The inclusion of HRV monitoring into my training has caused me to change my perspective a fair bit on the subject. It has also provided me with a lot more questions than answers, but I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. My main interest and focus has always been on how to increase strength. A quick look over at my bookshelf and I can see that I have accumulated a small library on the topic. In pursuit of increasing my own strength I’ve been on an ongoing mission to discover and learn the best training methods and programs that can get me stronger. Today’s post is about the polar opposite of what I’ve been spending years of my life on learning. That is, the opposite of training. HRV monitoring has inspired me to consider not just appropriate planning of training loads, but the planning of recovery and restoration modalities – the opposite of physically stressful training.
First I’d like to assert my current position or philosophy on training; Your workouts are only as effective as the quality of your adaptation to them. This is analogous to the nutritional concept of being not necessarily what you eat, but what your body assimilates or absorbs from what you eat (I believe it was Poliquin who said that). I believe that the more advanced you get with your training, the more this statement applies. To elaborate on this concept, if you’re out-training your body’s ability to favourably respond to the stress, it doesn’t matter how perfect or scientific your program is. This is what makes monitoring something like HRV so invaluable. Understanding complex training methods and being able to apply them is simply one facet of the overall process. The recovery process also requires planning, structure and strategy.
At this point I wish I could tell you how to perfectly strategize and plan your recovery but I simply don’t know the answers. What I do know, and I’m stealing this term from Mladen Jovanovic, is that a complementary approach to training is necessary. Putting a ton of time into devising your next training cycle must involve considerations of recovery processes. This is not to say that that you must actively perform some mode of recovery at all times but rather that it would be wise to consider matching increases in training stress with a logically applied increase in recovery strategies to assist in the recovery and adaptation process.
Below is a brief list of factors I’ve been considering more when planning my training/recovery process;
(Note that the following are simply stated to provoke thought, I’m not recommending anything in particular as I’m not qualified to do so)
Sleep: Quality and length are obviously important during all phases of training. Can Inclusion of daily naps at certain times/phases be of any benefit? What about time of day training? Myllymaki and colleagues (2011) found that late night exercise resulted in higher heart rates during the first few hours of sleep compared to control however no effect on overall sleep quality or nocturnal HRV was seen. Perhaps post exercise static stretching would further reduce HR post-exercise (see below: static stretching) – You can monitor your sleep with mobile apps although I have yet to do this.
– Macronutrients, caloric intake (matched to body composition and/or weight class goals), manipulation of macronutrients according to training phase (i.e. higher volumes accompanied with higher carbohydrate intake?)
– Micronutrition (Ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral consumption. Does this change with variations in training load?)
– Anecdotally I can say that I almost always see an acute spike in HRV the morning after a night of purposeful overeating.
– Ingesting foods that are anti-inflammatory? Reducing or eliminating foods that are pro-inflammatory? For a discussion on nutrition and HRV see this post.
Supplements: Inclusion of ergogenic aids at appropriate times; vitamin D over winter; supplemental forms of Zinc, Magnesium, C, etc. Rather than taking certain supplements year round would they be more effective by being cycled in at certain times?
Massage: Beneficial in periods of high loading? Massage has been show to acutely increase HRV in athletes (Arroyo-Morrales 2008) and healthy subjects (Delaney 2002). See Patrick Ward’s site for more insightful discussions on HRV and massage.
Static Stretching: I understand that static stretching is a bit of a hot topic and is widely debated. But static stretching post-workout increases HRV (Mueck-Weymann 2004, Farinatti et al. 2011) and therefore more rapidly initiates the recovery process. How much of an effect this may have on the overall process I cannot say but it’s worth considering.
Cold Water Immersion: The effect this has on recovery is debateable (see a good article by Dr. Marco Cardinale here) but it does appear to enhance parasympathetic reactivation post-exercise in athletes after supra-maximal cycling exercise (Buchheit et al 2009). The psychological effects of this shouldn’t be ignored either. Does it matter if something like this actually helps if the athletes wholeheartedly believe it does? When I played football during my undergrad the cold tubs were a MUST during training camp. None of us questioned this. If we sat in the cold tub we thought we helped our recovery. If we didn’t we would expect to be more sore the next day. Placebo effect?
Active Recovery: From personal experience I’ve seen a noticeable difference in perceived recovery, also reflected in my HRV scores with active recovery work. However, incorporating active recovery at certain periods and removing it from others may enhance its effects.
To reiterate, the above modalities may or may not be the answer to continued progress. However, their strategic planning and application throughout training may allow you to better handle the higher training loads necessary to stimulate further progress. We periodize the amount of stress we apply to our body’s, why not also periodize modalities that theoretically may enhance our ability to tolerate that stress at the appropriate times?
For the strength coaches reading this, I’d be curious to know how much thought and planning goes into this aspect of your training with your athletes. Do you have your athletes use different recovery interventions? When and why? Do you monitor this?
I am still young and relatively inexperienced compared to many of you that may be reading this. I can say that from my experience coaching strength and conditioning at the collegiate level that monitoring can be an extremely arduous task given the limited amount of time available with the athletes. Not to mention, the process of monitoring is time consuming in and of itself, making it difficult to do when you’re responsible for several teams.
Leave me a comment or send me an e-mail to continue the discussion.
Arroyo-Morrales, M. (2008) Effects of myofascial release after high-intensity exercise: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 31(3): 217-223.
Buchheit, M. (2009) Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation. American Journal of Physiology, 296(2): 421-427 Full-Text
Delaney, J. (2002) The short-term effects of myofascial trigger point massage therapy on cardiac autonomic tone. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37(4): 364-371
Farinatti, P. et al (2011) Actue effects of stretching exercise on the heart rate variability in subjects with low flexibility levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(6): 1579-1585
Mueck-Weymann, MG., et al (2004) Stretching increase heart rate variability in healthy athletes complaining about limited muscular flexibility. Clinical Autonomic Research, 14(1): 15-18
Myllymaki, T. et al (2011) Effects of vigorous late-night exercise on sleep quality and cardiac autonomic activity. Journal of Sleep Research, 20(1): 146-153