Resting HR Monitoring

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is a great way to monitor overall training load and how you are handling it. With just a few weeks of data, you can start tracking how your body is responding to a change in training or a big build. I used daily RHR measurements to monitor my training during my biggest training blocks in the lead up to the World Cup season. by monitoring RHR I was able to make decisions about daily workouts and pushing through difficult training blocks or switching to recovery mode.

The most important aspect is ensuring an accurate measurement of RHR. Because of things like diurnal variation, caffeine, fuelling, and more, our heart rate varies throughout the day, even if you are sitting or lying at rest. The most reliable way to measure RHR is immediately after waking up. Right when your alarm goes off and you open your eyes, get the HRM on and lay there. This is of course difficult if you are using a standard HRM with a chest strap. Several options work better.

  • Those of you with an optical wrist HRM are set.
  • You can download the Instant HR app and hold your finger over the phones camera. It detects your pulse and tells your HR.
  • A cheap pulse oximeter is typically less than $30. Pulse oximeters clip onto your fingertip and display your HR and oxygen saturation. On a daily basis, the oxygen saturation feature is not particularly useful but if you do travel to train or race at altitude, it can provide insight into acclimatization.

I personally use the pulse oximeter option. I don’t have an optical HRM and the iPhone App is tricky because you need to focus on holding your finger in place. The pulse oximeter just clips on and does it’s thing, plus I travel to altitude frequently.

After 2-5min of laying with the HRM on, check your RHR, record it, and then go about your morning. Several apps exist for recording and tracking this data including RestWise, which imports the data entered into TrainingPeaks. Simultaneously to recording RHR, we suggest recording how you feel overall on a scale of 1 to 10. This can also be a highly useful metric.

Interpreting the data seems simple but can be complex. If you don’t use an app like RestWise to track your results, I suggest writing daily values in a notebook and then importing them into an excel sheet every week or so. Positive adaptation to training is indicated by no change or a decrease in RHR. An increase typically indicates increased sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for fight or flight mechanism) and and mean acute overload.

Paradoxically, overreaching is also accompanied by a decrease in RHR. So how do you tell the difference between improved RHR and overreaching? First, your notes on how you feel overall are useful here. If you have been feeling great and stronger than ever, you are likely seeing improvement. If you have been feeling tired and burned out, it is likely overreaching and time for some rest. Overreaching is also accompanied by a decrease in performance (should be obvious) and HRmax. If you find your RHR decreasing and are not seeing improvement or even poorer than usually performances on a time trial and/or an inability to reach HR max, you are likely overreaching.

Take home message:

  • RHR is definitely useful, especially in a big training block.
  • Measurement must be reliable. Do it immediately on waking up, before getting up.
  • Use an Optical HR, HR App, or Pulse Oximeter for best measurement.
  • Watch for decrease in RHR accompanied by poor performance/inability to reach HRmax.


Plews et al. IJSPP 2014
Le Meur et al. MSSW 2013
Le Meur, Hausswirth et al. JAP 2013

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