Each year, an average of 10 percent to 20 percent of all athletes or fitness enthusiasts experience a downturn in their ability to train or be competitive, which is referred to as overtraining. Today, many exercisers use a heart rate monitor as an integral part of their training program to reach their maximal potential in their sport. What most athletes or fitness buffs do not realize is that a heart rate monitor is a crucial part of understanding the impact that the training they are doing is having on their bodies. If a heart rate monitor is used appropriately it can be used to detect overtraining before it becomes degrading to their performance.
What Is Overtraining?
If you are an avid exerciser or athlete, you can run the risk of overtraining. Many people make the mistake of increasing the volume, frequency and intensity of their training too quickly, without including necessary recovery periods. Most individuals who often suddenly or chronically increase their training do so because they are under the impression that "more is better." In reality, such an increase in training load is often too much for the body.
Physiological Responses to Overtraining
Although individuals respond differently, those that are overtrained generally exhibit symptoms and signs of physiological and mental breakdown. Overtrained people are usually fatigued, frequently sick, experience decreased performance levels, increased resting heart rate, increased blood pressure, persistent muscle soreness, depression, and an undesirable ratio of testosterone to cortisol. An individual may experience one or a combination of all of the above symptoms.
Increased Resting Heart Rate
During intense periods of training, monitoring your heart rate at rest and during exercise can identify when you are pushing your body too far. If you fail to include adequate rest during training, the body does not have the ability to rebuild itself after intense and regular training. Measure your resting heart rate at least two to three times a week upon awakening. By taking the measurement at this time, before breakfast or coffee or daily activities start, you can have a true sense of your resting heart rate. If you notice an elevated difference of five to 10 heart beats in the mornings, these are among the first warning signs that you are entering the first phases of overtraining.
Increased Training Heart Rate
During aerobic training, such as running, cycling or swimming, an increased training heart rate during easy or recovery days is also a sign of overtraining. Easy or recovery training is when the athlete or fitness enthusiast is working at a relatively easy level, approximately 60 percent to 70 percent of the individual's maximum heart rate. You can determine your maximum heart rate either by numeric formula, such as the Karvonen Formula, or through real-world field testing.
The Karvonen formula uses resting heart rate and maximum heart rate to establish appropriate training zones. To calculate your training zones, use the following formula: 220 - age = Maximum Heart Rate. Next establish your resting heart rate and then do the following calculation: Maximum Heart Rate - Resting Heart = X. Take X and multiply that number by 65 percent or 85 percent. Then add the resting heart rate to the percentages calculated; you now have your predicted heart rate training zones.
Increased Recovery Heart Rate
Increased recovery heart rate is the measurement of the beats per minute during a rest period in interval or anaerobic training. When the heart is overtaxed it will not drop down to adequate recovery levels, which is 50 percent to 65 percent of maximum heart rate, during a specified rest period. An elevated rate during the recovery period indicates the body is struggling to meet the oxygen demands of the body during the activity, and hence you are overtraining.
Rest Is Still the Best Medicine
When you experience elevated heart rate at rest, during recovery or while training, the best solution is often rest, especially if you've been training hard. However, keep in mind that stress can also cause an elevated heart rate, and exercise is one of the best remedies for stress. By identifying the problems early on in your training, you can prevent the multitude of problems associated with overtraining that can derail you from competition or activity for days, weeks, months or even years. Investing in a heart rate monitor is one of the best tools for anyone to avoid overtraining heart rate issues. Monitoring your heart rate before, during and after exercise is one of the best ways of preventing the common mistakes of overtraining that so many individuals make.
- "Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot"; John L. Parker Jr.; 1993
- "The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness"; Philip Maffetone; 2000
- "Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance"; Scott K. Powers and Edward T. Howley; 2004