One aspect of our ever-changing technology are the metrics we use. Today there are countless gauges to use to determine if your current well-being is suffice. Some of the more popular are (am I missing any?) heart rate, heart rate variability, gps tracking for pace and distance, estimated heart rate zones, estimated vo2, apple watches that tell you when to breath, stand, and move, fitbits that tell you how much sleep you need and the quality of it, body fat scales, and body weight scales. This can be a LONG AND EXHAUSTING list, and in this article I talk about how helpful they (if at all they are helpful), and what you can gain from using them (or not.)
- Sometimes helpful- Heart rate monitors- Back about 40 years ago, Polar first came out with a heart rate monitor to track your exercise heart rate. Since those early days, several company’s have hit the market and the technology has advanced dramatically. In the early days the only way to measure your heart rate was by wearing a chest strap, but now company’s have perfected a way to just use the watch on one’s wrist to measure your heart beat. I personally started using one in my early days of endurance training and find they can be very useful to gauge one’s success in a training plan. With that being said, I think the once evolving metric has gotten to where most athletes that use one daily have gotten to be “co-dependent” on them and that an advancement in their fitness could increase by training without one. Heat, fatigue, stress, medications, hormones, emotional state, weight,fitness level, age, nutrition,etc. all can change one’s heart rate in daily exercise. Most athletes that I coach have found greater success by combining a heart rate metric WITH learning to listen to your body (perceived exertion) and that knowing when to use each one is the most critical component of the training plan.
- Sometimes helpful-GPS- The company Garmin came on the scene in the late 80’s and really revolutionized the world of GPS measuring (as well as heart rate tracking.) It seems that every year now, a new garmin gps watch comes out with more advanced technology for the consumer. The million dollar question is can wearing a gps watch make you faster in the world of endurance sports? My opinion is that most athletes have gotten too saturated with knowing how much distance they have covered and what pace they covered it in. I am not saying you should never wear one, but sometimes just going for a basic run without stressing over the pace/distance covered can be a better option. Like I mentioned above, the main factor is determining when you should wear one with regards to your training. The biggest mistake I see are athletes doing their longest session of the week obsessed with the pace and distance they covered. This can be counterproductive and honestly can just lead to more stress.Some days your more tired than others, and that is where intuition, and perceived exertion is the winner as far as what metric to use on that day. The reality is that you are only as good as you are recovering, so paying attention to your body cue’s is your best protocol.
- Not necessary-Sleep, move, and emotions- I know I am not the only one that knows someone who has a watch that tells them when to move, breath, and how good your sleep was. These metrics are on the extreme end of gauging what your inside is doing and I think they are absolutely not necessary. I know I am in the minimal “less is more” camp with regards to wearing any kind of metric, but there are so many factors to determine if ones current heart rate correlates with stress levels. A better gauge to know if you are getting enough sleep is asking yourself how you feel? By keeping a journal, you can assess whether you need more sleep or not. Are you tired daily? If so, then you most likely aren’t getting enough sleep and perhaps need to adjust your day to day activities. Many people have sleep disorders and if you suspect you have one, then a sleep study is going to be much more valuable. A sleep study will look at brain wave activity, muscle tone, eye movement, and heart rhythm. A wearable sleep watch will only gauge how much movement you have had in the night and is not as reliable as an actual sleep study, or just basic common sense of asking yourself if you are tired or not 🙂
- Sometimes helpful- Heart rate variability- HRV is basically the variation in the time between heart beats. A higher HRV (more irregular beats) is considered optimal, while a lower HRV (regular intervals) is considered unhealthy and a better predictor of health consequences. Think of a high HRV as your heart having an inconsistent time frame between beats, while a lower HR has a consistent time frame between beats (like beating every 1 second.) I know several people that use this metric as a recovery tool, but I think there can be some inconsistency as far as it leading to a 100% success rate. Athletes that have benign PVC and PAC’s (I myself included) throw this recovery tool off. These are random heart skipped beats that typically cause no long-term health issues, but can skew the use of HRV. If I am having more PVC’s than normal and am using HRV to monitor my recovery it will always assume I have high HRV, but in reality it is cause my PVC’s have been higher than normal (ironically I only get them when I am resting more than normal!) You also have to consider your TOTAL emotional state at the time. Are you under recovered from your workouts or do you have other stresses going on in your life (work, relationships,etc.) Once again “real world” assessments will give you more feedback as far where you should cut corners to help you feel better.
- Sometimes helpful- Body composition scales- When I think of body composition scales I automatically think of measuring body fat and total body weight. There are numerous scales on the market today and while they can be tremendously helpful in leading to greater success for competition, they can also become detrimental for some. Having an optimal body composition is no doubt going to lead to success, it can also be a hindrance and lead to a negative consequence. Getting to that ideal race weight or body fat for a peak event is tricky and everyone is different as far as what factors to consider to get there. How you feel in general, morale, increases in speed, current fitness level, current weight, diet, sleep,etc. (I could list several hundred!) If you are somebody that is constantly weighing yourself while not feeling up to par, you are heading in the wrong direction. A sudden loss in body weight or body fat can destroy certain hormone levels and monitoring this is vital. A combo of regular blood work and your internal cues as far as how you feel based on your fitness increase is a much better gauge. The best quote I ever read was “if weight was important they would weigh you at the finish line.” I always hear that in the back of my mind and there is some truth to it!