I think that it safe to say that a majority of folks reading this article have driven a car. One of the key elements of operating a motor vehicle is interpreting the information on the dashboard. The RPM gauge tells you how hard the engine is working, the speedometer tells you how fast you are going, the gas gauge tells you how much fuel you have, and most vehicles have some way to communicate how the car is functioning, whether it is a check engine light or other prompts for service/maintenance. The human body gives operating, maintenance, and performance information much the same way our vehicles do, but it is not right in front of our face like it is in a car. We have to intentionally seek out this information, or we could be cruising around unknowingly with our body’s check engine light on!
I like to think of resting heartrate as the check engine light because it can tell us so much about how our body is operating. Overtime, resting heartrate will decrease as our fitness level improves. Also, it is a key indicator of how our body is handling stress (i.e. training volume, work, life, etc.). Spikes in resting heart rate will occur if our training volume is too much for the body to adapt to, there are stressors that need to be dealt with, and/or the immune system is fighting something. Elevated resting heart rate means that the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is over active, causing negative effects to our health and performance. When this happens, we are prone to injury, illness, and a potential for long term health complications if left unresolved.
The best way to monitor resting heartrate is to wear a heartrate monitor for 24 hours and record the lowest reading, which will probably be while you are sleeping. If you don’t have a heartrate monitor, you can count your pulse at the arteries on your neck or wrist. The best way to use the counting method is to check resting heartrate upon waking up naturally before getting out of bed, so it has to be a day when you’re not waking up with an alarm clock. Count you heart beats for one minute. Track and record at least 2-3 days per week.
So what do you do if your resting heartrate is elevated? You have to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation). Deep breathing through your nose (inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils) will shut down breathing muscles in the neck and upper chest that are triggered during the fight or flight response. This deep breathing will also cause the diaphragm to expand and contract, stimulating the vagal nerve and triggering the body to relax. Obviously, there should be a decrease in training volume and training load when resting heartrate is elevated. In addition, it is important to deal with external and internal stressors that could be causing too much sympathetic nervous system activity. On days of competition or big events in your life, you’ll see an elevation in resting heartrate. This is a natural response and should not cause alarm.
I hope this information is useful to you on your fitness journey! Please use the comment section below if you have questions.
One Body! One Life! Care For It!