Dr. Stephen Seiler on Breathing, Beer, and Heart Rate

Dr. Stephen Seiler shares his current research involving new tools, breathing techniques, heart rate variability, and... beer!

When we talked with Dr. Stephen Seiler for Fast Talk Episode 200, the interview went long, too long for us to include everything in our farewell episode to our co-host Chris Case.

But a lot of good discussion ended up on the cutting room floor and we didn’t want to keep the rest of the conversation from seeing the light of day.  In this short episode, we share with you the rest of our conversation with Dr. Seiler.

We talk with Dr Seiler about his current research which focuses on some exciting new tools, his hesitant love of Twitter, the exciting research going on right now around breathing techniques, heart rate variability…and Dr Seiler’s current favorite beer. 

Note that we recorded this conversation before Chris left Fast Talk, so perhaps guess we lied a little? You get one more episode with Chris Case. 

So, put on your nerd hat and let’s make you fast!

Episode Transcript

Trevor Connor  00:04

Hello and Welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host, Trevor Connor. I should note not to confuse you since we already had our goodbye episode with Chris Case. This recording was done well before he left. So I guess we lied a little. We have one more episode with Chris.


Trevor Connor  00:33

We talked to Dr. Steven Seiler for episode 200. The interview went much longer than we had time for in that episode, but a lot of good discussion ended up on the cutting room floor. We didn’t want to deny you from hearing the rest of the conversation. So in this short bonus episode, we share with you what was cut. In the episode we talked with Dr Seiler about His current research, which focuses on some exciting new tools, his hesitant love of Twitter, the exciting research going on right now around breathing techniques, heart rate variability, and Dr. Seiler’s current favorite beer. So put on your nerd hat and let’s make you fast.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  01:10

Hi, I’m Dr. Steven Seiler. I gotta tell you, it’s a thrill for me to have the opportunity to go in and see a whole collection of my lectures and webinars all in one place, free of charge for the members of Fast Talk in the broader Sports Science World. Not only me, but other sports scientists have collected their work and Fast Talk laboratories is presented it for all of you to use and learn from every day.


Rob Pickels  01:39

Join it our free listener member level to see Dr. Seiler’s lectures and webinars. Join now at fasttalklabs.com.


Welcome Dr. Seiler

Chris Case  01:49

Everyone, welcome to another episode of Fast Talk. I’m your host Chris Case. And this is your source for the science of endurance performance. Trevor, in the studio here, behind the lights behind the cameras, and all the way past in from Norway. Dr. Seiler, welcome to the program.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  02:06

Good morning or good evening, depending on where you are.


Dr. Seiler and his favorite beer

Trevor Connor  02:09

So it’s a Friday evening there, right? – Yeah, that’s right. – Well appreciate your taking. stead of grabbing a beer taking the time to talk with us.


Chris Case  02:18

Should have done both simultaneously.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  02:19

The beers in the fridge… it’s just delayed gratification.


Chris Case  02:25



Trevor Connor  02:26

So what’s your beer of choice?


Dr. Stephen Seiler  02:28

Oh, right now I am I’ve fallen in love with one called What was that show? Pinky Blinder? But there’s a beer from Sandler brewery in UK but it’s Peeky Blinder Black IPA? Oh, wow. I love it, man. It’s just so I wouldn’t normally be able to be so specific but I have just fallen for that beer. It’s a it’s a just a regular beer, 4.7% but nice and dark and just smooth. Anyway…


Chris Case  02:54

I’ve heard beer in Norway is very expensive is what’s a six pack of this run you?


Dr. Stephen Seiler  03:00

Oh, well this this is from the UK. Okay, it’s imported so it’s extra expensive. I can’t drink it very often but I go to a store that has these exotic beers and I might buy like three bottles you know and then I take it – Yeah – so I’m just a kind of a one beer guy you know, after a workout just that one cold beer is enough and I and I’ve convinced myself from the research that it does screw up my molecular signaling you know and so I’ve convinced myself that one beer is okay and and so then I can enjoy that.


Chris Case  03:36



Trevor Connor  03:37

Yeah, I just appreciate the fact that like me you sound like your dark beer guy.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  03:41

Yeah, I I’ve kind of tried to really reduce you know the types of alcohol so it’s just for me it’s just beer or whiskey. Mostly beer – keep it simple – I have to say but every once in a while I think whiskey just got such a great story to it you know the every bottle of whiskey is years and years of patience and I can connect to that because that’s kind of like training you know the process is important. So anyway, everyone so I opened up a bottle of whiskey and take have one drink. Nice. I’m just one drink and I’m already drunk.


Chris Case  04:15

Alright, so let’s move on from alcohol and talk serious business here. We really wanted to hit you with one big question. What is it that Dr. Steven Seiler is working on in his the you know, the different ways that you are approaching research these days? And what specifically are you working on? What are the questions?


Dr. Seiler Talks about his Current Research

Dr. Stephen Seiler  04:35

Yeah, so well, one question right now and this one you’ll appreciate is because you wrote a book on atrial fibrillation, – right – with others, and I’ve had atrial fibrillation myself. And so right before the pandemic, a company or a group came to me, and they had developed a new type of sensor. It was actually from my own university. So I knew the people involved and they’ve developed a sense for detecting arrhythmias, you know it replacing the bulky holter monitor with all the leads and everything. And this is just a tiny little deal that sticks on the scan for days and days. And it collects data goes to the cloud. There’s algorithmic detection of arrhythmias go straight to the doctor, man, this is a game changer. And it really is, it’s really working beautifully. But then when they came to me, I said, Wait a minute, this, you know, you shouldn’t just use this on 65 year olds, you know, sitting at home, this can change sports medicine, – right – Let’s test it out. So anyway, so that’s one of the things that I’m working with, is we’ve been first started with me just on a bicycle, and then went to the laboratory, looking at how it responded to movement. And then we had, we’re testing it on cyclists on a professional cycling team. We did that in December. So we’re kind of slowly moving, and everything’s looking good. So I hope that that’s going to result in providing sports doctors with cardiologist with a much better tool for working with athletes that may be dealing with arrhythmias, not, of course, not just athletes, but but that sports medicine sector is one that I can hopefully contribute a little bit to. And then I’m, as I alluded to, in another some other discussions, we had this ventilation issue and, and trying to, you know, I’m really interested in how workouts evolve, how different kinds of training sessions evolve, whether it’s that four hour ride that starts at low intensity, and you get tired towards the end, or the interval session or the race, and how that relationship between the external workload and the internal workload changes. And we’ve developed some tools, analytical tools, but in that process, I realized that well, you know, heart rate is just, it’s good, but it’s when you get really up in that upper realm of intensity, and the really highly variable that you know, the interval, the short intervals, and the hard races and all that it doesn’t tell us what’s really going on. And so, you know, and I was seeing in myself, I said, Well, you know, but ventilation, my breathing rate, when I’m breathing, when I’m really, really breathing hard, I’m near the limit, I’m near my end, even if heart rates not saying it. And so, I got interested in ventilation. And then I discovered, you know, there’s a guy, there’s some people that are doing some really good work in this area, like Andrea Niccolo, and in Italy. And so we connected and then I got started working with a group that’s or a company that’s got this wearable, you know, wearable technologies are developing for measuring ventilation inactivity. And so I’m doing some work there, and I will be doing more where we’ll do we’ll be going back and forth between the laboratory and in field settings to say, can we, you know, can we get good data on ventilation? And what’s happening? And can that inform us more about day to day, you know, how this athlete responded to the training? When should we pull the plug on the workout? When is it enough, you know, so that we’ve created a good signal, we pushed them hard enough, but we don’t want to push them so hard that now we spoil their recovery for several days after. And so that’s, that’s that individualization and whether or not ventilation should be part of that heads up display. So I’m working on that. And so both of those are technology driven kinds of questions. And they are facilitated by digital tools by miniaturization. And then, of course, recruiting subjects down the road. That’s another issue and we’re doing some work like around that that atrial fibrillation tool. We’re also doing a big survey of health training and health characteristics and so, the crowdsource the social media, that that facilitates that. So it’s it’s strange, everything I’ve complained about, whether it’s podcasts, which I did, you know, I said what the heck is a pod, guys, and you guys dragged me into podcasts. – Here you are, here you are. – Yeah, it turned out that was a good thing. And Twitter I once said, I will never tweet. Well, that was 8000 tweets ago. – Yep. – And, and Twitter is a really great resource for me for getting connected to athletes and coaches and so forth. So pretty much if I hate it at first or think it’s stupid, then that’s probably an indicator that it will end up being important in my life.


Chris Case  09:35



Trevor Connor  09:35

So can I just say I get an email every day from twitter saying here’s all the tweets that you missed today, you have been number one on the list every single day.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  09:46

In any recent days, or forever?


Trevor Connor  09:50

Every email I get. – It knows you it knows you. – Here’s Dr. Steven Seiler.


Dr. Seiler Discusses his Use of Twitter Professionally

Dr. Stephen Seiler  09:58

Yeah, it’s and part of me wants to say it’s ridiculous. But I really believe it’s, it’s become a good tool for me to test out ideas. I tweeted, you know, I’m putting together a presentation for tomorrow for the United States rowing. And I tweeted a little bit about that and got, you know, mostly positive, but a little bit of feedback that I said, Okay, well, you know, do I need to say this differently? So it’s just a constant? It’s a it’s a user forum, or, or what do you call it a focus group? Yeah. But it’s a focus group that numbers in the 1000s. Right now. Yeah. And so that’s the way I use it. And, and I just, I hope I provide some useful information. But I also learned a great deal. And it’s also kind of that extended conversation, like what we do together the podcast where we talk about research, and we dig into it a bit more, and try to understand what it means, you know, and that’s what I’ve come to really appreciate with podcasts, especially when they are driven by people like you guys that know your stuff. And you ask the good questions. And you, you know, challenge people like me. So anyway, so and I don’t want to I’m not trying to float your boat there forever.


Trevor Connor  11:15

I give you the hard hitting questions. I got you about beer, what type of beer are you into? We need to know.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  11:20



Chris Case  11:22

Budding journalist over here.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  11:23

Occasionally you ask a good question.


Trevor Connor  11:26

So far, not today?


Dr. Stephen Seiler  11:29

No, not yet.


How Ventilation Can Affect Aspects of Training

Chris Case  11:31

I’m going to attempt a good question. Now. I want to go back to the breathing thing. Because we have a coach that works with us, Steve Neal, and he is really into the breathing and I believe you’ve had conversations with him. I’m curious to know from your point of view, is the ventilation aspect of training is that one of those things where certain number of coaches, maybe some athletes they work with are ahead of the science curve. And they figured something out before science was able to confirm its benefit.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  12:02

Oh I think that’s very common. And this could well be one of those situations. And Steve Neil Yeah, we had a conversation. And he’s been using, he’s been measuring ventilation for years in the laboratory, because he is a coach who actually invested in a metabolic cart and so forth. So obviously yeah he’s had some, you know, really good insights, the advantage I have is that maybe I can systematize some of those insights and test them out in a different way, in a structured way. And, but he was definitely a bit of a spark for me to say, well, let me look at this closer and try to figure out how to, you know, get at this the problem with ventilation, if we just dig into the weeds a little bit is that, unlike, or at least less, so with heart rate, as soon as I start thinking about my breathing, I change it. – Yes – Right? At least at low intensity now that once we get it the higher intensity rounds, then that’s less true. But if I’m just sitting there pedaling easy, and I start thinking and say I’m going to count my breathing, it changes, you know, it’s just you can’t think about it without changing it, at least in my in my brain, my stupid brain, I end up slowing my breathing down, breathing a bit deeper, as soon as I get very aware of my breathing. So that’s one of the reasons why I found that if I did my own counting, I was getting these these low breathing rates, but when I put on the shirt, a wearable and just stopped thinking about it, then I was getting different data. And another interesting thing was is that I I’ve done you guys know probably that knows only breathing you know, mouth closed breathing, Shana popular, used as a tool by some they, you know, too as a surrogate for keeping intensity low and so forth. But the reality is, is that you can get pretty good at nose breathing. And actually, a lot of people are able to breathe pretty darn high intensities, they’re able to produce pretty hard high powers above threshold, while just breathing through their nose. And I’ve got you know, I’m genetically gifted in that regard. So because of this big nose, so I’ve been playing with that. But as soon as I emote is I’m out nose breathing, my breathing frequency changes, my tidal volume goes up. So, you know, the wearable technologies are helping to me to understand some stuff, because it keeps me from acting, forget about it, and then let’s see what happens. And so I don’t know where that will all end in and I don’t know what form that technology will take in the end. whether it’ll be a shirt or a vest or something much smaller. You know, I think that’s going to evolve. But I’m just I have no doubt that it’s something we can move into the field in a nice way.


A Brief Message from Rob Pickels

Rob Pickels  14:53

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Trevor Connor  15:22

So, question I have for you because I love when you have something in exercise physiology, where there’s a pretty commonly held belief that most researchers, most scientists feel, yeah, this this is the way it is. And then as new research comes out, that gets challenged. And we go on to actually a lot more complex than that. So in ventilation there is the the pretty commonly held belief that it’s actually exhalation that drives ventilation, not the need to breathe in. Based on what you’ve been doing so far, do you think this is going to be one of those things where you’re going to turn around and say, Actually, it’s not that simple?


Dr. Stephen Seiler  15:57

Yeah. In terms of ventilatory control already, Niccolo is shown with some research that just like in the heart, where you have stroke volume, and heart rate, as frequency that those those are the two modes of change for the heart stroke volume times heart rate. And at very low intensity stroke volume goes up a bit, and then it stabilizes, the heart rate is responsible for most of the increase thereafter. Well, what we’re finding what Niccolo has shown with ventilation is is that the control of tidal volume and the control of breathing frequency are different. They’re controlled, apparently in a different ways in the brain. And breathing frequency really tracks quite beautifully with perceived exertion, I mean, just tight, and you can create scenarios where heart rate doesn’t do that, you know, like, for example, these, these are very popular workouts like 3015s and 3030s and 4020s, you know, what I’m talking about? Heart rate will kind of come up. And initially, it’ll show a sawtooth pattern, it almost kind of flattens evens out. And then it just basically represents the kind of the average oxygen demand, right? So it just stabilizes but ventilation, the breathing frequency keeps going up. Because it’s, at least when I’ve done these workouts, I was like, yep, that’s how it feels, it feels like it’s getting damn hard, you know, it’s harder and harder as I go, it doesn’t feel like it should be flattening out. But heart rates flattening out in breathing frequency is going up, up, up, up, up, up. And when I’m redlining, and when I’m finished, my breathing frequency is at about 75 breaths per minute. And so I’m starting to one of the things we’re going to be looking at is do people, you know, can we say you’ve got a maximum breathing frequency, you know, in a functional way, meaning under a functional situation, that people have different individual maximum breathing frequencies, and they have a resting breathing frequency, which is pretty, pretty much the same for everybody 12 to 16. So, you know, maybe we can use a carvone and formula type of approach. And inside, what percentage of your maximum breathing frequency are you at? And then we start to look at and create an intensity zone approach using breathing. Does that make sense? – Yeah, yes. – So anyway, that’s at least one of the things we’re going to be playing with testing in the coming months, in a couple of years, I think I’ve already got master students that want to do this work with me, and, you know, cycling teams and so forth. So we’ll see where it goes and I’m going to have to have help. I’ve got to recruit people like you know, Andre and Nicola and others that really know the ventilation, physiology and neurophysiology well and will work together on it.


Trevor Connor  18:42

So any other research that you’re working on, I know you were doing a lot sounds like a smaller almost crowdsource study?


How Heart Rate Can Affect Intensity

Dr. Stephen Seiler  18:49

Heart rate variability, I published a paper years ago, looking at the short term recovery, after different intensity sessions, low intensity long, you know, hour to hour runs, threshold workouts, interval workouts, we showed how heart rate variability is delayed the recovery of HRV, the recovery of that parasympathetic component is markedly delayed, once you go up into your threshold and above and Marco Altiny, he you know, he and I, now we’re saying I think we can do this study kind of again, in a big way, in a crowdsourced way, using the combination of access to lots of people, and these, you know, the HRV for training app, which is validated and so forth. And so we can look at acute HRV recovery as a function of what was the prior work, what was the prior training? And does it because my basic thinking has been when we one of the reasons we do a lot of low intensity training is just to keep below that so called stress radar, you know, to generate signal at very low stress, you know, and keeping the intensity low. As long as you don’t go too long, then that seems to be an approach but we can quantify it at least through the window of Heart Rate Variability with a with a crowdsource study. So we were just exchanging mail today on that issue, or maybe it was yesterday, the days blend together for me, but but we’re gonna we’re gonna pursue that.


Trevor Connor  20:23




Chris Case  20:24

Well, I wish we had more time. Dr. Seiler. Always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for joining us on Fast Talk. Thanks for revealing some of the exciting research you’re you’re undertaking right now.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  20:33

Yeah. Thanks, guys. And, you know, I’ll come back and we’ll hopefully at some point have some results to talk about.


Chris Case  20:40

Absolutely. Thank you.


Trevor Connor  20:41

In the meantime, go crack open that good cold beer.


Dr. Stephen Seiler  20:45

I will, you guys have delayed my gratification. So it’s about time.


Chris Case  20:49

Sorry. Sorry. -Sorry. –


Dr. Stephen Seiler  20:52

Have a good weekend.


Chris Case  20:53

All right, – you too. – Take care.



Trevor Connor  20:56

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review the thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of fast talk laboratories of fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education coaching community. For Dr. Steven Seiler and Chris case, I’m Trevor Connor. Thanks for listening.