Diary of an overtrained triathlete learning to listen to her body.July 22, 2013
The Omegawave training device is one of those innovations that makes you rethink the entire way you prepare for races, and even makes you reevaluate the way you exercise on a day-to-day level . Growing up as both an athlete and a type-A personality, when a coach told me to take a day off, I could usually be found working out on my own without the team (who in my mind were all quitters for taking the day off). Annoyingly stupid, I know. And I wish I could tell you this meant I was a stud athlete, but alas, my high school and collegiate sporting career was inconsistent at best. Probably because I was so damn tired and injured all of the time.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the effectiveness of heart rate variability training, or HRV. While this is a very broad concept, to put it very simply HRV involves looking at variables in your resting heart rate to determine fatigue and stress levels. The belief is that your nervous system and its durability has a direct correlation with your ability to not only perform at a high level, but to recover from your workouts effectively. By monitoring your resting heart rate on a daily basis, you can determine if your body is stressed and/or fatigued to the level that necessitates taking a complete day off, or perhaps modifying a planned intense workout to better prepare your body for intensity at a later time.
Omegawave takes this a step further. Their heart rate strap takes a detailed EKG of your heart rate and vital signs, creating an indicator of your overall cardiac ability at any given time. Using this information, you can plan your workouts based on how your body is actually doing on a neuromuscular level, not just based on what your training plan might have written down.
The values measured are as follows:
Cardiac Readiness: Level 0-4 Bad (Rest and low aerobic activity only); Level 5-6 Moderate (low to moderate aerobic activity only); Level 7-10 Good (Ready for high intensity activity)
Resting Heart rate (usually varies between 40 and 60 beats/minute for an endurance athlete).
Stress: Level 1-7 (low stress to overly stressed)
Recovery Pattern: 0-0.6 (this measures the parasympathetic influence on the cardiac system. The higher the score, the better you are able to recover from high intensity.
Adaptation Reserves: 1-7 (this is a measurement of the cardiac system’s ability to adapt to physical exercise and your environment. Higher adaptation reserves increase your chances of successful performance and improved recovery.
I used the device for a period of five days, directly after coming off of a high-intensity race and heading into one last final build before a race taper.
Day 1 (Monday): One day out from a local sprint race, which I followed (per my coach’s request I swear!) with a 45-minute easy trail run and 30 minute recovery spin. I slept in instead of hitting my normal Masters workout, but when I woke up Monday morning I had an extremely painful and swollen foot that immediately gave me visions of walking around with a medical boot for 8 weeks due to a stress fracture. I calmed myself down, put on the Omegawave strap, and waited for the fates to tell me whether or not my cardiac system was limping as well.
Verdict: 7 (Good)
Resting HR: 45
Stress Level: 1
Recovery Pattern: .26
Adaptation Reserves: 6
Overall, better scores than I was anticipating. According to the device, my cardiovascular system was able to get solid benefit from moderately high intensity (or HR levels 3 to 4, which for me roughly translates to an maximum heart rate of 165).
But therein lay my first conundrum: my foot was legitimately hurting. Do I blow off my planned one-hour trainer ride and rest my foot? Well, without the Omegawave I’m telling you right now I would have ridden in Zone 4 without a second thought. Pain be damned! But even though my cardiovascular system was firing well, just being able to see the data reminded me that by overdoing it today with an injury could set me up for some inefficient intensity work later in the week. Better to be well rested and pain free for my planned harder workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. I hopped on my trainer and spun my legs out for an hour, then iced my foot on an off for the rest of the day.
Day 2 (Tuesday): Woke up insanely early for Masters, stumbled to the kitchen to wet my Omegawave strap, then laid on the couch for the two minutes measurement time trying desperately not to fall back asleep.
Cardiac Readiness: 8
Resting Heart Rate: 49
Recovery Pattern: .31
Adaptation Reserves: 6
Well, this pushed me out the door. While my foot was still decidedly not ready for running, I felt ready for some intensity, and clearly my cardiac system agreed. I sneaked over to a faster lane and hung on through a tough set of 200s. After work I hopped on my trainer and pumped out and hour and a half of interval work, building to Zone 5a for eight minutes at a stretch. I felt good, but by the end, my legs were toast, and I was drained. It had been a tough day at the office, as they say, and coupled with some stressful situations at home I headed to bed early, hoping that I hadn’t overdone things.
Day 3 (Wednesday): Woke up feeling as if I was laying under a bulldozer. My muscles were stiff, but my foot was 90% pain free. I strapped on the Omegawave, and patiently waited for the results.
Cardiac Readiness: 5
Resting Heart Rate: 55 (yikes!)
Recovery Pattern: .21
Adaptation Reserves: 3
Yep, I overdid it. Having my stress level go up so much was a bit of a surprise to see on a chart. A definite spike, which I can’t say was a surprise but it’s one thing to feel stressed and another to see how it’s affecting your heart rate and probably my sleep the night before. I emailed my coach the numbers, and he immediately responded with a short, very telling email. “Ease off. You did good work yesterday, but if you do that again today look at your numbers—it won’t do any good. No track workout today. Deep water running and go down a few lanes at Masters. And calm down, will ya?” Point taken.
Day 4 (Thursday): After taking it easy in the pool the day before, I expected to wake up refreshed and ready to lay down the hammer. My training plan called for high-intensity intervals on the bike, followed by a 20-minute brick run. I woke up with some lingering pain in my foot, but otherwise felt pretty good.
Cardiac Readiness: 6
Resting Heart Rate: 50
Recovery Pattern: .29
Adaptation Reserves: 4
Hmmmm. These were not the numbers I was hoping for. My trainer session was a solid 90-minutes heading into Zones 4 and 5a, and according to the device, exercising with a heart rate above what is my Zone 3 wasn’t recommended. I hopped on my bike for a moderate 90-minute ride, and spent the 20-30 minutes I would’ve been running doing a stretching and core routine.
Day 5 (Friday): I woke up feeling really good. My foot pain was completely gone. Now was the time for the real test: what did my nervous system have to tell me?
Cardiac Readiness: 8
Resting Heart Rate: 45
Recovery Pattern: .36
Adaptation Reserves: 6
Woohoo! It was time to get some solid high-intensity work in. I did my 90-minute interval trainer session and headed out for a 30 minute brick run at race pace. It was worth the wait. While letting go of my pre-determined training plan was hard (I’m type-A remember? We don’t like to deviate from plans lest the entire universe fall apart), in the end what I got out of simply paying attention to my body’s recovery and fatigue levels gave me a new sense of power—and direction—in my training.