Training and Life Stress

In this weeks podcast the Big Cat deep dives into a discussion about stress including: training stress, life stress, why it can be good, when it isn't good and how/if you can manage both together!  He also touches on how HRV is a good stress metric and what kind of lifestyle habits you can adopt to minimize your stress.   

Podcast Transcript:

Welcome to the podcast everyone and thanks for listening, its an honor and a privilege that you do. 

ROTW comes to us from Chris Lawson who’s coached by Coach Jake!

I've invested a lot in cycling over the years. Lighter frames, aerodynamic wheels, carbon bottle cages — the whole nine yards. Of all of that, the only thing that's made me appreciably faster is Jake's coaching. The training plans he sets out, the encouragement and support he offers, the oversight and accountability he provides have made me a much faster cyclist and increased my enjoyment of the sport enormously.

Public Service Announcement to all athletes that complain about their weight in the Spring and Summer:

From now till about March-ish is the time in the year to adopt a winning in the kitchen nutrition plan and do something about it.  And we have 2 scientifically designed meal plans for you to follow in order to eat healthier, recover better - the right way without dieting and without compromising your training AND with the goal of helping you improve your all important power to weight ratio


Also: Ask a FasCat #20 is coming up and we’ll be sending out a call for your questions in this coming Training Tip Tuesday’s email.   The most thought provoking question will win a HyperIce Massage Tool and a FasCat T-shirt

But let’s get into stress. 

There’s two type of stress - the kind that makes you faster and the kind that makes you slower

Scientists call this the positive and negative physiological adaptations to training. But with regards to the kind that makes you slower there’s also life stress - from your job, your mortgage, and your relationships for example that pile on top of your training stress.  Because there’s not an exact way to measure this stress its become more art than science to factor in and in olden times wasn’t factored in at all.  Except for the metric HRV - heart rate variability. 

More recently with the advent of wearable technology it is possible to measure your Heart RateVariability and Sleep to help determine ‘life stress’. Cortisol is the hormone that’s dubbed your stress hormone and it is a marker for overreaching and overtraining. But that requires a blood test. 

We can measure training stress in a variety of ways: from heart rate, from power data, and from good old fashioned common sense

The Hungarian endocrinologist, Hans Selye is the godfather of ‘stress’ as he introduced his general adaptation syndrome theory in 1936 as it related to the human body and disease.

By the 1970’s ‘stress’ was something the mainstream public and physicians were paying attention to. 

Selye identified good stress and bad stress just as Dr. Eric Bannister proposed an impulse-response performance model in 1975. The impulse being the training and the response being body’s adaptation to that impulse or stress. Those adaptations can be measured by performance.

To predict performance Banister invented the TRIMP to measure training load.  TRIMP is short for Training Impulse and he used heart rate as the impulse - the heart rate data from training to calculate a “TRIMP” .

When power-based training came along Dr. Andy Coggan used the more direct measurement of work in the metric ‘TSS’ short for Training Stress Score. That paved the way for using TSS to quantify total training load (aka Chronic Training load or CTL) in the Performance Manager Chart.

Go back and listen to the story of how I invented Sweet Spot as I described how I was a part of a group of coaches along with Coggan who developed TSS, and the modern day PMC Chart. As a reminder we called the model, The Shit that Will Kill Them or TSTWKT.

The PMC identified positive physiological adaptations that made you faster and negative physiological adaptation that made you slower - like muscle soreness, fatigue and we could now measure decreases in power output - all short term effects of training compared to the long term effects - the positive physiological adaptations to training - namely an increase in your power output. 

Much like Selye’s General Adaptation Stress Theory. 

The PMC charted was innovate in  2003-2005 and life was good.  Everyone got power meters quantified their training load and optimized their performance. 

And then the fundamentals of stress came back into play.  How does yard work factor in my TSS/CTL? What about weight lifting? What about running in cx that is not picked up by power data. And upper body bike handling in mountain biking. And and and - there was a lot and we’ve largely recognized TSS/ CTL as an imperfect metric. Granted - its the best one we have but if you do a 3 hour ride, how do you include, measure , quantify the other 21 hours of your day. And what if your stress is really high or conversely really low - how do you adjust your training?

This is why we talk about athletes communicating with coaches and sharing how the workout felt in their post workout comments.  Plus good old fashioned communication to share the “I’m going thru a divorce, or my kid is sick, or we are having money troubles’ to understand the deep level stress that is difficult to put a number on.  Thus the art blended with the science of coaching. 

The rise of wearable technology and heart rate variability offers the opportunity for athletes to consider the other 21 hours of their lifestyle.  Along with sleep metrics companies like Whoop and Oura are able to help athletes understand the relationship between training and stress and recovery. 

I like Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Sleep because these are the two biggest metrics I see right now that athletes and coaches can use to consider the other 21 hours of that day after that 165 TSS 3 hour ride. 

Super briefly: The time between your heart beats varies (its not the same every time) and is controlled by your autonomic nervous system - this is your fight or flight response. 

When you get ‘stressed out’ your sympathetic nervous system goes into action, blood pressure goes up and HRV goes down. Low HRV indicates stress and means poor recovery.  On the other side of your autonomic nervous system is a higher HRV that  indicates your parasympathetic nervous system is in chill mode - low stress and consequently good recovery. 

I am digressing but there is a really good research review with over 100 scholarly citations on how HRV biofeedback works by Gevirtz and Lehrer in the Frontiers in Psychology journal

Point is HRV is a good indicator of recovery and coupled with sleep, athletes can use the two together to optimize their training. 

There’ll definitely be a future podcast on Heart Rate Variability. 

Scientists and tech groups are beginning to use HRV to predict injuries much like we use TSS to predict performance.  HRV may be used in the detect overreaching, which are periods when athlete performance is substantially decreased due to prolonged intensive training3

When you can detect overreaching you can determine the amount of recovery needed.  Thus you can prevent overtraining.  Overreaching is good and necessary to get faster.  Overtraining is bad and requires athletes to take a prolonged break from training ending their season. 

When you can balance the amount of training with the proper amount of recovery, well then that’s when physiological adaptations are maximized.  

So get yourselves a Whoop, an Oura ring, or a way to measure HRV. Pay attention to your sleep hours - we recommend at least 8. 7 is OK, 6 hours is limiting your recovery and consequently your performance in our opinion.

To manage stress: meditate, do yoga, get a good night’s sleep, foster healthy non-confrontational relationships, eat well and of course ride often!

Chill out, let the little things go, do what makes you happy and engineer your lifestyle in such a way that minimizes your stress.  Choose those stressful projects after your A event. 

And lastly measure your HRV!

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, FasCats! Thanks again for listening - its an honor that you do - subscribe to our Training Tip Tuesday and start thinking of your training question for our Ask a FasCat Podcast # 20 for a chance to win a HyperIce Percussion Massage Recovery Tool - that may increase your HRV and help you recovery more train better and ride faster!

Speaking of riding faster, remember to “work hard, ride fast, have fun and as always FtFP”!

  1. Hans Selye, Founder of the stress theory
  2. Jin-Guo Dong, The role of heart rate variability in sports physiology Exp Ther Med. 2016 May; 11(5): 1531 - 1536
  3. Tian Y, He ZH, Zhao JX, Tao DL, Xu KY, Earnest CP, McNaughton LR. Heart rate variability threshold values for early-warning nonfunctional overreaching in elite female wrestlers. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27:1511–1519. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31826caef8.
  4. Paul M, Lehrer and Richard Gevirtz. Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback: how and why does it work? Front Psychol 2014;5:756
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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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