Episode #11 – 6 Markers for Recovery Success

Episode #11 – 6 Markers for Recovery Success

All your time off the bike can be considered recovery. I take a look at quantifying and automating 6 overtraining markers for better recovery.

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Vuelta done. Not much to say. If you caught it you would know how good the racing was. The talk is, that it was most peoples favourite tour of the year. I’m right there with them. My highlights – Contador attacking from the front to win the race on stage 17, Gilbert’s two victories and Simon Clarke taking the KOM jersey. Go Aussie! Oh and while we’re on the topic of Aussies, Go Gerro! Nice win. Who’s going to be watching the worlds this year with super excitement? That would be me.
This is my last installment of the Tour of Duty Ride. They finished up yesterday at 2pm in New York, New York. I don’t have any stats for the ride, but let’s just say killer job! I can’t wait to see what they plan for next year, and Ty, you never called. I’m going to have to track him down.

Quantifying Recovery – 6 Markers for Recovery Success

The goal here is to turn subjective and objective markers into quantifiable output, that way we can or our coaches can look at hard data to make important decisions about training. In this instance, I am going to talk about monitoring your state of recovery. I have to admit that I’m indulging a little with this topic. It fascinates me and because it’s only the beginning of things to come I thought it would interesting to look at it’s implications with something we love. Cycling!
Quantified self is a newish way of looking at personal health data. It also has future applications for athletes. It’s still a very new concept that is slowly evolving through technology, but it has a long way to go before it’s potential is realised. I’m going to put together what I know about recovery and quantified self to give six markers and how to quantify them. Plus a few tools to automate the process.

So what is Quantified Self?

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical).

You’re probably thinking that they already do this, and you would be right, your Garmin has pretty amazing capabilities, especially if it’s coupled with a heart rate monitor and power metre, but there is more to it. What happens when you step off the bike? Everything that is not training is recovery and the results of your training don’t happen in the training themselves. So it makes perfect sense to me that recording off the bike is the next logical step.
Already in the Quantified Self space are products like:

The next generation of recovery not only takes objective data into account but also qualitative measures and uses an algorithm to mine for meaningful data defined by your desired output. In our case better recovery and performance on the bike. The way I’m thinking about quantifying recovery is by focussing on things that can be measured day-to-day by us, so not blood for example. I’m going look at objective and subjective markers and ways to quantify them so you can get started right away. One quick note though, subjective measures require honest answers for them to be most effective, and produce the most consistent results. This in itself is something to get used to, who hasn’t lied to themselves when they are feeling run down but still go out and smash themselves? I know I have.

What are we looking for?

Signs of overreaching and overtraining.

Overreaching is defined as “An accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in a short term decrement of performance with or without related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining in which restoration of performance capacity may take from several days to several weeks.”
Overtraining is defined as “An accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in a short term decrement of performance with or without related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining in which restoration of performance capacity may take from several weeks and/or months.”

Kreider RB, Fry AC, O’Toole ML (Eds). Overtraining in Sport. 1998

Are you at the risk of overtraining?

The risk here is that you are working harder than your recovery, or capability, allows. It’s also not only for conditioning, it’s for mental health and and injury prevention. Going too hard for too long doesn’t do anyone any good. Overreaching on the other hand is where we make our gains. By measuring overtraining markers you can see overtime where you are struggling. Rather than just measuring an input like food intake, we are going to look at the output, like how is your appetite?

Here are 6 markers for recovery success

Sleeping Heart Rate and Orthostatic Test

The studies are conflicting when it comes to using your resting heart rate as an indicator of overtraining. Your resting heart rate can be affected by environmental temperature, state of hydration/dehydration, altitude, drugs (caffeine), and other parameters. It is not an absolute measure like watts for example.
Rather than use an increase in resting heart rate as a sign of overtraining some studies have shown that sleeping heart rate is a more reliable measure.  Temperature, stress, and other issues are less likely to have an effect on the heart rate measured while sleeping. With the advent of smart phone apps such as http://www.whatsmyheartrate.com/index.html and http://www.azumio.com/apps/heart-rate/ that not only make it easy to record but can store data this is a relatively easy measure to monitor. Heart rate sleeping should be relatively steady over months and if sleeping heart rate increases by more than 5%, it should be a good indication that it is time to decrease the volume and intensity of training.
The Orthostatic Test is another way to check your heart rate just to be sure to be sure. Just like resting heart rate is a bit iffy, we can offset any variables in sleeping heart rate by testing the heart in different ways. So check it out and record your findings in the same way as sleeping heart rate.
Orthostatic Test
1. Lie still for on your bed until you have a baseline (consistent heart rate).
2. Then stand up and watch as your heart rate shifts.
3. Note the number at 15 seconds, 90 seconds and 120 seconds.
4. Find your average heart rate for the 90-120 second period. Note this number.
You’re looking for a higher than average heart rate in the period between 90 and 120 seconds after standing. Which is evidence of strain on the sympathetic nervous system. Meaning that the body is not adequately recovered. Track yourself over time and perform the test at the same time of day and same stage of the week.

Body Weight and Hydration

Unusual gains or losses, or wide fluctuations in weight are sign associated with overtraining. Weight loss can mean your body is having trouble repairing itself, and may also be linked to poor hydration. The Semi-Pro way to measure this is with a Withings scale. This bad boy automatically tracks your weight and records it via wifi. Remember to weigh yourself after your first morning toilet break, and speaking of toilet breaks another good measure of hydration is the colour of your urine.
We all know this one right? The darker your urine is the more dehydrated you are. I’m not a doctor but I’ve always gone by the rule that your first whiz in the morning should be a little darker than the rest of the day. So don’t flip out too much if it’s not clear from the start. A simple way to measure this is by adding a scale to general colours. For example light, dark and darker as 1, 2 and 3. Where the higher score indicates that you may be dehydrated. You could measure against a chart but just having a consistent approach here is all that’s needed.

Sleep Quantity and Quality

Sleep is critical to recovery. It must be stressed that generally the more sleep the better. During sleep the body repairs itself and re-balances itself hormonally. Poor sleep can be an indicator and a contributing factor to overtraining. After any training day you must add at least a minimum of one hour to your normal routine. A way to quantify how much extra you need is by adding 30 seconds of sleep for every minute on the bike. 2 hour ride equals 1 hour extra sleep.
So that’s quantity taken care of, how about quality. We could just put a simple measure into a chart or we could use some technology that has already been developed to record our sleep levels. The ZEO is this technology. It straps to your head while you sleep, it’s not so bulky and it records your sleep phases and time spent in each one. It then makes recommendations on how to improve your sleep. It’s boss technology. I don’t own one but from what I read it works.
By the way if you are having trouble sleeping check out this post for helpful tips. http://www.bulletproofexec.com/improve-your-sleep/.


None of these should really be looked at in isolation because they are not absolute measurements. Recording all or any of these is a habitual nightmare. There is no way a busy semi-pro could get this stuff down. Ultimately the most useful measurement is the one you can repeat regularly so that you store a history of what’s normal for you. That lets you catch abnormal readings and correct them before the damage is done. The best way to capture the markers mentioned would be a central place with charts and readings stored automatically.
Imagine a program that supplies you with data to make better decisions, that incorporates your entire life. It would kill my excuses! In the meantime I’m looking for something that takes automatic recordings from the items mentioned above and stores the data in a meaningful way so I can make better decisions. Anyone?

Tech, Hacks & Products Section


The tracker is located in a tube that slips into your steerer tube and is fastened with the a headset cap. It’s not going to be totally compliant with the rules of cool, but there is a massive up-side. So you carry around a fob that when swiped over the cap arms the device. So anytime you are not using your bike. When the bike moves, or gets stolen, the vibration tracker begins updating its coordinates an sms is sent to you and you can then track it via the companies software.

Imagine the confrontation! Bam!



Photo Credit: Ty Domin


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