Resting heart rate simply refers to one’s heart rate at rest. Establishing an average resting heart rate can be a very useful training tool to monitor one’s recovery. I have found taking my daily resting heart rate as a wonderful gauge of my fatigue levels during the season. How can you utilize this training tool? Keep reading!
Simple ways to establish your resting heart rate
The best time to measure your resting heart rate is when you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed. This gives you the most accurate measurement as even getting out of bed and standing up can increase your heart rate by a significant amount. For instance, I find an increase of 5-10 beats per minute (bpm) going from laying still in bed to hopping out of bed and standing up. This is a big reason why measuring your resting heart rate in the same manner each day is important to give you an accurate average resting heart rate from which you can use to establish recovery level. If you are unable to take your heart rate as soon as you wake up, you can also measure it by lying down in a quiet atmosphere with low lighting for at least 10 minutes and then measure your pulse.
For those who are not familiar with checking your heart rate, the easiest way to do so is to find the carotid pulse. The carotid artery is located between the windpipe and the large muscle in the neck. Press your index and middle finger lightly to feel the pulse. Once you have found it, the next step calculate the heart rate, or beats per minute. The Cleveland Clinic Health System recommends counting the beats for 10 seconds, then multiplying by six.
Resting heart rate and athletic recovery
Studies show that with endurance training, resting heart rate will decrease. In general, your resting heart rate will decrease during the training season and increase if training ceases. As a athlete, taking your resting heart rate daily can not only help you monitor your fitness, but can also detect extreme fatigue levels. The random increase in resting heart rate on a specific day may be a sign that you have yet to recover from your most recent practices.
Your resting heart rate may slightly increase by a range of 2-3 bpm, but it is a random mornings’ jump of 8-10 bpm that should beg more investigation into your routine. While taking a day off to allow for rest would help the return to a normal resting heart rate, many elite level athletes often don’t have that choice. So what can you do? First, it is important to take a look into what is causing your extra fatigue. Is it your diet? Lack of sleep? A hard training session? All of the above? Find ways to make sure your life is balanced so you can return to full strength and continue on your road to success. Think it may be your nutrition plan? Take another look at Megan’s first post on recovery here for tips on improving recovery through nutrition and carbohydrate/fat ratios in food. Checking your heart rate daily can be a great indicator of determining whether or not you're recovering from your training, and allow you to make the proper adjustments if you are not.
Why your heart rate matters--a look at physiology
Your heart is a muscle. As you have learned earlier in this post your resting heart rate decreases as you increase your fitness - but what is happening physiologically to make this happen? In simple terms- your heart is becoming more efficient. As your train, your heart muscle is strengthened just like your bicep can be strengthened by bicep curls. A stronger heart allows for a more forceful contraction and thus more blood can be pumped out of the heart with each beat. The equation for Cardiac Output (the amount of blood leaving the heart per min) = stroke volume (mL/beat) x heart rate (beats/min). A healthier, stronger heart can maintain the same cardiac output with a lower heart rate by having a larger stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart in one beat). A lower heart rate to deliver the same amount of blood is favorable as less energy is being used with fewer heart contractions.
- Take your rest heart rate as soon as you wake up before leaving bed.
- If you see a spike in resting heart rate this may be a sign you need more recovery.
- Use your daily measurements to monitor your fitness (watch your resting heart rate decrease as you get into better cardiovascular shape).
- As your heart becomes more efficient your resting heart rate will decrease due to a larger stroke volume.
- Brooks, George et al. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications. McGraw-Hill: 2005.