach is a major attraction for those balancing training and recovery, but with busy lives and demanding jobs sometimes you need more time to recover from training. A onesize-fits-all approach to recovery might not work best for you, and there are plenty of other methods to gauge your fatigue levels.
Monitoring your heart beat is one such method, and could help you make gains this winter while reducing the risk of overtraining. Resting heart rate (RHR) has been used to gauge training-related fatigue for years. The energy your body expends on recovery causes an increase in heart rate, which is detected using a heart- rate monitor. When measuring RHR, consistency is the key, so for best results follow these simple steps:
On waking, put on your heart-rate monitor and start recording Relax and try to doze for at least 5 mins Note your heart rate or take the minimum recorded value if your monitor offers that feature Compare your RHR to your normal values and the previous days value; a change of 3+bpm for more than two days is a sign of accumulated fatigue. A sudden change in RHR of more than 5% over two or more consecutive days is a sign that you should back off your training to allow recovery. An increase on one day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tired, but two or more days’ elevated readings are a real warning sign.
READING THE SIGNS
Some scientists believe something called ‘heart-rate variability’ (HRV) can provide more accurate fatigue measurement than RHR. HRV measures how the time-interval between individual heartbeats varies. The level of variability indicates how well-balanced your body’s ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ instincts are.
During heavy training this causes lower heart-rate variability at rest, indicating short-term over-training. HRV is measured in the same way as resting heart rate, but you’ll need a monitor capable of storing individual heartbeats, such as the Polar RS800CX or Suunto T-series. iPhone users can also buy the ithlete application and dongle (myithlete.com) to give them HRV data without the expense of a new heart-rate monitor.
BUILDING A PICTURE
Many factors can affect heart-rate readings, so you should combine these measures with other information like muscle soreness, amount of sleep and mood to help build a clearer picture of total recovery status. This can help you identify patterns in fatigue that aren’t linked with training alone. Keeping a detailed training diary helps, or there is a good website called Restwise.com that can do this. It works by analysing trends and daily values in RHR and blood oxygen saturation, along with several other things.
The website gives you an easy-to-understand daily recovery percentage and it graphs the results, making easy to spot when it is time for a rest.
TAKE IT SERIOUSLY
There’s a wealth of scientific literature to support the use of the recovery methods in this feature. So if you’re leading a busy life, balancing your triathlon training with a wealth of other responsibilities, maybe you need to start taking your recovery as seriously as your training. After all, it’s only during periods of recovery that your body builds and improves fitness.