On October 31, we we talked about how important recovery is and how to avoid overtraining. Now it’s time to find out how to better identify recovery through both qualitative and quantitative measurements.
Quantitative tests can come in a few main forms, including laboratory tests, home tests, and tracking software.
Laboratory tests, such as blood lactate testing, can help to identify training zones as well as overtraining. Training zones are established for the athlete based on pace or heart rate.
Establishing sound training zones is beneficial during a workout because then we can properly target specific energy systems based on our goals. The problem is they are very expensive and not readily available at many training facilities or even at local physician offices. Therefore, the most practical quantitative tests are home tests.
The key to successful quantitative testing is consistent measurement. For the following tests, it is very important that the measurements be taken at similar times of the day and on a daily basis. The measurements are to be tracked in a log with the hopes that over time, trends will develop, which can help us better identify our state of recovery and when we are verging on overtraining.
Quantitative Home Test: Resting Heart Rate
Measuring the resting heart rate (RHR) can be a very simple, yet meaningful, way to identify your recovery.
You can just use the radial pulse. Merely take the measurement as soon as you wake up each morning and log the information. Be sure that you do not take the RHR following an alarm.
Take the average of the heart rates following your first 1-2 weeks of testing and use this as a baseline. If your RHR is elevated 5-10 beats higher than your average, it is a sign of elevated stress. Some coaches recommend switching to an easier workout with a 5 beat change and no workout with a 10 beat change.
Quantitative Test: Orthostatic Heart Rate Test
This particular measurement compares your RHR with your heart rate after a shift in position to standing. Ideally, you will be wearing a heart rate monitor for this test. First, you lie down and wait for your heart rate to stabilize. Take the measurement, then wait 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, stand up and note your heart rate at 15, 90, and 120 seconds after standing. A good test occurs when the monitor gives your previously measured heart rate in the lying down position for the standing period between 90 and 120 seconds. Athletes who are close to overtraining often have a higher heart rate than normal in the 90 to 120 second period, noting strain on the sympathetic nervous system.
Quantitative Test: Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability deals with the difference in time between individual heartbeats. Believe it or not, variability is a good thing. Variability shows that the parasympathetic nervous system is in control and the body is under a very light load of stress. When the variability is low and the beats become more regular, this is a sign that the system is under stress. For example, heart rate variability is often a precursor to a heart attack. This particular measurement is also taken at rest, but requires a higher end heart rate monitor that can measure and record each individual heart rate. The cost of these monitors can be approximately $400.
Quantitative Test: Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
Your body actually consumes increased levels of oxygen immediately following exercise in order to bring the system back into homeostasis, or a stable equilibrium. This measurement can help to predict the amount of stress that has been placed on your body following a workout. While this is best measured in a lab with gases, some heart rate monitors can estimate EPOC using the heart rate variability method along with other information from your workout about the duration and intensity. Again, this would require a higher-end heart rate monitor that will surely set you back some money.
Software for Measuring Recovery
For those who would like to use a software program to help them track recovery, one of the better programs I have read about is Restwise. It measures an athlete’s recovery by tracking a dozen very simple metrics, which are both quantitative and qualitative in nature. Some of the metrics include: heart rate, weight, hours slept, sleep quality, energy level, mood state, and so on. If you want the help of a computer program to help store and interpret your data, I would suggest checking out Restwise.
The quantitative tools of measurement that we just discussed help to give you information, objectivity, and baseline data. But at the end of the day, your decisions about recovery should be based on your intuition. By the time quantitative data paints a clear picture, the athlete could already be in trouble. It’s important to remember that early warning signs can’t be quantified and must therefore be tracked qualitatively.
Two inventories that can help to measure recovery qualitatively are the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and the Recovery Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-Sport).
Profile of Mood States (POMS)
The POMS can help predict whether an athlete is well rested or overtrained by measuring six mood states. The mood states include tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, and confusion. Ideally, a well-rested athlete should display peaks in the vigor state with other states being low. The profile should take the look of an iceberg. In an under recovered athlete, the opposite shape occurs. Take a look at these sites to find a copy of the POMS.
Recovery Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-Sport)
The RESTQ-Sport is a 72-item questionnaire ranking both stress experienced and how recovered the athlete feels. Stress questions include general, emotional, social stress, rest intervals, halftimes, time-outs, emotional exhaustion, and injury. Recovery questions include success, social and physical recovery, well-being, sleep quality, sense of being in shape, personal accomplishment, self-efficacy, and self-regulation. This questionnaire really seems to provide an in-depth picture of an athlete’s state of recovery. Unfortunately, the questionnaire is only available in book and CD ROM format, not online.
It’s also important to note that working out with a coach or a partner can be another very strong tool in helping you determine whether or not you are overtraining. They need to be honest in noting your moodiness, attitude, etc. In turn, it is important that the athlete is very honest in their evaluation of fatigue levels. Sometimes taking a few days or even a week of complete rest is the best plan. Then you re-assess yourself qualitatively to find out whether or not it is appropriate to resume normal workouts.
In all, it is very important that we not only track our recovery quantitatively, but qualitatively as well. Qualitative data is often an earlier predictor of recovery state and should not be overlooked. The tools above are easy to use and most are free and readily available. Be sure to track your recovery.
Remember, pain-free first, then performance.
Sometimes you need to go easy to go hard. Always live life stronger.
*Michael Satterley is a doctor of physical therapy at practices at the Tidewater Physical Therapy, Inc. Oyster Point clinic in Newport News. The Oyster Point clinic shares a building with the Tidewater Performance Center.