What is this word, “recovery,” all about? Let’s break it down to its two most basic principles so that we are all on the same page. The first is returning your soft tissue to the state of health and hydration that it had before you mangled it during your hockey game or weight room lift. The second is resetting the lines of communication between your soft tissue and your brain to eliminate fatigue so that the next time you tell your glutes to fire, your calves don’t take over the job, instead.
One of the most simple but effective means of determining whether or not you are recovering is to track your heart rate. It is a daily, 60s practice that many coaches including myself believe to be a powerful habit for warding off a plethora of potential problems. Tracking heart rate will let you know how your body is responding to your training schedule, and whether there may be some emotional or non-physical aspects of your life that are making it harder for you to get the most out of your training.
To track your heart rate all you need is consistency, and a pen. Using different colours for the evening and morning rates and graphing it can be a helpful visual, but it isn’t necessary. Measure and record it in the morning before getting out of bed, and in the evening before hitting the pillows. Count your heart beats over a 30s period and multiply the number by two. In general, you want your evening heart rate to be lower than your morning heart rate, and you don’t want to see prolonged periods of time where your heart rate is far above or below the norm. Lower morning heart rates and higher evening heart rates are an indication that physical and emotional stressors are disrupting your sleep and energy levels. This means that you may not bee providing your brain and muscle tissue with what it needs- whether in the form of nutrition or rest, to adapt to the rigors of training.
Tracking heart rate is also an opportunity to look for trends and implement appropriate counter measures. For example, if you notice that on Wednesdays and Fridays your heart rates are much higher before bed, consider why. Maybe you have late-night practices or competitions on those days. In that case, taking a nice salt bath before bed followed by some foam rolling and stretching could help to bring the heart rate down and net you another thirty minutes of quality sleep. Or maybe you’re hanging around people who you would be better off seeing earlier in the day, in which case you can make some changes to your social life.
In another example, perhaps you notice that for the last ten days your heart rate has spiked and been unusually high. In this case, ask yourself what you have been doing that is different. Maybe you have been working too hard for too long and should consider taking a day off- which is better than risking illness or injury. Or maybe you notice that on days you have a certain type of workout it takes several days to bring your heart rate back down to normal levels. In this case you might try some pre/post workout supplement strategies such as increasing your intake of magnesium or using a greens powder.
Finally, you might find that you have a big drop in heartrate for an extended period; enabling you to make sense of feelings of sluggishness or a lack of motivation. In this case, time away from training to have some fun with activities or people you enjoy could be a great help to you.
The point is, if you are not tracking heart rate, you don’t really know how well or poorly your body is responding to your training schedule. It is better to know than not to know, so that you can prepare and respond accordingly.