Every strength has its weakness. My best talent, if you could call it that, is that I follow-through. When I decide to do something—earn a certification, wake daily to a morning flow, take a cold shower every morning, etc. I do it. I’ve now done five-minutes of non-stop 1 arm kettlebell swings every week for nearly two years. Every time I dread it, but I’m always glad I did it.
My approach is simple. I plan my weeks every Sunday. If I plan to do something, I do it. I can reflect and adapt, but changes don’t go into effect until the next week (I write about it in my free ebook, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery). My hard-charging approach has a downside, however. I do not always listen to my body.
Like any household with two toddlers, I now live in an oasis of germs. After two weeks of watching my household battle a chest cold, I woke last Monday feeling very off, yet I changed nothing. By Wednesday, I was bad—way worse than the rest of the family had been. I woke and did my five-minutes swing test anyway. The next morning was the worst. I woke early to write and was freezing despite the room’s balmy temperature. I shivered as I did my morning writing. I’ve committed to 365 straight days of cold showers, so at 6 am, I still jumped into the freezing water. My teeth now chattered. I put on a few layers and biked to work because I had committed to no longer commuting by car, if at all possible. As you can see, in extremely stubborn people, such as myself, discipline can slip into stupidity.
Life is Adaptation
Enter resistance, rest, and see an adaptation. This general adaptation syndrome is the foundation of all training and life. In this scenario, I was not listening to my body telling me that I need more rest, so the body started talking louder.
I shivered through working out my first team of the day and made it back to my office where I curled up into a ball and waited for the fever to break. After it did, I biked home and slept for a few hours. After that, I laid in bed and read all day. I did nothing and got better fast. By the next morning, I felt better than I had all week. The take-home message is simple: sometimes you have to be willing to listen to your body and back off.
Athletes often struggle to understand this concept. More is often not better when it comes to training. As I tell my athletes at the end of each session, You are weaker now than you were before this session. You’ll be stronger because of it, if and only if, you take care of hydration, nutrition, and sleep. If you want to get stronger and more powerful, you are likely far better off doing three or four workouts per week than six. If you begin breaking muscles down again before they’ve appreciated the last training, then you’re interfering with that adaptation. Your negating earlier efforts. These principles are outlined within the first three pages of nearly every training book. Even the exceptions, daily “Grease the Groove” training programs, are predicated on very low volume, intensity, and density. These are the variables we always play with.
What is HRV?
Many top tier athletes have begun tracking their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in order to direct their daily training. When HRV is low, the body is fatigued. It is overdrawn and needs recovery. Any training put on the body at that time would not be well-received and would, likely, bring you further from your goals. When HRV is high, you are fresh and ready for more intense training. With the rise of Apple watches and wearables, now everyone can track their HRV, but why would you want to?
Tracking HRV basically allows you to categorize your training into three-groups that you can use to guide training selection.
Do low-intensity work. Aerobic mobility circuits, slow jogs, biking, yoga flows, or just a walk.
Can err towards lower intensity work if you have a higher-intensity day planned for tomorrow that you want to be fresh for. If not, hit some medium intensity work at medium volume and intensity. In short, don’t go too heavy and give the appropriate rest. This might mean tempo training, calisthenics, skill practice, or just a crisp, solid, punch the clock workout where nothing gets too heavy or intense. Think push-ups, pull-ups, carry’s, goblet lunges, single leg RDL’s, and skills practice.
Go heavy. Push the volume. Whatever you’re into. This is your day to go hard. But only if you are okay with being in the low HRV range the next day. The wisdom of “Grease the Groove” training programs is that you can train more often by never taking too much out of the tank. You have to have a strategy and stick to it.
Let Me Check My Apple Watch to See if I’m Hungry
So, again, why would you want to track HRV? It isn’t like you are training for the Olympics. You are exercising to build health, willpower, and to, generally, enhance your life. For most people, the last thing they need is another excuse to miss a workout. They’ll take off if they are overdrawn anyway.
Conditions shouldn’t have to be perfect. What about being a human? We should be a little less reliant on devices to tell us, “you are tired,” or “you feel great.” The body is extremely advanced technology and, if we learn to listen, it is already telling us what we need to know. Training is about strengthening your connection to your body. You want to hone an ability to listen to the body and tap into your own intuitive sense of HRV and recovery.
All that auto-regulation can still take place without tracking HRV. Here is what I recommend.
Create one or two high-intensity training days.
Create one or two medium-intensity training days.
Create two or three low-intensity training days.
Ex. Bike and do an aerobic recovery circuit and stretch like this one.
I find autoregulation is easier if I have a set time when I know I’m going to do something for my body. For me, it is a 40-minute movement block that I hit at least six days per week. Once that time is set you just have to show up and adapt accordingly.
Autoregulation is simple, but it doesn’t require more tech dependency. That is what created an environment that required us to follow regimented workouts in the first place. Learn to listen to your body. Make a week plan for your training, but shift the pieces to fit your need on any given day.