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Archive for October, 2009

“Heart rate recovery” to monitor overtraining

October 3rd, 2009

Back in the late 1990s, I was training under the guidance of Harry Wilson, the coach who steered Steve Ovett to Olympic gold and world records at 1,500m and the mile. Harry was an interesting mix of old-school traditionalist and cutting-edge training buff. Instead of prescribing a set amount of rest between hard intervals (like two minutes, say), he liked to wait until the athlete’s heart rate had returned to given value (generally 120bpm for me). Being a young technophile, I would wear my heart-rate monitor for these workouts in order to have instant feedback. But Harry never really trusted this newfangled technology, so I would stand there between each interval while Harry jammed his fingers into my jugular, listening to my pulse himself until it had slowed to his satisfaction. [EDIT: An astute reader points out to me that you take your pulse from the carotid artery, not the jugular vein. My apologies for any misunderstanding!]

I bring this up because, while I was browsing through the pre-prints of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports yesterday, I noticed an article by researchers at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, including Tim Noakes, on “heart rate recovery” to monitor training fatigue. The gist is as follows: 14 cyclists took part in a four-week high-intensity training program that included two interval sessions (eight repetitions of four minutes hard, with 90 seconds recovery) each week. Immediately after the final hard interval of each session, the researchers recorded how much the athlete’s heart rate decreased in the next 60 seconds.

After the four-week training period was finished, the researchers divided the subjects into two groups: those whose heart rates had recovered more and more quickly throughout the study, and those whose heart rates had recovered more and more slowly. The hypothesis was that getting better at recovery indicated the subjects were adapting to the training, while getting worse would be a sensitive indicator that they were overtraining. To test this, the subjects rode a 40-km time trial, and compared the results to a similar time trial they had ridden at the start of the study. Sure enough, the group that was recovering better rode faster, and increased power by 8.0%, compared to the slower-recovering group, which only improved power by 3.8%.

This study is part of a larger project investigating the role of heart rate recovery, so it will be interesting to see the remainder of the results when they appear. Monitoring overtraining — the failure to recover from a heavy training load, essentially — is much more of an art than a science, so having some objective tools to use would be really helpful to endurance athletes. (And I’m sure it’ll work better with heart-rate monitors than using a finger to the jugular.) Read more…

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Faster tunes make you bike faster, even if it hurts a bit more

October 3rd, 2009

Researchers have been studying how music and other “distractions” affect exercise performance for decades (see here, for instance), hoping to trick us into pushing a little harder without realizing it. One of the factors they’ve looked at extensively is the speed of the music — the idea that faster tempos make us pick up the pace. The problem is that the effects of tempo tend to be swamped by the effect of whether the subjects in the experiment like the particular tunes selected for them. There’s a neat study that gets around this problem that just appeared online, in advance of print, at the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University in Britain.

Basically, the researchers had subjects cycle for 25 minutes as hard as they chose, while listening to a set of six songs. They repeated the experiment three times with the same songs each time, with one catch: unbeknownst to the listeners, the music was sped up by 10% in one trial, and slowed down by 10% in another trial. This eliminated the question of whether the results were being skewed because, say, everyone really loved the Glenn Frey track.

As expected, the subjects biked a few percent faster and harder when the music was faster, and performed worse when the music was slower. Here’s the interesting twist: it wasn’t that faster music somehow numbed their pain and allowed them to work harder with no extra effort — their “perceived exertion” ratings were higher too.

That is, [the researchers write,] healthy individuals performing submaximal exercise not only worked harder with faster music but also chose to do so and enjoyed the music more when it was played at a faster tempo.

Remember the old tape players that had adjustible speed (so you could fine-tune the pitch of music)? Wouldn’t it be nice if MP3 players started including a little knob where you could fiddle with the speed of playback by a few percent in either direction, so that you could give yourself a little boost late in a workout?

Jockology MIA?

October 2nd, 2009
Comments Off on Jockology MIA?

Just a quick note for those who’ve inquired about why there was no Jockology column in the Globe last week. There was a special section planned for last Thursday’s Globe (featuring extensive Jockology-related content!) which ended up being postponed. I’m not sure when it will now run — probably next week. If not, there’s another Jockology ready to run next Thursday, about how quickly you should return to activity after pulling a muscle or spraining something.

I’ve just returned from visiting the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, which is a bit of a Mecca for sports science. Very interesting place, which I’ll be writing more about in future articles…