Another very important area if you want to train like a professional. As mentioned in more detail in the stress section, too much stress and cortisol is bad for training adaptions, therefore you have to monitor your training load. Monitoring is two fold, internal and external load.
Internal load is the stress that your body feels from training and life. You may not notice it, you may feel fine and feel you can hit another session hard, however, internally you are actually at your limit already. This is where internal monitoring comes in. My personal go to is using heart rate variability (HRV) to have a look inside at what’s going on. HRV is simply the a measure of variation between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It regulates our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response. HRV is a noninvasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode due to high cortisol, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and poor performance. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. If you incorporate interventions to reduce stress, it is fascinating to see how HRV changes as you incorporate more mindfulness, meditation and sleep etc.
I’m sure most of you already use this device, a heart rate monitor. A key piece of equipment if you want to see improvements in your performance markers. As you’ve just read your heart rate can tell you how stressed you are through its HRV, it can also indicate this through its beats per minute. An elevated heart rate when at rest can indicate tiredness, sickness and stress. Using a wearable device such as the previously mentioned aura ring or whoop band is best for this. A heart rate monitor strap is best for actual training, I feel it is more accurate than a watch. This should be worn for every session, be it strength or cardio. This is to firstly monitor your calorie burn, this number is needed to be added to your resting metabolic rate to understand how much you burn and how much fuel you need to consume for any particular day. Secondly, it is for your actual training, for setting cardio zones, to see how hard you’re pushing, the health of your heart and what exercises elevated it higher than others. Therefore, a heart rate strap is critical for your training.
Monitoring sleep should also be implemented, as sleep is so critical to optimal functioning, it can be positive to see whether enough sleep is being obtained or not. However, it can be detrimental if the person become obsessive over it and it effects their sleep patterns. But on the whole it can help to implement interventions should they be needed. Such as a nap, or using some sleep aids. It can also add to the picture of whether you are fully recovered from your training sessions or not.
The external stress is the stress you enjoy, the training load. It is all about keeping an excel spreadsheet diary of your training programme. Everybody reacts differently to training, some need more rest than others, some find strength training harder than cardiovascular training and vice versa. Therefore, training each training session with how difficult you found it, then allows us to monitor the strain you’re under each week, in comparison to each week. For example if you did a cardio session that you found hard, say a rating of perceived effort (RPE) of 9 out of 10, then the next day you would reduce the intensity or change the mode of training. Couple this with the internal monitoring, then you have whole picture of how the training is unfolding. For some it maybe too easy and it needs ramping up, for others the opposite may be apparent.
Each morning when you wake up, you take your HRV score, either via a heart rate strap connected to an app on your phone (Elite HRV or Naturebeat app by Ben Greenfield), or by placing your finger on the camera of your phone (HRV4Training or Elite HRV) and it measures your heart beat that way. Or you can use a wearable device such as an aura ring or whoop band, these give you even more readings such as sleep quality. However you choose to do this, it will give you reading, this is when a decision is made that you are fully recovered, tired or exhausted. If it is either of the latter two, then training may have to be amended.
After your training sessions, you record you RPE and session lengths (On the excel spreadsheet you were sent) and look for any correlations in HRV, training load, intensity etc. As a picture is built, training becomes more and more specialised to you and your needs. Therefore, its critical to implement these measures so that training is very personalised to get the best out of you but also to avoid overtraining. And I don’t mean overtraining in the form of a little tiredness. I mean in the form of real overtraining, whereby it takes 6 months or more to recover from, because your nervous system is so shot from the chronic high cortisol levels you have been inflicting your body to. This is a very real risk to endurance athletes, therefore this practise is critical to increase performance and maintain health.