What Can Your Resting Heart Rate Tell You About Your Recovery?

Your Resting Heart Rate (HR) is a qwik insight into how well you are recovering from your training. It needs to be kept in perspective though. You may remember from your school biology or Phys Ed class having to manually palpate your pulse at your wrist and counting for a minute and if this was between 60 and 72 then your teacher said that was healthy

There is an element of truth in this but not exclusively. The more detailed answer is smaller people have a lower resting heart rate, this is because they don’t have as far their body needs to pump their blood around their plumbing system. Fitter people also have lower HRs, this is because their heart is more powerful, more efficient and can pump more blood with each beat.

Now we can’t change how big you are significantly, as that is primarily predetermined by your skeletal frame that your body is attached to. But we can enhance your physiology and through endurance/aerobic training we can make your heart more efficient. We can increase the size of the left ventricle, we can increase the force that the left ventricle beats at, and enable it to pump blood further with each beat.

WOW, you might say that sounds interesting but what does that have to do with recovery?

If you are fatigued and tired as a result of training, then your body needs to recovery. Your body recovers by utilising the blood system to transport nutrients to the fatigued area and also to remove waste products from the fatigued area. So because it’s busy pumping extra blood to the fatigued area, your HR will increase to get more blood there. What is the fatigued area? Well, if you have been cycling it will be you quads and gluts. The muscles that have been worked. If you’ve been doing a lot of press ups it will be your chest muscles etc…..

But what if I get sick? I hear you asking

Well that is the same deal, your body needs to fight the infection, it does this by transporting white blood cells to the site of the infection to fight against it, and then it transports the waste products away. Once again the HR will be increased so it can get more white blood cells there.

OK, so that is well and good, but does it tell me anything worthwhile?

BOOM, you’ve got the best question there. If your body is struggling to recover, is it a good plan to load it up with more training? Whether it is struggling to recover from training or struggling to recover from an illness or virus, it is still going to need to work to recover.

When should you get back to training then?

Before I answer that, lets rewind the clock a little bit…….To answer this, we need to know what is normal for you. How do we do that? You might ask.

Now your true resting HR is when you are in the middle of your sleep. Lying horizontal and the heart doesn’t need to work too hard to pump the blood to the most important part of the body (the brain will always get the amount of blood it needs regardless of the other demands the body has for blood). When you are standing up or even sitting up the brain is elevated above the heart and the heart now has to work harder to pump the blood against gravity to get it to the brain.

As soon as you get up in the morning, you are elevating your heart and making it work a little harder than it was when lying asleep. So to get your true resting HR it needs to be recorded in bed before you get up (or even sit up).

RecoveryThe advice I give people about recording their resting HR, is to have a digital wrist watch with a light that they can easily hold in one hand whilst the other hand palpates their pulse on the wrist of the hand holding the watch. Press the light button on the watch so you can see the time (down to the seconds) and wait until it gets to an easy to remember start point (like the 10 second mark), and then count the number of beats for a full 60 seconds.

If you do this for a week straight (yes, it is a hard habit to get into as it is natural to get up and go to the toilet or what ever you normally do first thing in the morning before you remember to take your pulse). if you manage that, you will get a good idea of what is normal for you. Don’t expect the same value every single day, expect some variation from day to day. Average the week out so you have an idea of what is normal or typical for you.

Record your Resting HR in Training Peaks if you use that software. Click on the ‘+’ symbol by hovering the curser over the appropraite day on the calendar, and then ‘Add Metric’, then type the HR into the ‘Pulse’ box.

So I know what my normal Resting HR is, what now?

Well now that you have the normal value, you can monitor what it does and make some adjustments to your training. If you find your resting HR is 10 beats or more above normal, then you clearly haven’t recovered from what ever the cause is (training or illness) and will benefit from some extra time recovering. Take a rest day and do some yoga or stretching, don’t worry about doing a big training session for the day.

If your resting HR is only 5 beats above normal, maybe cut back on the training, reduce the number of intervals (but don’t decrease the intensity, keep that the same), or reduce the duration of a steady workout a little. This will cut back the training load for the day and allow you more time to recover.

If your coach has foreseen this it might be that you have an easy day scheduled for that day or the following day. In these situations it might be better, just sticking with the plan, as the recovery is being scheduled for you and the coach is just pushing you that little bit more before giving you the rest. Either way, it might be worth discussing the situation with your coach before making wholesale changes.

If you would like further advice feel free to contact Coach Ray.

Coach Ray is the Head Coach & Director of Qwik Kiwi – Endurance Sports Consultant and is a prominent triathlon and marathon coach in New Zealand.

Coach Ray specialises in assisting beginner and recreational athletes to achieve their sporting goals. He can be contacted at and 021 348 729. Make sure you sign up to his monthly informative newsletter.

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