I’ve been using HRV4Training for a while personally, and am now using it with the athletes who I coach.
It gives me some useful insights, and I often coach age group athletes who work shift patterns, so it can help us to see how well they recover from their overall daily stress.
Training stress is not the only stress in life, and age groupers trying to fit triathlon training in with their work patterns often underestimate the amount of stress life throws at them!
Seeing a recovery score can help them, and me, to make decisions about their training, and with the recent paper showing VO2 improvements in groups who used HRV guided training, it makes sense to track and learn more about how our bodies respond to stresses.
The paper is interesting, as it does mention sex differences, and the need for more research. I think as women start to approach menopause, heart rate variability, along with tracking fatigue and other symptoms will really help them to adapt to the changes that are happening in the body.
Case study – mid 30’s female athlete
I have been working with an athlete who works 12 hour shifts for the NHS, so we are using HRV4Training to track stress and recovery. She seemed to be coping with the training stress, and had entered a virtual race.
But…..the week before the event the athlete started to complain of sore joints and fatigue, she had been working a shift that day, so she had a couple of easier days after that.
I recommended more rest in the week leading up to the event, as her readings were low, and she was giving some negative subjective feedback, but she continued to train up to the event. The day of the event she felt bad, and raced anyway, then tested positive for COVID-19 the week after. You can see her recovery below, after the event.
Luckily she seemed to bounce back quite quickly, but this shows how her HRV was impacted by COVID-19.
You can see how her score reflected the illness, but she didn’t record after the race, so you can only see when her score began to pick up again around 10 days later.
It’s always a challenge to get consistent readings with athletes, but when you can see the data it helps us to understand what happens to our bodies when we get ill, and we can then make better decisions around training.
So I wanted to give a bit of guidance to athletes who are trying to make sense of how to train right now. If you are being coached then your first port of call should be your coach, but if you don’t have a coach, then I’m here to help.
Find good information and support
Everyone is going to have a different take on this, as honestly none of us have ever had to cope with a world event on this scale, but one thing that we will all agree on is that this is a time of major life stress for everyone, and we need to get through it in the best way that we can in our own way. First of all I would look for trusted news sources at this time, look for good information and use that as your guidance, and limit your exposure to things that make you feel anxious, you may need to cut your social media use if it is harming you right now, reach out to people who can support you, and also when we are on social media think about, what you post, is it kind? Is it helpful?
Adjust your mindset
Don’t forget that training is its own stress and if you overdo it at this time you are setting yourself up for feeling bad, stressed, out and not coping. Mental health, and overall health, must be a priority at this time. We can do this through exercise, nutrition, and hydration. We need to look at what feels good. If any of you follow Yoga with Adriene, her community is called find what feels good, and this is an ideal time for you to find out what feels good to you, you’ll soon find out what works for you and what doesn’t.
Check your situation
Lets look at work situations, you may be working more, and have more work related stress. You may be working from home so have a bit more free time on your hands, you may be unable to work and have no income. These are all situations that you may be in at the moment. Then you have your training. Some of you will have had your main races cancelled, some of you will be unsure if your race will be going ahead or not, so what do you do?
Find your why?
First of all I would ask yourself why you do the sport? Is it for fitness, community, health, to lose weight, to perform, all reasons are valid and all are individual. For me it’s fitness, health and performance.
Then you need to look at your goal race, has it been postponed? Cancelled? Deferred? Still may be on? Your goal in training will then align with that. If your race is cancelled for this year, then look at your why. Mine is to maintain fitness, as I want to be able to compete if a race does comes up that I feel like I want to do, I want to be able to perform as best as I can in these times.
For some of you it may be a sense of community, in which case you can organise virtual meet ups, like many of you are doing, if you are doing triathlon for health reasons, then exercising up to a point is going to keep you healthy. I say up to a point because if you go too deep into training then you can compromise your immune system, and add to stress that is already there. This is an opportunity to add in strength and conditioning, practise recovery, eg yoga, just breathing and being aware of how you are feeling and what you need.
Adapt your training
If your goal race is a way off, I’m thinking about IM Wales or any late season races, then you may be stressing about losing fitness, swim fitness in particular. Just remember everyone is in the same situation, do what you can, maintain core strength, do some swim specific exercises, maintain your fitness but now is not the time to be building fitness. Remember you don’t want to get yourself into a training “hole” A lot of people follow the Don Fink IM plan which increases distance every week, you will want to back off and maintain the level that you are at now, then when you have less life stress you can start building again. The rule of thumb is to increase training load across the board at around 10%. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, look at what you CAN do and implement it
Think about your why, and align your goals with that. Find what feels good for you, and adapt as you need to.
I’ll finish with a quote from a book that I read recently, called “The way the world thinks” by Julian Baggini. The quote is “What is yin yang? Yin Yang is timing. In other words yin yang responds appropriately to the precise situation as it is now, not as it was or will be. A wise action today could be a foolish one tomorrow.”
So take each day as it comes, and make the best decisions that you can, in the situation that you are in. Be grateful for the small things and we will get through this unusual time.
So, after another sleepless night, I think I may be perimenopausal. I’ve noticed a pattern of depression before my period, which is out of sync with how I normally feel. I had noticeable heart palpitations a few months ago, and have been getting hot at night sometimes.
To be honest I don’t really want to admit to it, because, well, the word menopausal has many negative connotations to me. Maybe I just don’t want to admit that I’m getting older, just yet; However I also know that until I accept this part of myself then I’m not going to be feeling more positive any time soon!
During the last few months, I have found that there is information for women out there, but as symptoms can be so different. I could attribute my feelings and symptoms to so many other things. It feels a bit like being in the dark. I have talked to friends about it, and we all feel a little bit confused.
Symptoms of perimenopause can vary but here are a few of them
Changing periods – length of cycle, duration of period
Fatigue – tiredness or a loss of zest
Anxiety, mood swings, irritability and depression
A feeling of being invisible and a loss of confidence
Decreased libido or sex drive
Urinary leakage or urgency
Aches and pains in muscles and joints
What to do?
The last few months I have found myself in a very dark place, at times, and its hard to know what to do about it. Standard advice for perimenopausal women is to get your nutrition right, exercise, get enough sleep etc, but there is not much information out there for women who are already doing these things, and who are also training for endurance events. The standard advice of exercising may not be the best option here. If you are training a lot, then your stress levels may be raised, so it might not actually be the best thing for someone who is already pushing themselves close to their limits.
It may be more beneficial to incorporate a bit more recovery, and some strength work at this time in your life. You can watch my FaceBook live that goes in to more detail by clicking below.
A lot of information is also for menopausal women, who have already stopped their periods. So what happens in-between? It seems to be a kind of no mans land, possibly because everyone is so different in how they experience this transition. It makes it difficult to study. There is no way of knowing if you are perimenopausal, as the tests that can detect it are based on hormone levels, which fluctuate throughout the month anyway.
It would be interesting to see some research in this area, but I’m pretty sure that perimenopausal women and endurance are not going to be the focus of many scientific studies in the near future. Talking about it can help us to realise that we are not the only ones going through it, and may help you to feel supported. I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s experience during this time, so feel free to get in touch if you have any ideas or information that you want to share.
If you’re looking for some more resources I have listed a few below, and you can read about my experience at a race when I was suffering with symptoms here
A lot of athletes are tapering or will be tapering for an event round about now. This is arguably one of the most mentally challenging parts of your training so far. You may feel a variety of conflicting emotions. I will run through some of these below, and hopefully put any last minute anxieties to rest.
You may feel you have not done enough training
Look at your training plan, did you complete most of the sessions? Have you remained consistent? If the answer is yes then well done, you have no reason to be worried about what you have done. If you haven’t then it is beyond your control now. Let go of any fear you may have about not doing enough training, you did what you could do at the time, and that is enough to get you through your event. Don’t try and cram in extra workouts now, you will not gain fitness by training hard in the last few weeks before the event, your work here is done! You may have niggles/heavy legs
As race day approaches it is common to notice every twinge and become concerned. It is more than likely your mind is playing tricks on you. Your legs may feel heavy and tired, this is normal, and you are not alone. It can be down to your muscle tissue rebuilding so think of it as a good sign, and make sure you rest enough to allow your body to do what it needs to do (Recover) Stretch, and massage. Make sure you don’t massage too close to an event as sometimes it can move things around and cause problems to flare up. There is a stretching routine here which may help you to calm down and relax.
Trigger point therapy with a tennis ball!
You may have specific fears about the race
For example one of my worries at every race I go to is being late. I have never been late for a race, so this fear is unfounded. Make sure that you write a plan that covers all eventualities, e.g. what time you will wake up, what you will eat, what you will wear, any equipment that you need etc etc. This will set your mind at rest. Think about your specific fears, is there anything you can do about them? If you can do something to ease those fears then do it. Now is the time to put those fears to rest and have strategies in place to help you cope with race day nerves. I find myself writing lots of lists which helps me cope with my anxiety.
This is similar to thinking you have not done enough training. Just as there are many different ways of training and racing, there are also many different ways of tapering. Hopefully you have followed a plan that has been designed by someone who has knowledge of endurance sports and is aware of the science and research behind tapering. You may feel like you have tapered for too long or not enough. Put trust in your programme. If you believe that what you are doing is the right thing then you will benefit mentally as well as physically. If you spend your taper worrying if you have got it right you will waste a lot of energy. Let go of your worries it doesn’t matter what others are doing, it matters what you are doing. If you have followed a plan so far don’t deviate from it now or you will risk jeopardising your race. Stick to the plan.
You may feel grumpy and or depressed
You have built up your training to such a level that when you taper you may feel like there is something missing. There may be a gap in your life that you think needs filling. Don’t try to cram more stressful activities into your life now. Relax and enjoy the rest, eat healthily, and enjoy just being. Read in the sunshine or just chill out. Make the most of your spare time by mentally preparing for the race. Fill your head with positive imagery and words. You need to minimise any negative energy. You can do this by repeating a phrase that means something to you, for example “I am the best that I can be”, or by visualising parts of the race course and imagining yourself feeling strong, and enjoying yourself. Smile and remember how lucky you are to be able to do this! Race day
Remember, on race day everyone will be feeling nervous. Find a way of coping with your nerves, become aware of your breathing, listen to music, whatever gets you through. Once you start you will get in to your rhythm. You have practised for this day 100’s of times during training, and it will all come together. If you can do these things you will have a great race.
On Thursday it was the Port Talbot Wheelers 4 up time trial, our team only started with 3 so we had less of a break from riding on the front, but it was a similar team to last year, Mel, Kirsty, and myself. Lats year we had Clair, this year we were meant to have Karina, but she couldn’t make it. We arrived and unpacked, I think we were all a bit nervous and Mel nearly started riding with a piece of insulating foam attached to her bike, then as we were practising we were turning right and slowed down, and Kirsty, who was behind me on her TT bars came off and got some nasty road rash and swellings! Not the best start, and we were a bit twitchy on the first section of the course. We soon settled in though and seemed to work really well together, we were only a few seconds off last years time (with fewer riders) and came second female team, so won £80 between us 🙂 Results are here
Photo courtesy of Il Mio photography
The weekend saw us camping at Parc Bryn Bach so that I could compete in the Titan Triathlon. The week before the race I didn’t run at all as my knee had been hurting and locking up after running for more than 40 minutes, so I really wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete the run anyway.
My diary entry
As it happens I had a mechanical on the bike which took the decision away from me to a certain extent, (its funny how these things happen) You can read my race report here. Things didn’t go to plan but my plan was not really fixed as I was unsure about my knee. I always think there is a reason that these things happen, so I’m thankful that I didn’t complete the run, it could have been a lot worse! Anyway we had a lovely weekend away and ended up climbing spiral staircases in a castle after the race, (this seems to happen frequently, Caernarfon, Dinefwr, and now Caerphilly!) Then the next day we walked up a 500m peak with the boys, and picked bilberries. (not enough recovery for me!)
The highlight of the walk was at the top when Devon found a sock, and announced this to the people who arrived at the top just after us. They didn’t seem too impressed, so he shouted “I bet you won’t find a sock”! We giggled just a little bit 😉
Forums and chat As a regular forum user, and competitive female athlete I am often frustrated and upset by comments that are made on forums regarding womens participation in the sports that I enjoy. As a minority in these sports I also feel intimidated to post a response, even when I am offended. This is why I decided to write this post. If you choose to read it hopefully some people will take the time to think about their words and choose them a bit more carefully. One of the reasons that I don’t challenge comments that frustrate me is that I don’t want to upset anyone, but obviously some of the men posting on these forums do not feel the same way as I do. My experience I would consider myself to be a reasonably confident woman, but when starting out at Triathlon I often felt that I was not “good enough” to participate in time trials and I waited until I was at a fairly high standard before I attended one. I know I am not the only one to worry about this, women that I have spoken to are often concerned about coming last or being too slow. I also participate in mountain bike events, which are very poorly attended by women. I am usually faster than men uphill but slower downhill, but instead of just riding in these events at my pace, I will let men go ahead, as I have been conditioned to believe that men are faster and better than me. I have discussed this with friends and they also react in a similar way. In the pool, I worry about getting in peoples way if they are faster, and I frequently see women giving way and jeopardising their session in order to let someone faster go ahead of them. I recently watched a poem being performed called take up space it is about being yourself and allowing yourself to take up space. If I sometimes feel like I can’t take up space, then imagine what women with lower self esteem must feel like. Facts Obesity and low self esteem are a growing problem, girls and boys are subjected to stereotypes and social pressures from an early age. I am going to look at this from the female angle, as I am female, and I feel that women are often overlooked and marginalised by sports, we have to fight to get recognition, and equal opportunities, as the world has been run by men for so long. There are systems in place that are unfair to women purely because men are the people who made the rules, and often they do not consider women, for example; the Time Trial scene. A look on their forum reveals some attitudes that, frankly, belong in the dark ages. Usually there are less prizes for women. The reason being that there are less women competing. How this encourages participation is beyond me, when you don’t even get recognised for your efforts, and believe me, the women that compete in these events DO put in the effort. Generally speaking the women who enter these events are highly committed, they have to be, to overcome gender stereotypes. However these women are a different group to the group of women who need to be encouraged in to sport. A Sport England Report identified areas in which women aged 15-19 are dissuaded from participating in sports, and found that what one group disliked about sport and physical activity were “feeling intimidated and self-conscious, and the competition associated with doing sport.” This would support what I have seen in a local time trial where results are not published from the event. I saw more women at this time trial than I have seen at any other time trial in the area. “This research also investigated the role of three main determinants upon participation in sport – the environment, lifestyle transitions, and psychosocial issues. Overall it was found that: Young women did not consider environmental issues, including the provision of facilities, as very important when explaining their current level of sports participation. Transitions, including lifestyle changes for example from school to college or from education to employment, had a negative impact upon sport participation, due to a decrease in levels of spare time, money, and energy. This finding was consistent regardless of current level of participation. Psychosocial issues were very important when explaining levels of sport participation. In particular, family and friends were considered to be the most important factors influencing participation in sport, regardless of participation level. Furthermore, complex psychosocial issues such as self-confidence, and perception of personal ability, were also found to play a significant role in the decision to participate in sport.” What to do There are a lot of good campaigns out there to empower women to participate in sport and break through stereotypes, for example This Girl Can, we just need to bring these attitudes and ideas into clubs at grass roots level and not just pay lip service to “there should be more women participating”. Women will not respond to bullying or male banter, they need acceptance and encouragement. If clubs really care about women participating then they would do well to read the report by Sports England and implement the recommendations. They could also consider the words used on public forums and think about how these may affect other people.
Wow what amazing weather we have been having. It makes it so easy to train and motivate yourself when there is sunshine, and it also makes it easy to get over enthusiastic and overtrain. Sometimes training gets tiring, and its difficult to know if you should take a break, or keep pushing on. I think most of us know when we need to take a break, but we can also sometimes get attached to our training plans (guilty) and feel that we need to tick off everything that we have set ourselves to do. It is useful to keep track of your training then you can see what you have been doing and there is evidence to show that you may have been overdoing it. I use training peaks which gives me a TSS (training stress score) which is explained here. This explains why I’m feeling tired at the moment, and had to abandon my turbo session! Training is stress that we put on our body, and it is good to do this, if we didn’t then we wouldn’t get faster or fitter, BUT if you don’t rest and recover then the body does not have time to repair itself and your performance either stagnates, declines, or in the worst case scenario you get to the stage when your life is negatively affected by your overtraining. If you need more recovery time your body will let you know, you just need to listen and be observant if you have any of these signs.
You feel sluggish and tired for consecutive days
You lack motivation to complete workouts
You can’t sleep even though you are tired
You get ill more often
There are a lot more symptoms of overtraining which can easily be found if you google them, remember though that everyone is unique. We all have different tolerances for training loads and recovery times, so what might work for your friend will not necessarily work for you. There are ways to monitor how recovered you are by checking your heart rate in the morning, amongst other things. I will leave it for the experts to explain here. Don’t underestimate the power of good quality sleep, and staying hydrated. Recovery is taking care of yourself. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics, if you catch yourself beating yourself up about missing a session or feeling tired then listen to what you are telling yourself and ask if you would talk to someone else in that way? It is important to nourish yourself with positive words and by allowing yourself recovery time. It is not a weakness, and can make you stronger in the long run.
The power of your mind, how to break through a negative mindset
Swimming Since I started triathlon my swimming has improved a lot, but I have always thought of it as my weakest discipline. I have worked on technique, have had coaching in a workshop situation to improve my stroke, and I have steadily improved. I have progressed from the slowest lane in the tri club swim sessions to the 2nd fastest lane. Recently the swim lanes have changed and a lot of swimmers have moved in to the 2nd fastest lane. I have been reluctant to move up to the fast lane, as I didn’t want to get dropped and hold people up, I tried going in the other week but was struggling to keep up on the warm up.
Some coaching feedback from a while back!
Life in the fast lane This Monday I went in the fast lane, I didn’t really want to and still in my head I think I am a poor swimmer but I thought I’d give it a go. We were doing fast 100’s and when I stopped my Garmin at the end of the first 100m I was shocked to see I’d swum the fastest time for 100m I think I’ve ever swum, now part of this is down to having faster swimmers to draft, and also stopping short of the end of the lane (there were so many of us in there!) But I started stopping my Garmin a second after I’d stopped to account for the last meter of the lane, and I still managed to hold on to a consistently faster pace than usual, about 8-10s faster than my usual 100m pace.
Mind power It is really important to see ourselves in a positive light. When negative thoughts come in to your head you need the skills to replace them with positive or affirming beliefs. This is not only important for training and racing, but also an essential life skill, it can improve the quality of your life dramatically (love the rain!) I am very aware that I still view myself as a poor swimmer, and there are many other areas in my life that I do this, BUT I am aware of it, and there are things that I can do to ensure I don’t fall into the trap of overly criticising myself. Next time that voice comes into my head telling me I am crap at swimming I now have the evidence to show that I am not, and that I can push myself more than I thought. As you train and race, make sure that you store these moments so that you can call on them when you need some positive energy in your life, remember you are unique and have many strengths that other people see and admire, be proud of yourself, and love the rain!
This video was posted on my clubs cycling forum, and it brings up some really good points
I think one of the points that it brings up, about knowing why you are doing a workout is really important. If you have a good reason to do a session then it will be beneficial, for your mind as well as your body. If you are just doing it just to get the miles in then it may be the wrong reason.
You need to know what your goal is and work towards that.
It is important to have a focus for each session, and when I plan workouts for my athletes I always describe the focus of the session. This works in 2 ways, firstly you go in to your session with a focussed plan, and you are also programming your mind to believe in what you are doing, so that when it comes to race day you will know that you have done what it takes to prepare your mind and body, remembering this will make you a better athlete.
A snapshot of one of my coached athletes plans
It is a good idea to visualise your race whilst you are training too, think about how you will feel when you are racing. All of this will help prepare you for the big day.
There is no doubt that High intensity sessions will increase your fitness, but you must also do race appropriate workouts too, and in the study that is quoted the participants did high intensity (that means all out efforts) for 30 seconds until exhaustion, or worked at 80% until exhaustion.
I am believer in balance and variability. If you do the same sessions week in week out then you will not improve as much as you will if you progress, and work in different intensities, the more time you have to train, the more you can mix it up. You also need to know when to back off. Ask yourself, what benefit am I getting from this session? Sometimes its better to recover and try again another day.
Theres nothing like a new toy to get you going again. I bought a skipping rope before I went to Sri Lanka, thinking it would help with running technique, I had a couple of skips with it humming the rocky theme tune to myself, and found it was pretty hard work. It really shows up your technique too.
I thought I would show what happens to your heart rate when doing high intensity exercise. It takes quite a while for your heart rate to increase even when you are working really hard, this is why I use power on my bike.
Sometimes when you are going uphill, by the time your heart rate has kicked in you have already burned a match, its also really useful for gauging your rate of perceived exertion as you can instantly see what your power is, (how hard you are riding) before you start getting out of breath. It is good to use several methods of determining how hard you are working, so that you stay in touch with your body.
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