Resting Heart Rate and The Correlation To Training Load

Hello everyone,

I’m leaving out the actual numbers because they are inaccurate and every person’s heart rate is different.

Just recently I’ve noticed a great example of training load and its correlation to resting heart rate.  Back in February I participated in the 2016 Tour of Sufferlandria.  Those 9 days of training resulted in about a 1050 Training Stress Score (TSS) for a cycling training load.  There was a significant correlation to the way my resting heart rate was graphed out with my Fitbit Heart Rate device.  I’ve been using the Fitbit Heart Rate watch for 8 months now.    I don’t consider this watch as an accurate gauge of resting heart rate at all.  However, it does a good job of giving you a trending pattern.  I also noticed a correlation between this resting heart rate number and my ability to re-test my FTP successfully.  I have broken this down as simply as I can below. 

Slide2I am going to make up some numbers to insert into this chart.  I will tell you that the Fitbit HR gives me a slightly higher reading than what I am going to put on the chart.  Do not focus to heavily on what your number is, just worry about the overall trend.  Until they invent a watch that does a better job of accurately tracking resting heart rate, we are only concerned with the trend line.  At the top of the trend line I assigned the number 74 and at the bottom of the trend line I assigned the number 60.  Overall, there was a 14 beat per minute difference from the peak to the valley.  Recognizing a trend line that is increasing is pretty easy to do.  So is seeing the trend line decreasing.  I can easily tell where the training load increases for those 9 days and where my body started recovering.  Let me highlight those blocks of training with the calendar that is on the bottom of the chart.

Slide3Each area represents a block of training with it’s corresponding TSS.  As you can see, I was still adding a training load before I even started the Tour of Sufferlandria.  The 9 day tour put 1050 TSS into my legs.  This had a significant impact on my resting heart rate.  I had never taken my resting heart rate this high before.  You will also notice that even though I took the stress off my legs to recover, I still had 3 days into my recovery block where my heart rate stayed elevated.  Matter of fact, my heart rate didn’t go back down into what would be considered a recovered state until 11 days after the tour had ended.  As I began the next block of training and began adding stress back into my legs, my resting heart rate was still decreasing!  I have observed this occur time and time again.  The last thing I want to talk about is when I had a successful Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test.

Slide4This last chart shows you my two attempts to get a good FTP measurement after the Tour of Sufferlandria.  My first test was 8 days after the last workout in that big block of training.  Most of us believe we are fully recovered after our rest week ends, test on Monday, then realize we are still carrying a lot of training stress in our legs.  You will also see that my resting heart rate has not fully recovered.  I am only about half way down to being full recovered.  I waiting 3 more days, (11 days since ending the last block) and retested my FTP.  I was successful in that FTP test and added 14 watts to my FTP.  You can see that my resting heart rate was down to being fully recovered.

I think this shows that you can easily use resting heart rate to help understand your training loads.  I would like to add a couple of major points here at the end.  We don’t worry about the individual numbers per se, but the overall trends of our individualized resting heart rate.  Furthermore, we can use our resting heart rate to decide when it would be a good time to retest our FTP.  There is something else that may be just as important as knowing when our resting heart rate has recovered; knowing if I am really pushing myself to the next level.  Think about it.  If you are training hard, believe you are pushing yourself hard, but your resting heart rate is only going up a few points, maybe you could push even harder.  We shouldn’t always look at resting heart rate for recover, we should also look at it and see if we need to “suck it up” a bit on our training and push that envelope a little harder.  That’s my plan this year.  I’m going to try and dig some pretty big TSS holes and only move into a full recovery when I can see that trend line is significantly higher.  This could be risky or it could pay off really big.  I will be paying close attention to my body when I do this.  At the end of that 1050 TSS load I could feel my right hamstring starting to act up so I couldn’t finish the last workout in the tour.  That was a smart decision, because injuring yourself and trying to recover will set you back pretty far.

Take care everyone, and have a great weekend.  I hope this helps someone understand resting heart rate and what you can do with it in your training.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

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