In a previous post; Go Slower Arrive Sooner I spoke about how exercise can assuage or exacerbate stress from hurry sickness. I also discussed a morning heart rate drill using your heart rate monitor as a means of determining if your body is ready to train on any given day. Heart rate monitoring is a valuable training tool. In addition to traditional heart rate monitors (which measure the average of beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate), there are now affordable tools available that can assist us with truly evaluating how the day to day stresses of life and training are affecting us: Heart Rate Variability monitors.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) - refers to the beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate. The greater the alterations, the healthier the heart. It is a marker of both dynamic and cumulative load. As a dynamic marker of load, HRV appears to be sensitive and responsive to acute stress. As a marker of cumulative wear and tear, HRV has also been shown to decline with the aging process. A benefit of physical activity (which slows down the aging process) is it has been shown to raise HRV. However, too much training without adequate recovery will decrease HRV. Emotions also affect HRV; negative emotions lower it and positive emotions raise it. So in short; the greater the beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate, the healthier your heart is.
We can influence HRV by maintaining a smart training program and reducing stress or hyper-arousal by:
1) Relaxing physically and emotionally
2) Reducing anxious thoughts and negative emotions
3) Engaging in smooth full diaphragmatic breathing
A few drills to experiment with in your Spinning® program training sessions are:
Upside Down Breathing: Noticing your heart rate, maintain your cadence and resistance then turn your focus to your breath. Emphasize exhalations: abdominal wall is pulled slightly in and up, to encourage longer exhalation, whisper a very soft "HAAaaa" sound. At the end of the exhalation, relax; allow the lower ribs and back to widen, and the abdomen to expand while the air flows in without effort. Mastery of upside down breathing is attained when you can breathe in a slow rhythmical pattern so that the exhalation phase is significantly longer (2-3 times) than the inhalation phase. Recheck your heart rate after a cycle of 6 breaths. Learn more in my Blog Post “Take a Deep Breath…”
10 second Breath: Same as above, except stretch the exhalation to a count of 6, inhalation to a count of 4. A 10 second breath cycle elicits the relaxation response. Watch what happens to the Heart Rate after 60 seconds!
Paced Breathing: Same as above but match breath with pedal strokes; 6 for exhalation/4 for inhalation during lower end aerobic efforts, 3:2 for higher end aerobic efforts, and 2:1 for anaerobic efforts.
Affirmation w/Breathing: Begin by noticing heart rate, utilizing paced breathing select an affirmation. Repeat silently with both the out and in breath for a 5 minute effort, maintaining cadence and heart rate, watch the effect. Try; “I am - relaxed, or strong, or calm, or supple, or…”. Contrast with” I am tense, or competitive, or attacking, or winning, or…”. Allow your students to see the effect of affirmation on their heart rate and performance.
Breathing w/Affirmation and Visualization: Same as above except add a compatible visualization. Try; While repeating “I…am…re…laxed,” “see and feel your shoulders supple and soft.” Or while repeating “ I…am…strong,” “ see and feel your legs powerful, rhythmic like the legs pedaling in a Peloton” Allow your students to see the effect of affirmation and visualization on the heart rate and performance.
Breathing w/Sound: Begin by noticing heart rate, utilizing paced breathing, on the exhalation whisper Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh or Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh, on inhalation whisper ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh or Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah. Repeat for a 5 minute effort. Contrast the two types of sound, allow your students to see the effect of paced breathing with sound on the heart rate and performance.
Your HRV monitor will also alert you if you’re over breathing - “hypocapnia” because your HRV will be reduced.
Train smart - follow your heart!