This is a great topic, and one that I’ve gotten better at as the years have gone by. I hope to put in words for the first time, how I go about figuring out if I’m recovered enough to work out that day.
It is frequently hard to know whether or not you’re ready for a workout on a certain day. The potential for injuring yourself and stalling your training for weeks at a time while you recover, is high when you’re training intensely or ramping up your usual number of hours exercising.
Ramp ups of 10% increase per week, are usually fine, and is a conservative estimate of how fast you can increase hours exercising. That said, after 3-4 weeks, cut back on training for a week and make sure you’re recovered.
What can you look at to give you some objective feedback?
I look at a number of different factors:
1. Waking Heart Rate / Sitting Heart Rate – Before I even sit up in bed, I reach over and feel my pulse to see what kind of heart rate I’m getting as I’m laying there, having just awoken. Typically my beats per minute (BPM) is around 45. If it’s 55, then I know I can’t exercise in the morning, if that’s when my workout was planned. However, I might be able to work out later in the day. A high pulse rate in the morning means your body is still recovering from the previous workout. If it was an all out max effort, it can require a couple days of rest afterward. The pulse is an excellent barometer of how well you’ve recovered. I also check my pulse after sitting down at the computer every morning. If it’s much more than 48, then I know too – not ready. Now, if I’ve planned to exercise in the evening I continue to check my pulse during the day to see if it drops to around 50 BPM sitting. If it does, I’ll go exercise that evening, and definitely not exercise the following morning. I’ll probably give myself the entire following day off.
Another issue to consider is whether you have an intense workout planned, or just an easy one. Easy ones are – something around the 60% of maximum heart rate level and for less than a couple hours for me. Yours will vary based on where you are fitness-wise. Be more critical of your readiness to go exercise if you’ve got a hard workout planned.
2. General Soreness – I give my body a scan and see how it feels before I go workout. I want to be pre-aware of anything that might be a problem. When I stretched a lot, I used to have a lot more muscle pulls than I do now. If I feel a twinge in my calf, hamstring, or quads today, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll pull a muscle to go hard today. In my youth – that’s exactly what it meant. Knowing your body over time will give you this skill.
3. Specific Pain – Specific sharp pain can sometimes mean I need a day or even two off. Pain in the knees can be something that halts a run or a stair climb. Knees are nothing to mess with, and you want to baby them all the time. A slight pain in the knee probably means you’re on the verge of something nasty if you continue to workout hard on it. When you have knee pain – take the day off, and reassess the following day.
4. Sickness – I often run when I’m sick. If I can make myself go out and do it, then I figure I’m not that sick. As long as I don’t have a headache or some bug that gives me breathing trouble, like if I have mucus in my chest, I almost always go and do a workout. The intensity of the workout is dictated by how I feel once I get moving. It might work that I go all out, or it might not. Go easy and just get out there when you’re sick anyway – whenever possible. I have this idea that for me, I heal up better when I continue exercising in spite of a cold.
5. Tomorrow’s Exercise Schedule – What I’m doing the next day often has an influence on what I feel like doing today. If I’m borderline feeling bad today and I have a hard workout planned for today and tomorrow – I’ll change today’s effort to an easier one. If I have a hard one planned today and easy tomorrow, and not feeling so good today, I’ll swap days and go easy today. If I have two easy days planned – no matter, I’ll go. Don’t be afraid to change days of your schedule. Staying injury free must be the primary consideration because it can wreck your whole schedule, especially if you have a race upcoming for which the training is essential.
Part of training at the highest level is knowing when to train and when to take it easy. The best of the best know when they are about to get injured or overtrain, overreach. The sooner you figure out how you’re wired, the better. Keep a training diary (I use Google Calendar and a Google Docs Spreadsheet) to track your exercise schedule, pulse, and other bits that can help you decide whether or not you are ready to put in a good exercise effort that day or not.
[Photo by ElectricNerve at Flickr.com]