Dr. Stephen Seiler is a teacher, researcher, and leader who has become internationally known for his research publications and lectures related to the organization of endurance training and intensity distribution. His work has influenced and catalyzed international research around training intensity distribution and the polarized training model.
In this episode, Seiler helps us understand the suite of objective and subjective measurements to monitor the need for rest and recovery. But more importantly, we discuss the value of empowering the athlete to tune into and trust the signals indicating the need for rest and recovery. We also talk about the value of the coach-athlete relationship, how to achieve training success, and more.
Currently, Dr. Seiler is a Professor in Sport Science at the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway. In the past, he served as Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation and Dean of the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences at the same university.
Dede Barry 00:05
Hi and welcome to Fast Talk Femme with Dede Barry and Julie Young. On this episode, we’ll be discussing the value and necessity of rest and recovery in the training process from a physiological and psychological standpoint.
Dede Barry 00:17
As coaches and athletes, Julie and I have found that one of the greatest challenges is to get athletes to buy in and be as diligent about their rest days and weeks as they are about hard work. We have also worked with athletes that are extremely reluctant to take longer stints of dedicated rest because of the way they feel coming off that rest.
Dede Barry 00:34
We are very pleased to have Dr. Stephen Seiler join us on this episode. After growing up in the US and earning his doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Seiler has lived and worked in Norway for over 20 years as a university teacher, researcher and leader. He is past Vice Rector for research and innovation and past Dean of Faculty of Health and Sports Science at the University of add gar and Christians in Norway. Currently, Dr. Sylar is the professor and sports science at the same institution while anchored in an academic environment. Dr. Seiler has also served as research consultant and scientific advisor for a research foundations sports teams or Regional Hospital and the Norwegian Olympic Federation. From 2014 to 2019. Dr. Sylar served as the Executive Board of the European College of Sports Science, where he founded the elite sport performance special interest group in 2014.
Dede Barry 01:29
Over the last 15 years, Dr. Siler has become internationally known for his research publications and lectures related to the organization of endurance training and intensity distribution. This work has included both descriptive and experimental approaches investigating cyclists rowers, cross country skiers, orienteers and distance runners. His work has influenced in catalyzed international research around training intensity distribution, and the polarized training model. Dr. Seiler has published over 100 peer reviewed publications and written over 100 popular science articles related to exercise physiology in the training process. He has also given scientific lectures across Europe, the United States, China, South Africa, and Australia. He is also a founding editorial board member of the International Journal of Sports physiology and performance, Dr. Sylar, thanks for joining us today.
Brittney Coffey 02:22
Hi, listeners, we’re so excited that you’re here to check out fast talk them a new podcast series, it’s all about the female endurance athlete, get fast talk labs, we pride ourselves on being the pioneers of information and education in the endurance sports world for both athletes and coaches. If you like what you hear today, check out more at fast talk labs.com.
Julie Young 02:46
Hey, Dr. Sylar,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 02:47
how are ya? Hi,
Julie Young 02:49
Good. Welcome to Fast talk them. So I’m really honored to have you join us today. And I’m so excited just to listen and learn. And I know that you’ve been a regular guests on the fast talk lab podcast. But for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you’ve been up to recently?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 03:09
Yeah, well, the short story is I’m American and grew up in United States in the southern US. And I always tell people that I love to things when I was a kid, I like science. And I like sports, you know, in the science came in the form of me just kind of had my own little lab under the stairs, literally in the sports, you know, I enjoyed and then fortuitously they came together when I was about 17, and read this chapter on the scientists of sport. And then I realized I could do that those two things could come together that, you know, you could combine science in sport. And and, and that’s really, that was 40 years ago, because I was about 17 1617 when that happened. And so for 40 years, I’ve kind of been putting those two things together in different ways, you know, trying to do things scientifically, but at the same time, passionately, you know, as far as just loving sports, loving the training process, and so forth. So that’s taken me through 10 years of education, and then ultimately brought me here to Norway. Well, a woman brought me here to Norway, but but but Norway was a good place for me to be with that interest as well.
Julie Young 04:17
That is pretty neat to be able to marry your passions and yeah, so I’m sure some days work feels like work, but I bet a lot of times it doesn’t feel like work.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 04:26
Oh, that’s exactly right. Is is I always say that. Look, my hobby and my work are very closely related. So I feel very lucky. You know, when I’m sitting on a bicycle up and I have like Zwift and a big mountain bicycle room and and it’s healthy, but I’m also thinking about sort of the next research study or the next you know how I’m going to teach something so it’s always they’re always kind of blending together. Work in play for me so you know, I have to sometimes separate I have to go out in my garden do something completely different, you know, but but for the most part I I like being able to combine things like that.
Julie Young 05:02
Yeah, stop your head from thinking a little bit. Yeah,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 05:05
yeah, that’s the garden gardening is where I chill out and say no more nothing about heart rate, nothing about, you know, just are these tomatoes juicy?
Julie Young 05:16
Yeah, yeah, it is pretty interesting, isn’t it when you love sport, and you’re a physiologist, how you’re always like, kind of experimenting on yourself and on your rides and things
Dr. Stephen Seiler 05:27
I am. And also, I have one of my kids as well, both kids are into training, but one of them, particularly my daughter, so we’re often you know, she’s almost like, a chip off the block, you know, and we’re, we’re discussing training, and she’s kind of following in my footsteps. So I think she’s trying to take my job pretty soon in a few years. So we’ll see what happens. But it’s nice. What’s her sport of choice, she was a dancer for 10 years from nine to 19. And then she started running, she’s been on some podcasts on fast talk, and, but besides being becoming a very good runner, very quickly, she also developed, she had developed an eating disorder. So there’s just been a lot around that whole process that has really informed my understanding of a number of issues around you know, the female athlete, and not just females, but you know, these some of these weight issues, they cross, they cross genders, for sure. But in the case of my daughter, she was a classic, you know, did all the things that we often see, she was the Norwegian, we call it the clever girl syndrome, the, you know, the female athlete that does everything really well. Good grades, good performance and everything. But then she drives herself because of that need to do things really well. It can often go down a dark path, and it did for her and but but now six years later, she’s learned so much. And I think it’s because it’s making her a really good coach to others. And it’s informing her own educational goals, because she wants to make a difference in women’s sport. And so that’s gotten me more interested in you know, you know, I’m a guy and I’d work a lot with male athletes, but I’m very interested in the developments of female of women’s sport and women’s cycling. You know, in particular, I guess you could say, yeah,
Julie Young 07:16
it is really interesting. I coach it, a number of young athletes. And it’s interesting to see, and this is obviously very much a generalization between the males and the females. But I find that the the young girls are real drivers. And it’s, it’s interesting in that respect, I think that kind of segues into our episode today on rest, and it is sometimes harder to get the girls to rest than the boys to rest. But again, the impetus for this episode is having been an athlete, and now a coach. And in my opinion, one of the hardest things to get athletes to do is rest. And yet, they feel seems to me very anxious about rest. And the answer is always to do more. In my coaching, I’ve found that one of the best ways to get athletes to be more purposeful and to buy in to aspects of their training is to help them understand why they’re doing things. So in this podcast, what we’re looking forward to is you helping us understand, in more detail, the value and necessity of rest and recovery in the training process, from a psychological and physiological perspective. So I’d like to open the conversation just more like a big picture question. And then we’ll drill down into more details. But can you tell us from a physiological standpoint, the value and necessity of planned rest to improve fitness? And then how does that training stress plus rest equation work? Like how do you get that right balance?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 08:51
Well, I mean, that’s, that’s a huge we could talk for days on some of this stuff. But but if we begin at the, you know, basically, I always say that the whole training process is this balance between trying to generate a signal for adaptation, because every time we, you know, prescribe a training session or execute a training session as an athlete, we’re kind of playing Hobbie, molecular biologist. Because we want to induce some signals at the cellular level, we want to turn on some signals that cause the muscle to produce more mitochondria, for example, or to construct more capillaries around the muscle fibers or increase the thickness of the heart wall and increase so that we can increase stroke volume. So we’re literally you were you were trying to signal some changes to Intel, the body. Okay? What’s being asked of me is insecure, I’m insufficiently prepared. So as a protective response, I’m going to get more mitochondria. I’m going to make my heart bigger, and we have this potential you So the genetic code gives us that potential to kind of pull more of that potential out of our genes with training. But that process of building those capillaries building those proteins, building the structures of the heart, it takes time. And that process happens after we’re finished with the workout. So there is a natural kind of yin and yang, that we, we stress the body, we induce those signals, but then we’ve got to give the body time to respond and actually improve via this, this protein synthesis process. I mean, it’s that simple and that complicated. And the other thing is, is that when we train, we induce these signals, but we also generate a stress response on the body, you know, autonomic nervous system, the fight or flight response, we turn that on, we, we drain our body of energy, glycogen depletion, we have immune function is compromised temporarily, we have inflammatory responses, we have free radicals and oxidative stress. So a lot of at the system level, there’s a lot of stress that comes along for the ride, in order to get those signals and induce that performance change, we won’t physiologically, so the training process then ends up being this delicate balance, it’s a, it’s not a maximization process, you know, a lot of athletes will, will think, Well, if I just do more, I get fitter. If I can just train more days, if I never take a break, then I’m going to get fitter, because I’m maximizing, but the reality is that the process needs to be seen as an optimization, meaning you can’t do everything maximally. It’s not sustainable, the body will fall apart. So you have to optimize it. And that’s a much more if you talk to the engineers, and they use that word because they say yeah, optimization is, is tricky. That means you’re having to pull the levers, you got five or six different levers, and you got to get them just right, you’re tweaking them to find that right combination of work and rest of sleep, and, and effort, you know, and so forth. And that process, you have to trust the signals. And I think there’s this concept, it’s around FOMO fear of missing out. And I think if we were going to take a piece of FOMO is something like Fawful, fear of fitness loss, you know, f o f L or something like that, you know, that the athlete is wants to control everything, they want to do everything right. And their, the way they think they can do more, right is to just do more. And whereas we know that doesn’t work, it’s a non sustainable process. And sustainability is a word that probably gets used a lot these days in different contexts. But I would almost say that for the athlete, it is the magic. You know, when you talk to champions, that have been on the podium, you say, what was the key? And they say, Well, I stayed healthy. I had a long run of days and weeks and months of good training, without a break due to injury without a break due to sickness. And how does that happen? Well, they listen to their body. And what is the body tells him sometimes sleeping, or take an afternoon off. And I could give you so many examples of champion athletes that understood this likes, like I worked with speed skaters were there. I mean, a world champion gold medal winners took every Sunday free every day, every Sunday off. It was built in for them. Now I don’t I don’t know that you have to build in an automatic every day, every one day, every seven is a is a rest day. But if your athletes are not listening to their body, and hearing what the body is telling them, then they I believe that will separate champions from from those who fall by the wayside is the often the great athletes, the ones that have the long run, that have a long developmental process that keeps going they keep getting better is that they trust the signals, and they’re not afraid to listen to them when the signal says hey, don’t get on the bike today. Today you are toasted. You know you have worked really hard the last five days you’ve done this many vertical meters you know, whatever. Take the day off. It’s gonna make you better, man. That’s the magic is just trusting you’re sick trusting your own brain.
Julie Young 14:56
Yeah, we’re gonna dive more into that later. In terms of just empowering that athlete to be more trusting or be more intuitive and trust that intuition, but it is interesting, like you said, you know that that sustainability and maintaining that trajectory, of of being respectful of the rest is being a key component of that. And I but I think some athletes don’t understand that they’re not making that connection. But it is another interesting thing. I’ve heard a couple interviews with, like Levi, Leipheimer and Pete stat none. They both remarked, like, asked, you know, what, what would they have done differently over their career, and they both said, you know, just be more respectful, the rest not be as anxious about the rest. So I thought that was pretty interesting.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 15:41
Well, physiologically, there’s dating back to the 80s, we have studies that have actually looked at the timeframe of loss of adaptations with the training. So we call these studies, detraining studies. And one of the most famous ones, I mean, these guys, some of them are famous professors now and but they were in this study, and they literally would care, they were being carried up the stairs at work, so that they wouldn’t climb stairs. And all of these guys were really fit dudes. And now they had to agree that for 12 weeks, they would D train, and then it periodically along the way, they measure the VO two Max, they, they took biopsies, they really got a profile of of the time course of change, okay. And basically, what you see is a lot of the adaptations, like those mitochondria, those capillaries, and they’re quite resilient, though, they’re not just disappearing in 48 hours, that’s not happening. Now, the only thing that happens that in the short front timeframe, if you have an athlete that gets the flu, you know, like the three day bug, and they’re in a bed for three days, then yeah, the first thing will happen if you’re supine and not doing anything for three days, so you’re sick, you’ll lose some plasma volume, you’ll you’ll literally pee more, and you’ll lose some of your blood volume. And so what do you do after a three day flu you first you do an easy workout, and then you do a kind of a short interval workout and an interval workout will bring back the plasma volume. And so we’ve got lots of examples. So yeah, you lose a little bit of something in three days. But it’s very, it’s like fresh fruit, you can get it back, and you get it back with a couple of workouts, Plasmodium comes back. So we’ve got lots of examples of athletes that have had a three day bug. And then they as long as they had two or three days to recover, they actually end up racing really well. It doesn’t have to even be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s almost like enforced rest. So the short term, a one day off, there’s no data that supports that one day off, periodically weekly is is going to reduce fitness. There’s just no data for that. But on the other hand, there’s good, at least anecdotal evidence that it keeps people healthy. You know, and that’s the bottom line is, is its long run, I’m looking for a long run, if I can help my athlete string together, multiple workouts where they have recovered sufficiently, they’ve executed properly. And they they’re able to do that on that 24 hour scale, you know, timeframe, because essentially, an athlete needs to be recovered every 24 hours, right? If they’re not, you know, the net, they’re going, the bank account is slowly draining. And something’s going to give, there will be a bankruptcy issue at some point. So if it’s not sustainable, if they’re not on a 24 hour cycle of recovery, if they’re not inserting the rest, where it’s needed to catch up, or you know, keep the balance, then we’re going to end up with these athletes. They keep getting hurt, they keep getting sick, and so forth. And so the winning goes up in the spinning or something, there’s a Norwegian expression, meaning that they didn’t take days off because they wanted to get more work done. But then they ended up losing training days because they got sick because they got injured. Does that make sense? So the math is up not working. The math is wrong.
Dede Barry 19:20
It’s interesting, because I think in this day and age, like now that we have so many different training, metrics, software’s and algorithms, I think a lot of athletes, at least that I’ve seen have put more trust in that than their intuition. And like coming back to what you said before intuition is just so key like understanding yourself and, and all the other life stressors that have a component in your ability to recover and push hard, but I think these tools have been really positive, but I think sometimes, you know, athletes do put more trust in them then and there. intuition and I think that’s dangerous.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 20:02
That’s a such a good point. Because we ended up we ended up training the metrics, instead of training ourselves. So we get trapped by the, the numbers, and they start to take on this importance, you know that whether it’s the TSS, or the fitness versus form, or fatigue, fitness, fatigue, you know, and, and we have to remember, those metrics are just Mathematical Games. They’re not real, if that makes sense. I mean, with all respect to training peaks, or whoever, and I, you know, I, and I’ve said many times, I know these guys, and I know they’re, they’ve done it’s lots of positives with these tools. But we have to remember that those metrics are just, you know, playing with math. And they’re not real representations of reality. But what is the closest to a real representation that you got is what’s up in your head, if I’ve got an athlete that I’m coaching, like my daughter, you know, who I know, is a Motivated Athlete, she loves to train, she enjoys the process. Well, if my daughter or another athletes and then says, You know what, I’m tired today. Should I train? If they even ask that question to me, when I know how, what their, what their baseline motivation is, then I’m gonna say, sounds like you need a day off. But they need often they need confirmation of what they’re feeling, but they are afraid of that feeling. It was, in my case, in the case of my daughter, it was always that way. She knew the answer to the question before she asked. She said, you know, Papa, I am tired. I feel like I probably should take the day off. What do you think? She knows the answer, but she needs me to confirm what’s going on up in her head, because she’s afraid of giving into it. And I would say, Well, my dear daughter, I know how motivated you are to train. So if you’re even asking me that question, you need this day off, if you’re even asking the question, because that means your brain is telling you something, but you’re afraid to answer it, you’re afraid to give into it. So trust me, listen to your brain, you know, and I think in a lot of cases, that’s the reality, because we’re often dealing with motivated people, they like training. So if their brain is kind of like, being I’m tired, you know, I, you know, when they’re a little delay in getting out the door, and whatever, then that’s a signal they should take serious. That’s what I’ve discovered with myself is, you know, I generally like to train. So if something about the day I’m, I’m kind of thinking, looking for an excuse not to then just listen to it, you know, listen to that signal and take the day free. Maybe it’s because I’ve really got a bunch of other stuff going on in my head. And I need to work on that. And that is going to reduce stress. If I free up those two hours, it can be there can be many reasons why we need to take a day off sometimes, particularly as as, as age groupers is, you know, amateurs who have real lives with jobs and kids and all that stuff. Sometimes we need the day free just to, to balance out the total stress load. And that still ends up being a good thing for us, as athletes as amateurs, or age groupers, we still profit from that.
Dede Barry 23:20
So we’ve touched a little bit on the physiological necessity for rest and recovery. But I also think that the psychological standpoint is important as well. What are your thoughts on the importance of scheduled rest from a psychological standpoint?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 23:37
Yeah, well, I don’t think there’s any patent answer. I mean, I think you will have some athletes that really benefit from that kind of, you know, they just say I take Sundays free, or I, you know, Wednesdays or my off day, or whatever. And it fits into their schedule that helps free up some time. It’s, it’s, you know, and then there’s other athletes that they do listen to their body as well. And they may, they may go more a little bit more freelance on when they take days free, but they do. They they are, they listen, and they do it. But if you have an athlete that will just keep, they’ll just keep going until you force them to take a day free, then maybe that you need to just build it into the schedule, you know, so you got to figure out what’s the right pedagogy? What’s the right psychological approach with each athlete, because we’re all different. I think, in a lot of these cases around how we do things with female athletes with male athletes, and that the individual differences are far more important and often far bigger than, for example, even gender differences, even male female differences due to minstrel hormones, and so forth. Those differences can actually be smaller than the individual variation. Does that make sense?
Dede Barry 24:55
Yeah. So when you have an athlete that seems training addicted or has FOMO? What are some of the strategies you employ to help them overcome those psychological barriers have taken time off?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 25:09
Well, you know, I think you want to convince them of that we’re trying to achieve, like, if they can get a day free, then we can have better quality on the workouts that the key workouts that we want to achieve often, you know, you know, I’m kind of known for this issue of training intensity distribution. Well, the rest day is kind of part of the intensity distribution. If you think of it that way. It’s part of the yin and yang, where we need a lot of low intensity work, it signals that adaptation. But often, we’re also trying to, I’ve told people that 20 years of this stuff has told me that intensity distribution is really a stress management tool. We’re managing the overall stress of on the athlete. Not only are we adjusting the signals for adaptation, but we’re managing the stress in the days off are really powerful reset buttons. Now, I’ll give you an extreme example. That was, I found fascinating, a guy named Niels Vonda Paul is it’s a Dutch sounding name, but he’s a Swedish speed skater. He was the Olympic champion in the last Olympics in the 5010 1000 meter in speed skating. He also was a tremendous cyclist, because he used cycling as part of his training process. So you know, if you want to just have numbers, this was a guy that could do 90 minutes, three times 30 minutes at over 400 watts in a workout. So I mean, he had pro contract offers, just based on his training numbers. But what was fascinating about Neil’s was that he made a decision, he had been a Junior World Champion in speed skating. And he felt like he gave up too much to achieve that. He went into the military. And then he said, Am I gonna Am I gonna go, you know, if I’m gonna go back and be a senior athlete, I’m gonna only do it if I think I can win. But I’ve got to do it on, I’ve got to negotiate with myself away so that I feel like I’m not giving up everything in my life to do it. And so he ended up doing a five to program where he would train five days in a row. And I mean, big volumes, tough. But he would every week, take two days free, Saturday and Sunday, every week, two days in a row, no training. Now initially, he did that so that he could do skydiving. And that was on the weekend. That was that was his negotiation with himself. I’m willing to train you know, at a high level elite 30 hours a week and five days, you know, but I get to take two days free so I can skydive. And he did that and then the skydiving season ended and and he was having good results. He said hey coach I’m ready to know as coach was an Olympian as well as a formula former Olympian he said I can move on to a new a different schedule seven days a week six days a week what do you what he said, No, stay with it. This is working really well. Whatever we’re doing, it’s working in this five to is working. So let’s keep doing so for three years. That’s all they did five to and you know, and he would just hammered himself. But with two days in a row what he said was he he could almost train as hard as he needed to heart as he wanted to for five days. But when he gave himself two consecutive days free, it was like this reset button and he would recover and his autonomic nervous system recovered his heart rate you know, he didn’t get in this kind of situation where you you can’t get your heart rate up. So it was a fascinating he found a balance. Now I’m not saying everybody should do five two, but I’m just saying it shows that you can be a world class athlete set world records even and take free days take days off every week. His example was quite extreme you know and most people couldn’t even have imagined taking two days off in a row much less doing it week in and week out. But he set two world records and you know, I mean he he did it with that with that methodology. And others have also with overtime understood that you can really use these rest days to your advantage because they reset the the autonomic nervous system they they really can help us stay on keel and avoid overreaching, overtraining, overuse injuries and a lot of things like that that will end up eating up many days of training. If it first happens.
Julie Young 29:46
One thing you said Dr. Siler and I really appreciate is, like you said, when you don’t feel like going out to train, you know, maybe there’s some other things on on your plate that you need to take care of. And that’s one thing that I feel you know, for like the recreational athlete, but I also feel like it’s equally important for the the elite athlete is to feel like you said that sense of balance, you know, you don’t feel like just overwhelmed and overcommitted and conflicted by the workout and that it fits nicely into those other pieces of your life, whether you know, your family or your work life. But, you know, I think as you pointed out, even for this, the speedskater, like there was that it created that sense of balance. And I think so many times we talk about the physiologic or physical responses, and it’s that mental emotional piece,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 30:38
we had talked about the physiological aspects of rest. And then we were saying, what about the psychological and I, you know, then we go back to this, the so called stress bucket model, you know, because as humans, we have this autonomic nervous system fight or flight response, we are designed to respond to stress, but our brains and our body doesn’t, they don’t really differentiate between the stress of, you know, having a bunch of bills, you need to pay the stress of exams, if you’re a scholarship athlete, the stress of the training session, it’s all one big bucket, hence, the name, the stress bucket model, it all goes into that bucket. And so one of the benefits, I think of rest days for busy people is it just frees up some time, their body’s not going to hurt from it, it’s going to actually be good for their body, but it’s even it’s as good maybe even bad or for their brain, their mind, because it gives them just a little extra freedom in the day to get stuff done. And that, you know, whether it’s getting ready for a school exam, or or picking up your kids at daycare, or whatever, that feels like a ease of tension that you build into the day. So so if you if you’re gonna have like scheduled rest days, for example, and you’re an age group, or then you can solve two problems at once, because you often we have one day a week or two that are just really tough, because we got two, three kids, that one’s playing soccer, and the other is playing, you know, on a track team, and, and we were driving all around, and I’m supposed to train today, as well, I’m supposed to do a double threshold or whatever, and my coach told me I’m going to do, it’s just too much. And so you build in a rest day, on some of those days that were you, the rest of the of your life is demanding a lot of you it’s like building in a bit of a break release, or you know, a buffer. And I don’t think that’s it’s a good, it ends up being a really good trade off, you know, I find the same with myself is that as sometimes I’ve just I’ve said yes to too much. And I don’t really have time to train, you know, and so I can either get frustrated by it, or I can just say it’s a wrist day. It’s good.
Julie Young 33:01
I’m good. You know, Dr. Seiler, I couldn’t agree more. And I think for me, the folks that I train that are these busy professionals with families, the scheduled rest days really create a nice rhythm to, you know, training and rest. And just as you say, all those things, you’ve been shelving, you know, through the week, you’re able to get after it and like you said, it’s a mental release to be able to unload some of that off the plate. And, and for me, I think the training, it’s the key, especially with the busy, busy professionals with families, it’s creating, as you said, that sense of sustainability, you know, and really creating a sense of lifestyle with the training. And I think that, you know, that built in rest can really help with that. Yeah, and
Dr. Stephen Seiler 33:43
that’s what I find fascinating, because we obviously, we know that our world champion athletes, male and female, but maybe it’s more impressive when it’s female, because they’re having children, they’re leaving their sport for a year having children and coming back, and being great, you know, performing amazingly, as mothers, and it’s almost as if they say, Well, I just have better structure in my life, you know, I got a kid. So that makes me think about other stuff in that ends up being positive, not negative, which I think is in a way, a interesting thing to take notice of is how frequently we’re seeing that fantastic female athletes are having a child, you know, and coming back to the sport better than ever, or at least as good. You know, so clearly, they’re having to use time on their child. Clearly, there are more competing elements, but that doesn’t necessarily make them worse. It seems like some of them say, Well, it kind of made me more structured. I do take the days off when I need to and so forth.
Dede Barry 34:54
I think it helps to a structure but also balanced psychologically. Because I think on some level, it takes the pressure off a little bit and allows you to focus on the important and key aspects of your training and racing, and not worry so much about some of those fine details that you can really obsess with when you have a lot of time on your hands. Yeah, when you’re a busier person, it’s like you’re, you’re sort of having to balance a lot and you got to really prioritize, and I think that’s a positive thing for a lot of people. Anyways, I know, when I was an athlete, it was I always perform better when I had a lot of structure in my life and I was, you know, feeling balanced psychologically.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 35:35
You don’t have time to think about it too much as I have. When I was a rower in Austin when I was a PhD student I was rowing a lot and competing, and I remember speaking to a Coxon, you know, if you know rowing, you know what the Coxon is in an eight. And in the Cox, he had been the Cox for both elite women’s teams and elite men’s teams. And he gave me a generalization. You know, and let’s, let’s always let’s preface this and all generalizations are just that. So they’re not totally correct. But he said, he says my, what I tended to see was that the guy, the men’s eights that I worked with, they would just beat each other up in training, and they were just totally into it. But as soon as they got out of the boat and got onto the dock, they just left it alone, they were done for the next six hours or till the next session, they didn’t, they didn’t talk about it like oh shit, you know, we missed this up or the technique was wrong. They just said that Sessions done, move on, whereas the female athletes had a tendency to analyze too much to overanalyze themselves. And so he said that was part of his job was to try to deal with that. And I think as a generalization having been the father to a daughter, who will has told me straight up, that I am OCD, you just didn’t understand it when you were when I was younger, you know, I have this obsessive compulsive disorder. So training is just a way for me to with my training diary, I express it, you know, you can have guys that are the same. But we’ve I’ve tended to see that. Yeah, what my daughter, her. And a lot of female athletes, what makes them great is also their Achilles heel. They are systematic, they are dedicated, they are willing to do the work, there is no question they’re willing to do the work. But they are so self reflective, they’re so thinking about it all the time that they can’t turn it off. And that’s, you know, like you’re saying is maybe the partner the other things in their life, the child, whatever it might be, that helps balance them out, you know, my daughter has a boyfriend, now, it’s just changed her, she’s just more balanced. It’s, she’s just, I thought, Man, you should have had that boyfriend a long time ago. It’s just, I think there’s value to that. And so we’re bringing us back to the mechanics of it, of having it in a kind of a standard rest day, at peak load, you know, just picking the day that in your schedule, maybe this semester, it’s Wednesdays, maybe next spring, it’ll be Thursdays, you know, and you flex it to, to make it work with your life because of whatever your kids are doing or whatever. Man, that’s that’s just smart. And it in, in the bottom line is I will end up happening is that you end up counting the days that you actually did train and you stayed healthy, you end up with more of those days per year, if you build in the rest days. Does that make sense? So it’s like you’re, you’re thinking long game?
Dede Barry 38:51
Yeah, yeah, totally makes sense. Now that we’re on the topic of gender differences, or maybe potentially just perceived gender differences in terms of rest and adaptation, when training female endurance athletes, do you feel like there’s any value in syncing their dedicated rest recovery weeks with their menstrual cycle?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 39:11
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I actually consulted with one of my colleagues, because she’s an expert on relative energy deficiency syndrome. She’s working with the IOC on position statements, and all of this around these issues. And so she said, in agreement with what I understood to be true, while she said, look, there is no consensus on that. And everything we see suggests from the data that the individual differences are much more important than any generalizable kind of pattern that you would you know, where you would say, yeah, in this particular week in your cycle, you’re going to be down, you might as well just forget interval training. It just doesn’t work that way. You have individual female athletes that they don’t notice a difference, and then you have others It really set, you know, do they need to make those adjustments. So I think it is just more most correct and most consistent with what we know, both practically and from research is to individualize to the coach needs to be respectful of this reality, it does happen. And there needs to be good communication between coach and athlete. But it needs to be individual so that this athlete yet she is going to do best by reducing the load on that in that peak week, or you know that the menstrual cycle week that is toughest for her, she’s probably not going to do the hardest session, and she comes out better for it. Whereas other athletes that the coach coaches, it’s not an issue. They don’t feel that same change in performance or function and so forth. So that’s what we’ve seen. And I can another source is I’ve been working with colleagues, they, they did standardized interviews with 12 Norwegian coaches who had all coached world champions, or Olympic champions, male and female, I mean, just really top level coaches in cycling, rowing, cross country ski and running, you know, endurance sports, and ask them, you know, structured interviews and some of the questions were around this issue of gender differences. And the consensus was, from these coaches, they said, look, the individual differences are far outweigh any group, male versus female differences that we’ve experienced, we treat every athlete as an individual, male or female doesn’t come into the picture as much as just who is this athlete? And how do they respond? So I think that’s the bottom line that both the research on the hormones and so forth, and the anecdotal experience of the coaches at the highest level is that these generalizable differences between males and females as a that are a function of menstrual cycle difference, you know, that the menstrual cycle part of the game, the generalizable part is not as important as the individual part.
Dede Barry 42:11
Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Ryan Kohler 42:15
Are you a student athlete that’s looking to up your game? Look no further. Hi, this is Coach and physiologist Ryan Kohler at Rocky Mountain Devo. And I have over 20 years of experience working with junior athletes, I specialize in a physiology based approach to training with a focus on finding improvements that can make the biggest impact on your end goal. I’d love to work with you. So check out more at Rocky Mountain devo.com.
Dede Barry 42:39
So following up just on like the individualization of rest, I think it’s really important to empower athletes on knowing when to rest. How do you suggest athletes self monitor their need for rest and recovery? And then also, what are sort of the suite of subjective and objective measurements that you suggest athletes and coaches use to monitor their need for rest?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 43:01
Well, again, I’m going to start with saying that our most powerful instrument is our brains, you know, it is still the same brain that that can give us these signals that tell us what we need to do that, you know, tell us we need to rest will fight with itself, because it’s motivated to train more. So it’s a conflicted tool. I often talk about a training monitor in Trinity, you know, a triad, which is the one, cycling is particularly good for that we can measure external load, right? What did we actually do power times duration, and so forth. And then we can do some physiological measurements, like heart rate, lactate, ventilation, now, with wearables, and so forth, but mostly lactate heart rate. And then we’ve got this perceptual part, we can do Borg scale we can do. So during the workout, we can say how hard was this bush? And we can also then do a post, you know, session RPE session perceived exertion, we can use these various psychometrics, you know, like Hooper index, and so forth to try to quantify how we’re feeling. You know, we put a number to it just a bit, but it’s still kind of trying to get at how do I feel? Am I tired and my fatigue and my sore? Am I asleep? How’s my sleep, and so forth? And so, the research still says, despite all of our technology, all of our physiology, the research still concludes that the most sensitive indicators are the psychological indicators, just the athletes readiness to train, for example, the feeling that yeah, let’s get out there. I’m ready. Let’s go. You know, I used to, when I was working with speed skaters, we would often meet them at training camps. And we would sit around the breakfast table before the first workout. And I developed what I call the hair in the yogurt test. because they were often eating yogurt with muesli or whatever, and some of them had longer hair, and if they were tired, then their heads were kind of bogging down, bobbing down. You know, they weren’t really smiling. They were just you know, but if they were good to go, they were telling jokes and smiling, you know. So basically, again, we didn’t need to measure hormones, we just need to look in their eyes at the breakfast table.
Julie Young 45:24
Dr. Sylar, following up on that, we just did an episode on continuous glucose monitors. And we spoke with a nutritionist and a researcher. And the nutritionist said the same thing. She’s like, I don’t need that to tell me how the athletes are doing. She said, if I have dinner with them, and breakfast with them, and lunch with them, I know how they’re doing.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 45:47
Yeah, that’s right. It’s just, that’s still where we’re at. I mean, I’d love to be able to tell you that because I’m a physiologist, and I’m a number person. So I would love to be able to say, oh, yeah, I’ve got this, this great index, and it tells me everything. It’s just not that way. Usually, by the time the hormones give you a clear indication, for example, doing hormone hormone measurements, you know, for males, testosterone sinking down or whatever, mean, it’s already too late, you know, that car has already crashed, you’re just you’re just seeing the smoke and the flames, you know, whereas the sensitive information, the the time sensitivity, that’s what is up in the brain is the psychometrics or just talking to your athlete looking at looking at the in the eyes, but but what’s fundamental to that, the sensitivity of that tool is trust, and communication. You know, if you’re in a coach athlete relationship, I think the biggest scary thing for athletes is, athletes are scared to admit they’re tired, because they’re afraid that the coach will either say, Well, okay, that means you’re probably we need to drop, you’re not a priority athlete for the team, because you’re too tired, you know, we’re not going to you’re not going to race with this, you know what I mean? Like the selection, they they’re afraid to be selected out, because they’re admitting a certain degree of vulnerability. And that’s an issue. And they’re afraid of, of not pleasing the coach not being able to handle the load. And so all the examples where I’ve heard of things really going off the rails, usually what what’s the problem is poor communication. Meaning there is a trust issue that the athlete is afraid to tell the truth to the coach. You know, I’m tired. I’m, I’m on my ragged edge, in the coat, you know, but when you have those trust relationships, then the athlete can say what’s going on in the air? And the coach can say, Well, hey, no worries, take a rest day. Now we’ve got trust, and now we’re moving in, you know, and that’s going to result in more resilience and consistency and so forth. And, and sustainability. But but but it’s a process.
Julie Young 48:02
And it does seem as as you mentioned, the subjective measurements are more sensitive, but I would guess they’re more sensitive, because you have the opportunity to be more consistent with that measurement. You know, for example, if you’re, if you’re logging, let’s say, versus like, the one time blood test, which is just a snapshot, you know, to me, you need that consistency of measurement. So you see the patterns. And, and again, that’s kind of something that’s right at our fingertips.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 48:28
Yeah. And so you can see, you know, anything, I think it’s a really good point you bring up and that is that, you know, we talked about validity and reliability and stuff in measurements in the, in the absolute precision of a measurement. And that’s important. Like if you get on the scale, you want the scale to read correctly. But what’s at the individual level, in a monitoring perspective, what may be even more important is just the consistency of the measurement. So that if your measurement goes up two units or down, that means something and so yeah, so anything that we measure consistently, whether it’s heart rate responses, or heart rate variability, or psychometrics like session, RPE, and so forth, being consistent with it daily in using the tool daily, then we start to see patterns, the athlete will start to recognize things in their own physiology, their own responses, that they can almost anticipate, okay, I’m on the way into a down period I need to ease up. And so that is, I think the value of having of choosing some some tools and then just being very consistent with them. You know, heart rate can be one of those, for example. You know, just as an example, it’s very common, that when athletes have been pushing hard, they’ve been doing a lot of volume, they they’re getting fatigued that they’ll get they’ll actually have a low lower heart rate response than normal to a given load, you would think it’s it’s going to be higher. And sometimes it is. But the more common response is what we call parasympathetic, hyperactivity. And now they’re saying, Yeah, I’m at 190 Watts, but my heart rates 10 beats lower than normal. And I don’t feel my legs don’t feel great. I don’t think it’s because I’m fitter, I think is I’m tired, I’m just having trouble getting my heart rate up. But you’re not going to know that unless you’re kind of consistently measuring heart rate, you’re kind of you’ve got a calibration. And you can you know, whether it’s during your warm up or whatever, but you can start to see patterns. And then then you can use that as a tool to help you in conjunction with your saying, Well, I don’t feel great. And now my heart rates a bit, you know, really low, and I seem to be, I think I need to chill, I think I need to drop that hard workout today and just keep it easy. Or get off the bike, you know, or not get on the bike. You know, so you get by having both your psychometrics and some physiology that you measure consistently. And knowing what your power outputs are looking like, you triangulate.
Julie Young 51:09
Yeah, I think a lot of it seems to me, a lot of cyclists with the advent of power kind of threw away heart rate and perceived exertion,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 51:17
to their peril. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that cyclists have made, is to believe that they can do everything just by measuring power. Because the stress of the body is that it’s not what you do, it’s how you respond to it. And, you know, so load, you know, that’s just like, watts times time, you know, I was at 200 watts for 180 minutes. And 200 Watts is some percentage of my FTP, so I can get the so called TSS, but the problem is, it’s not a TSS it’s not a stress score. It’s a load score. It’s just what you did. But it doesn’t tell me how you responded to it. And the way you responded to it is the first hour felt great felt the easy, second hour, fine. Third hour, you were struggling, perhaps, right. So even within the workout, it’s not consistent. But that’s because of the stress response, you know, you’re becoming glycogen depleted, you’re doing different things are happening, that mean that the third hour is more, it was costing you more than the first hour. And so that’s why we should be in my mind thinking, load is just neutral. That’s what I did. But now I need to know, how did I respond to it. And that can vary from day to day, the same Watts times time, this day, and then three days later, can give different responses, both psychologically and lactate and heart rate and so forth, for different reasons. That, you know, we’re not fully recovered, we’re still glycogen depleted, we’re, we had a tough string session, we’re coming out with a cold, but we don’t know it yet. And so forth. Right. So you need to measure the response to the power output. To really understand how the body’s doing.
Julie Young 53:11
So along these lines, what are the indicators that that athletes should use to know when to pull the plug on a workout or when to push through it? Because I think the other side of the coin of folks that are reluctant to rest, there are some people that are kind of fearful of that feel of fatigue and knowing like, hey, that comes along with the territory of training. But I guess where do you where do you find that correct balance?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 53:37
Right? A little bit of that depends, you know, I’m first going to say, well, what’s the goal of that session? Or what was the plan to do low intensity, hydrate, long duration, you know, under the lactate threshold, and go long, then we’re going to be kind of, I’m going to probably be looking at heart rate response and drift. And I, you know, if, if I want to really, you know, a session that’s not generating more stress than what I should see is at low intensity heart rate should stay pretty stable, you know, shouldn’t be drifting up. Very little. So I’m going to be looking at how much does their heart rate drift upward during that steady state exercise situation? And I may use that as an indicator to pull the plug after certain number of hours, you know, because here we go back to this issue is that what’s the training for it’s for to generate a signal for adaptation, but it’s going to come along with a stress response, and I got to get that, right. It’s like, it’s like dose response relationship with medicine. When you get prescribed medicine and you take medicine, there’s been research on that medicine to try to find a dose response curve, so that you’re getting maximum response for minimum risk of side effects. That makes sense. Every medicine goes through this kind of research to say, what’s the dose that gives me a nice response? Whether it’s blood pressure medicine or whatever, you know, antidepressants, whatever it might be, that you, you don’t, but you, if you take too much, then you start to get side effects. Well exercise, the training is the same, where there’s a dose response curve, and we’re trying to find the amount of training that is given us a good signal, meaning that’s the the dose the response we want, but we’re minimizing the risk of side effects. Because we gotta, I gotta get up tomorrow and train again, right. And so if we have that kind of mindset, that it’s not really who trains the most, it’s who gets the most signal for the least amount of stress, they win, in terms of being able to improve, stay healthy, and compete well. So that’s actually a different mindset than just more is better. Because more is better is not true. It doesn’t work that way. Now, a lot, you know, you do have to train a lot if you’re going to be really, really, really good. So don’t get me wrong. But there’s a difference between that and saying that more is always better. Because it will not be that way.
Julie Young 56:09
I always feel like that’s where training becomes the art and science. There’s such a finesse to it.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 56:15
Yeah, yeah. And that’s why I think we, we, you’re not going to lose your jobs anytime soon, even though artificial intelligence is all over the place. And people are suggesting that it could take over it because there’s a finesse, there is an art going on here still, where the eyes of the coach, the well informed coach, they see things in their athlete, they listen and communication, both the outward communication and nonverbal communication, they understand and they get a gestalt of what’s going on, that the matrix cannot provide that the AI cannot unveil yet. So this the human, the eyes of the coach are still valuable, they’re still uniquely qualified to make some assessments. And coaches are like art, you know, there’s a Malcolm Gladwell wrote this book, the topic of it was understanding what sometimes you you know, something, but you don’t know how you know it. You can’t put your finger on exactly how you know it, or like an art forgery expert, they can look at a painting and look at the Gestalt and say, Now, that’s a forgery. Yeah, but what’s different about it? Well, it’s a number of things, it’s hard to put my finger on it, but I can promise you, that’s a forgery. And they’re putting air they’re synthesizing a bunch of different information that’s going into their brain visually, and they’re getting a gestalt that’s in there, right. They’re there. They know, their business. And I think we see the same in good coaches, is they don’t always, they can’t always tell you the physiology and the exact numbers. But they know when their athlete is, is in a good rhythm. And they know when their athlete is tired. And they can just they, but they’re putting together data from their eyes, from their their words from their body language from their power output, and so forth. They’re putting the total together,
Julie Young 58:11
right? And I think you’re, as you point out, that’s, you know, the technology can’t replace the relationship. And as you point out the open, honest communication, and to me, that’s really core to an effective training program.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 58:25
Yeah, and you guys probably asked me on the show, because I’m a physiologist. And now we’re talking about a bunch of psychology stuff, you know, so either I am venturing way out out on thin ice, or the reality is that we shouldn’t try to separate brain and body. And I think that’s what most of us physiologist, I have other colleagues in different countries. And we all kind of laugh because we all end up being becoming hobby psychologists were trained as physiologist, but we venture into hobby psychology because we understand that when we were young, we thought, well, I don’t want to know anything above the head. I just want to measure the physiology, but you can’t do it that way. There’s so entwined
Dede Barry 59:05
it’s really a delicate balance. Yeah,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 59:08
there is no body without the brain and vice versa. You know, they’re they’re one synthesize, they’re integrated.
Dede Barry 59:15
Yeah, one thing that I’ve found just generally as an athlete, though, is that like sometimes when there’s those big aberrations, which you sort of touched on before, like power drops, if you’re measuring power and cycling, that’s something that you should pay attention to. And I mean, I remember at one point in my career, I did a blood test. I thought it was maybe overtraining, but it turned out I was anemic. And so that happened very early in my career, and I realized the importance of regular blood tests. But we didn’t really touch on that too much like how often during a season. Do you recommend that an athlete gets regular blood tests if they have access to it?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 59:56
This is another question. I consulted my mic. polygon because I said what, you know, what’s the the scientific advice right now? You know, I thought I kind of knew, but she she confirmed what I was thinking. And that is she said, look, there is no consensus. And there are a lot of problems associated with enforcing some very frequent blood testing type of regime. because that in itself becomes stressful, you know, when we start just testing all the time, and that, and so she, and I think the consensus is in the literature is still that you really shouldn’t, you don’t need to just test test test, but what you do need to be as sensitive to, for example, when you did experience the power drop, that that immediately does trigger a response to say, yes, one of the potential causes could be anemia. Let’s get that let’s get that blood test. Right. So but it’s still symptom driven, if that makes sense that they’re not just putting people into a regime, the whole world tour circus, they’ve got to be tested every month to check there. That doesn’t seem to be the advice that’s coming because there are problems with that approach as well. Is is you know, so but it has to be sensitive, when you start seeing a bit of symptoms, that you include that potential diagnosis as part of the picture that well, this athlete may need we let’s check iron stores, let’s check ferritin levels.
Dede Barry 1:01:31
So female endurance athletes, do you recommend that they measure specific substances and biomarkers and their blood tests given especially if they’re menstruating?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:01:43
Well, you know, what’s the issues, at least iron stores are going to be one of the issues that you’re going to be sensitive to more sensitive to for the female athlete than the male just based on the reality of that there’s a source of iron loss that the men don’t have. That’s the kind of the bottom line here. And so but how often do you need to test again, it’s good to have a baseline. So I think if I’m coaching a world tour team, or if I’m part of the medical support staff, I’m going to want to have healthy, so I’m going to want to have baseline data from every athlete, when they’re feeling great, when everything’s working fine, as a baseline, because now, six months down the road, if they start to be symptomatic, something’s going on. Now I’ve got a reference. So I wouldn’t want to only test when there’s something wrong, you know, but but then that that reference value, we probably we don’t need to have that more than once every six months, maybe even just once a year, but we need we need reference values, so that we’re seeing we can make a better diagnosis, if something goes wrong, if we start to see drops in ferritin, or whatever, we know what normal is for this athlete, we know what their normal hemoglobin levels are, and so forth. So, so that, you know, but that can be achieved with two tests a year. Right. And the same with bone, you know, like DEXA measurements on bone, bone mass, it’s not like bone mass changes weekly. So you don’t need really frequent testing twice a year is enough, according to, you know, the expertise that I’ve talked to. But you know, being sensitive this is this brings us back to cycling has some unique risk issues, because you’re doing a lot of training, but you’re not getting. So it’s a it’s a sport that it’s very weight sensitive. So there’s going to tend to be a pressure to keep weight low, which is going to tend to create some issues with energy deficiency. And at the same time, you don’t have the loading on bone. So you’re missing out on that. And so because, you know, you’re just cycling. So this is a kind of a combination, it’s a it’s a pretty one two punch when it comes to bone health. And particularly what I what I understand is that the most the problem most problematic is spine and pelvis. It just because of the nature, the type of bone, there’s more turnover in that type of bone. And so and what alleviates that, well, we got to get our athletes in the weight room. And you know, they need to be doing some some weight bearing strength training some squats, the weight bearing is good for the spine. They need to be probably doing some jumps, and so forth. You know, so you don’t need to test more than a couple times a year, or maybe even just once but not more than twice a year because Bone. Bone mass doesn’t change that fast. Right? So you don’t need monthly bone DEXA tests.
Dede Barry 1:04:53
What about for like a vegan or vegetarian athlete because I know when I had my stint with anemia I had had stopped eating meat for a period of time and saw a precipitous drop in my ferritin levels. But, you know, that’s something that I always paid close attention to, after that experience and eating meat because I felt my body needed it. And I recovered and responded better. But do you recommend, you know measuring those, like taking blood tests and measuring those biomarkers more frequently for someone who’s vegan or vegetarian?
Julie Young 1:05:26
And if I can add into that, because I have athletes that are females, they’re vegans, and they live at altitude?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:05:33
Yeah. So you may you’re bringing up these issues? Do we have special conditions where we need to be even more willing to do frequent testing? And I can’t argue against that is it? I do think, I’m not going to say anything about what any kind of what dietary approaches is best, because I don’t think that’s possible. But if you choose to cut out certain sources of food, then you probably are more at risk. And you have to do things do more things, right? If that makes sense, you know, you have to think about what you eat more carefully, as a vegan to ensure that you’re getting sufficient, you know, iron in your, in your diet, and so forth, which means you’re you are more vulnerable. And you combine that with that they you know, you’re a female athlete, you’re menstruating and you know, maybe at altitude and so forth, then maybe Yeah, I think there could be situations where we’d say, Okay, let’s be even more or less be more sensitive and have a higher test frequency here. But for most, you know, I just the general consensus is, is that standardizing a really high test frequency is not the, the way to go. It can create, it’s, well, it’s expensive, it’s stressful. And you know, it’s just and and it’s not necessarily super useful. So So I think that’s been the the consensus on a lot of these testing questions, whether it’s testing cardiac function, testing, bone mass, and so forth, is don’t test too often.
Julie Young 1:07:09
Hey, if you don’t mind, I’d love to jump back. Just, you mentioned cardiac issues. Dr. Sylar, and I had meant to ask you this question, we were talking about the exercise addiction. And I’ve heard that the heart issues experienced by athletes like AFib are associated with exercise addiction and lack of recovery. Do you feel there’s truth to this? And then I guess the second question would be, it seems that males are more greatly affected by these heart issues and females. And does that seem to be true?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:07:40
Well, I’ve had atrial fibrillation myself twice. And I’ve been, I mean, more than twice, but two times enough that I was in a hospital and had to be electrically converted. So I’m somewhat sensitive to the issue myself, and I’m kind of a classic, you know, middle aged dude, that gets really nervous, but, and there is some data that weakly supports these issues that yeah, the males are more likely to get a fib, it does seem to be somewhat related to training may be directly the or via the fact that they will tend to have low resting heart rates and low resting heart rates seem to be correlated with an increased risk of afib. So you know, that what the mechanistic you know, what is what’s the chicken and egg here is a bit tricky. But I do think the data kind of is is really loosely supporting the males are more vulnerable for this. And is it because of that resting heart rate for the males, it does seem like we see more of relatively extreme low resting heart rates on for males and for females. You know, like my resting heart rate, I am one of the I got afib, my resting heart rate was like 36. And it’s always been low. So but I’ve also had, I’ve had various, you know, arrhythmias since I was a teenager, just kind of been how my heart has been. But I’ve, that seems to have also been associated with it, I’ve had a very low resting heart rate. So when I’m out of shape, and doing nothing, my resting heart rate still 50. And then when I’m in shape, and you know, it’s 36, or 36, is pretty low. You know, it’s pretty, pretty low. You know, if you look at a normal distribution, it’s way out there. So, again, all of the epidemiological data there is we just got to be really careful. Trump, there’s been some really good research in Norway, for example, based on several 100,000 measurements, you know, but even then the correlations are weak, so we got to be careful in generalizing too much. That training is gonna cause AFib and all this stuff. You know, if you’re a guy, you’re gonna get AFib if you train a lot, and that’s not what the data says,
Julie Young 1:09:58
Good to know. I’d love to ask You have a few more specific questions on formatting rest into the training plan. So couple things and this has come up from like my coaching practice, I’ve worked with athletes that are reluctant to take that one day of rest, you know, built into the week, but even more resistant to taking the longer stints of dedicated rest, like after, say, a three to four week build. And that’s in part because of the way they feel coming off that longer stent of rest. You know, what, what do you what are your thoughts on that, because I feel like it is so important to get that kind of that training stress to rest kind of account back into balance through the season, but they definitely are resistant based on how they’re feeling.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:10:42
Yeah, and I hear this, and I’ve had good a lot of conversations with some of the coaches I work with, with this professional cycling team and one in particular, and we, you know, you it’s just really hard to make a physiological case for why would be true that you are compromised physiologically after a rest day, which is, you know, the athletes is Oh, no, I don’t want to have a hard session after a rest day. And what we what we found is that the key to having a good workout after a rest day is the warm up the do really going through the gears, and turning on the physiological systems in the warm up. After arrest day, often what happens is when the athlete first jumps on the bike after arrest date, and they feel a little bit, something’s not quite right, you know, they don’t feel so good. But they don’t give it they don’t let the warm up do its job. And when I say you know, and I mean, a real warm up, you know, spend a half an hour, start out with 10 or 15 minutes of just easy, you know, 150 Watts, or whatever it is, and then bring in the short intervals, start turning on the system, add in some power, bring in some short burst to turn on, you know, the different, the high intensity and so forth. And then now we start waking things up, and it’s okay, I’m feeling pretty good. But you got to go through the you got to go through all the gears. And when athletes just jump on the bike for 10 minutes, and the first 10 minutes don’t feel great, then they say, Ah, see, that’s proof that you can’t work out hard after a rest day, well, they haven’t really done their work, they haven’t really done what’s necessary to get the body ready for performance, the warm up is getting the body ready for work. And if you do that correctly, then at least my experience and others that I’ve talked to that rest, it doesn’t need to be a problem at all.
Julie Young 1:12:43
It’s interesting seems I work with several athletes that are doing these longer, like gravel races, or you know, longer mountain bike races, stage races, that sort of thing. And, you know, obviously you want that that athlete going into those events really rested, but then they’re very resistant, they feel like oh, my gosh, I got to do some really hard stuff before that race, you know, and it’s a real, it’s a real trick to find that balance.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:13:05
Well, and there’s a lot of good research on tapering, you know, on and form topping is what we call a Norwegian, but you don’t stop training. But you know, the data suggests that, for example, you keep doing the same frequency of high intensity workouts in the week, your 10 days going into a key event, but you shorten you gradually bring down the the duration of that session. So you leave, you leave more in the tank, but you turn on this, the gears you turn on the system. So let’s say you normally would do four times eight minutes, you do two times eight minutes, you know, so you reduce the total load but you’re still getting, you’re still turning on the system, you’re still with the same intensity, but at less total duration. And that seems to be part of the taper recipe that works is you don’t stop training, you don’t take full rest. But you gradually reduce you may reduce by 30 or 40% your volume and your your hard sessions become shorter, but they the you maintain the intensity.
Julie Young 1:14:12
Yeah, it makes sense. It seems like most athletes aren’t going to respond well to going into like a race situation on a rest like a traditional
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:14:20
wrestling. Oh, no, no, yeah, I mean, you know, the so the athletes want to keep moving, they want to keep working. And so that’s and some of them are not cutting, they’re not doing much volume decrease, you know, the traditional tapering literature has been based on events like swimming, which have very few competitions. So you do you know, big loads and then you do a long taper. Whereas with cycling you can’t really do that because you got so many races. You know, you can’t you don’t have those kinds of really clear boundaries where this you’ve got this long lead in with lots of training and then you have this one major event for the cyclists. They May you know it worlds are low, you know how it is, at least on the male side, there’s they’re hitting 7080 races a year and on the female side, probably it’s 50. Now at least, you’re more thinking about keeping balanced and, and keeping yourself kind of in a in a flow, then you’re going to think about a really hard taper. You know what I mean by a hard taper where you would really do a big cut and volume, that’s not going to be happening too much in a typical cycling season.
Julie Young 1:15:28
Also seems valuable on those taper weeks to do that those harder sessions, higher cadence, kind of lighter gearing, so you’re not creating that load, but you’re still opening those systems.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:15:40
So that’s everything I’ve seen on tape brain and and we’ve looked at what how did gold medal winning athletes taper in the, you know, the days before a gold medal race. And they do almost always turn on the the engines, either 48, some between 48 and 72 hours before the race, they do some significant intensity, you know, they, they gear, they turn on the afterburners, but they just don’t keep them on very long. They shorten up the duration, so that the recovery is is from that workout is not a problem.
Julie Young 1:16:19
It’s like I feel like during those weeks, again, just reminding the athlete why they’re doing it, it’s not really a workout, per se, it’s just a polish, and you’re just literally doing just enough,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:16:30
the haze in the barn, the works done, you know, nothing you do the week before is gonna have a physiologically adaptive effect. It’s mostly just keeping, you know, flow and your system working and you’re not gonna get D trained, but you you lose a little bit of that, that feeling of you know, that you’re on. And so it’s kind of difficult to describe, but the sympathetic nervous system, you kind of want a certain amount of tension. And it’s interesting when I hear when I even talked to like, therapists or the massage, what do you call it? The swan? Yeah, you know, and they’ll say, well, they can almost feel in their, the tension in their muscles, when they’re ready. You know that and they don’t want them to be too relaxed. What now this is really esoteric. I mean, what the heck, what are they measuring, but they can almost feel it in the muscles, when the athlete is that the right level of tension? Does that make sense? So but but it’s not, you don’t want the athlete to be totally, you know, relaxed. And even during a grand tour, the three week tours, and it probably it’s the same in the eighth day, you know, the Tour de femme when they have a rest day, they don’t want to, they’re not going to fully rest, you know, because when you’re in that really tough grind, they, they want to keep a bit of rhythm. So the on the males, what we’re seeing is they’ll generally cycle for 90 minutes, you know, pretty easily, but they’ll do a couple of efforts, two or three minutes, four minutes, just to turn on the system on the rest day. But overall, much less energy utilization. It is they are getting recovery. But the sympathetic nervous systems get a little bit of stimulation. So it just they don’t shut down. You know, they don’t, because that’s the problem is that once the body, if they completely shut down, the body will finally say, oh, I can D mobilize I’ve been mobilized like heck to do this terrible, you know, this daily grind. So you don’t want to give the body a signal that says, crisis is over. You can come down now, you know.
Julie Young 1:18:40
Yeah, I vividly remember that Didi like during our tours on those rest days having to go out and maybe do a little motor pacing and just feel pressure on the leg and keeping everything revved up. It was kind of a tough sell sometimes, but it definitely paid off the next day.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:18:56
Yeah, I was chatting with a guy. There’s a guy named Tim de Klerk. This with the Quickstep pseudo Quickstep team and he’s, he’s called the tractor you know, so he’s one of these these domestics that his job is just to go to the front of the peloton, and, and push for hours, you know, at 350 Watts and, and, you know, his threshold, you might say, and he told me says, look, it hurts and I am tired, but even after three weeks, he says I can do the threshold power stuff. And I and I don’t feel like I get worse. In fact, I may even get a little bit better at that. But after three weeks, I’ve lost top in power. I’ve lost two minute power, you know, and so forth. My my high end is is is reduced, but my middle gears there. They’re almost better. But he told me he says look, what happens is is that after we finish one of these tours, a lot of us a lot of the cyclists, they’ll go through for days they get home and then like they fall apart. It’s like post traumatic stress disorder. or something, he says, so he says, I am on the Wednesday after, you know, Sunday in Paris, he says, I’m not a good person to be around, you know, because now my body and my brain are basically finally saying, Ah, I can shut down now. And he says, then it’s hard to kind of get turned back up again, you know, because they’ve still got more season to go. So. So it’s an interesting, I don’t think there’s been much research done on this. But when we’ve had these heavy loading periods, that’s one of the reasons they don’t, they don’t want a full rest day because you don’t want to tell the body crisis is over. You need to wait until you get past the full three weeks and then let that D load happen. And because often, then they’ll they will get a kind of a, they’ll get sick, or they’ll, you know, they’re different things happen. But the body finally kind of D mobilizes and brings down its defenses. And then some things can happen that aren’t necessarily positive, they need some days to kind of reset.
Dede Barry 1:21:01
So Stephen earlier, you touched on D training, and you cited a study where athletes took 12 weeks of rest, and I kind of want to build on this idea of you know, post Grand Tour. Or like even in the offseason, it is important for athletes to take a bigger period of rest. And it’s interesting because I worked with a coach at one point who said, you know, you don’t really see a downturn and fitness after 10 days of complete rest. And whatever you do lose, you could recapture really quickly. So here in this when I was an athlete made me feel a lot more at ease if I was ill or injured or or if I just had life circumstances that got in the way of my ability to train. But based on the current science, how much rest do you think an athlete can take before losing fatness?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:21:49
Well depends a little bit on how you define rest. In Norway and in with the top sports groups around here, we’ve often talked about during these transition periods after a season, we you’ll say the the body, the mind needs rest, but the body does need some work. So generally, what we’ll be seeing is, is the athletes are not just sitting on the sofa for three weeks, they’re doing stuff there. But they’re it’s totally, it’s not they don’t see it as training, you know, they’re doing other activities, they’re hiking or whatever, you know, but mostly what they’re doing is completely unloading their brain, you know, and that seems to be that reset, that of maybe even some biochemistry going on that they need the reset, they need to come down off of this, you might say this endorphin addiction or whatever, you know, because the repetitive you know, the body, the we do get used to these stimuli every day. And this pattern, but it results in that if you don’t ever take a break, you don’t you don’t kind of break the addiction and get a reset. You know, now I’m being just making up a kind of a way of connecting it to other ideas. But we have seen a number of athletes in Norway, for example, where they tried, you know, they they said, Well, I had a good season, I’m going to just drop the rest period, I’m going to drop the offseason and slide right into the next prep, because then I can build on this and keep going doesn’t work doesn’t work than that. In we’ve seen cases where the only explanation we had and you know, I’ve had athletes had a great season. And then they dropped the offseason, they kind of just transitioned right into the reap a build. And then they have a bad season. And the only explanation that explains it is this or you didn’t get that unload, you didn’t get the reset. Now, we don’t exactly know what’s happening. Probably a lot of it’s up in the brain. Maybe some of it’s down in the body, but probably a lot of it’s in, you know, in in the brain where they needed that reset. So, again, there’s a lot of things about high performance training and these processes that we don’t really have researched, we don’t have data on this. We don’t have systematic studies, comparing 100 athletes that took an offseason, three weeks on load and 100 athletes that just you know didn’t, that’s never going to be done. As far as I can tell. It’s, you know, you’re not going to elite athletes are not going to do those kinds of studies. So, so this is tough, you know, we’re, we’re having to kind of piece together what we think is true, based on a combination of some science and some observation and some experience, you know,
Julie Young 1:24:48
Dr. Sylar, I really appreciate your answer there because I feel like I see you know, as more athletes become like multi sport athletes, and see this like with kids, I coach She’s like, they are mountain bikers, and then they go to cyclocross, and you know, and then before we know it, it’s time to start prepping for their next mountain bike season. And to me, it’s like I see, you know, people cutting corners, just as you say with the quote, the offseason. I mean, I guess we can say offseason may mean different things, you know, but to me, it’s it is so much as you say, it’s not just like what’s going on physically, it’s really what’s going on mentally during that time. And, you know, and I think like that offseason, as you say, it’s not that these athletes are sitting on the couch, but to me offseason, and I really am reluctant to call it offseason. Because I think it’s so many important things happened during that time, as you say, like the mental reset. But I also think like, that’s when athletes are working on different attributes to make them be better athletes, you know, in terms of like in this in the gym strength building, and that endurance base building, different modes of, of movement, you know, and I think all of these things, of course, are very valuable physically, but it’s they’re extremely valuable mentally to because they’re doing different things. They’re changing things up. They’re, again, they’re, they’re developing as whole athletes, and moving in different ways. So I just think there’s so much benefit in that, quote, offseason,
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:26:16
right. It’s a balancing, I think that, you know, we’ve talked, one of the words we talk a lot about is sustainability, you know, just, the process needs to be sustainable. Because, if you count, like is how many times you’re going to work out this year, this year, give me a number, you know, and if it’s a high performance athlete, this will be hundreds, the number will be hundreds 400 500 600 training sessions per year. Okay, so, to do that, number one, you need to understand that well, then no one or two sessions are going to be critical. That’s just silly. There’s no such thing as the epic workout that made the difference. It’s the 600 or 400 workouts you did, and were they strung together did you keep did you get long runs without injury. So sustainability is is critical here. In then the other issue is that we have to build in these resets, we have to find balance. And part of this balancing act will be to give that athlete periods of time where maybe most importantly, their their D load, unloading their mind, unloading their mind from that really systematic work of being so in the moment of every, you know, every interval session counting minutes, and that, and so then you go on hiking, you you swim, you play tennis, you move your body, but but you’re not. It’s not Metro sized. It’s not quantified, you know what I mean? Because we’re in this quantification world is elite performers. And so every day is kind of pass fail, and people in the athletes head, where did the numbers match up to my expectation? Or did they not? And that’s really stressful. It’s really tough. And so part of the unload I would say, the offseason, or whatever we want to call it, it’s about getting away from that. It’s about a little bit Xin, you know, and I would almost argue that the offseason should be device free, heart rate monitoring, lactate measurement, all of those things. You just put them in the drawer for for that three weeks, no metrics. That would be my advice is exercise. Have fun, go go do what you do, but don’t measure anything.
Dede Barry 1:28:42
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Dede Barry 1:29:55
Stephen just to wrap up like if you were to give an aspiring endurance athlete three P pieces of advice on how to best manage the balance of training stimulus with rest and recovery, what would they be?
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:30:07
Well, I guess the first thing that comes to mind, I would say, trust your mind, trust, what you feel, trust the signals that your body is giving to your mind your brain, and don’t fight them. You know, because if you’re a Motivated Athlete, then those signals are real, and they mean something. So if your brain is telling you, hey, I’m tired, tired, you know, I need the rest. Listen, if you can just do that, you will so solve so many problems. And then two is just a mainly remember that it’s not the epic workout that wins the prize. It’s the stringing together, you know, consistent, healthy runs of getting the work done. And, and feeling good about it and being able to smile at the end of the session, when if you can do that a lot of the time, then you’re going to tend to have success, if we can have the appropriate frequency, the intended frequency of training, and we’re getting the work done that we anticipated, that we wanted to that’s going to be a successful process. And the way we’re gonna do that is to avoid those long runs where we get sick or injured. You know, so rest days are worth gold there. Because like that, you know, I don’t know, we’re Americans. So maybe we remember Benjamin Franklin, way back when famous for flying a kite with a key on it and the lightning hit, you know, but he also, I believe, had a quote that said, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And if we were to as athletes, we could reef cycle that and call it one day of rest a week is is is much better than a 10 day forced training break because of a injury or a bad infection. So that’s, that’s the trade off, you know, I’ll take the one day of rest to avoid several of those bad periods each year. And I’m going to come out way ahead in the math. That’s great advice. Thanks, Steven. 10 days of forced, yeah, being off the bike, because that’s what ends up happening. So do it make it a voluntary, you’re in control. athletes want to be in control. So rest days are a way of controlling that, and not letting injury and illness take control.
Julie Young 1:32:30
Right. Well, Dr. Seiler, it’s been such a pleasure. So nice to finally meet you have been such a big fan. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
Dr. Stephen Seiler 1:32:40
Well, thank you. And I’m just so glad you guys are doing this. And I’m excited as a father of a female athlete to see the developments that are happening. So I feel good about sport in general, and the way things are going, so I appreciate your efforts.
Dede Barry 1:32:56
That was another episode of Fast Talk Femme. Subscribe to Fast Talk Femme wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk Femme are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback, and any thoughts you have on topics or guests that may be of interest for you. Get in touch via social-you can find fast talk labs on Twitter and Instagram at Fast Talk Labs where you’ll also find all of our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at fasttalklabs.com for Dr. Seiler and Julie Young. I’m Dede Barry. Thank you for listening!