Question: I’ve been feeling tired recently after a month of hard training for a century, and I read that elevated morning heart rate is a signal of overtraining. But my morning pulse is almost 10 beats lower. What’s going on? — Amanda Q.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Exercise physiologists often list elevated morning heart rate as an important warning sign. They argue that a heart rate 10 percent higher than normal means it’s time to back off training and recover.
That works for some cyclists, but not for everyone. In fact, studies have found that severely overtrained cyclists often show the lower morning heart rate that you’re experiencing. It’s as if the body is trying to slow down and get the rest it needs.
Heart rate is a mercurial thing. It varies quite a bit depending on emotional state and hydration, among many other factors. It will be different if you awaken naturally from a restful sleep compared to being startled by an alarm clock.
A better indicator of overtraining is your performance on the bike. Are you going faster and stronger than a month ago? Are you eager to ride? If the answer is no to both of these questions, it’s time to reduce your training load significantly for at least a week.
I suggest charting your morning heart rate under similar circumstances for a month. A way to make conditions consistent is to wake up, make your trip to the bathroom, then return to bed. Relax for a specific time (say 90 seconds) then take your pulse. Be careful not to fall asleep again!
Compare these readings to your subjective feelings on the bike and to your riding performance. If morning heart rate has predictive value for you, by all means use it as a training tool.