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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007 Nov;101(4):503-11. Epub 2007 Aug 9.

Changes in heart rate recovery in response to acute changes in training load.

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MRC/UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, PO BOX 115, Newlands, 7725, Cape Town, South Africa.


Heart rate recovery is an indirect marker of autonomic function and changes therein may offer a practical way of quantifying the physiological effects of training. We assessed whether per cent heart rate recovery (HRr%) after a standardized sub-maximal running (Heart rate Interval Monitoring System: HIMS) test, changed with acute changes in training load. A total of 28 men and women (mean age 30+/-5 years) trained ad libitum for 2 weeks during which their heart rate (HR) was recorded. Training load was quantified using Training Impulse (TRIMPs). The participants were grouped based on whether they increased (Group I, n=9), decreased (Group D, n=8) or kept their training load constant (Group S, n=11) from week 1 to week 2. Each week, the subjects completed a HIMS test. Changes between weeks in HR at the end of the test and HRr% were compared between groups. Mean per cent change in TRIMPs from week 1 to week 2 was significantly different among the groups (Group I, 55+/-21% vs Group S, -6+/-6% vs Group D, -42+/-16%; P<0.05). Group I had a slower HRr% and Group D tended to have a slightly faster HRr% after HIMS 2 than after HIMS 1 (mean per cent change 5.6+/-8.7 vs -2.6+/-3.9; P=0.03). Thus a negative effect on HRr was observed with increases in training load. Sub-maximal HR was not affected by acute changes in training load. Whereas HR during exercise measures cardiac load, HRr may reflect the state of the autonomic nervous system, indicating the body's capacity to respond to exercise.

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