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Category Archives — Smart Athlete

HRV, Off-season, Changes in Training Load

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and resting heart rate are great ways to monitor your body and get objective feedback on how your body is handling the training you are putting in. It is important (and valuable) as a gauge of your ‘fitness’ because it also does not discriminate between training stress, work stress, bad sleep stress, or 5 shots of tequila stress! This is a common criticism of TSS or other output measures that are telling you the training stress of your workout but not the stress/strain your body is experiencing from that workout nor from the above lifestyle stressors.

How to collect?

I used the HRV4Training app personally since it came out and have used it with clients, via the HRV4Training Pro platform for about 3 years now. It lets you collect HRV with that phone you always have with you by simply putting your finger on the camera for a minute … easy, no HR staps to forget, and no excuses!

I love the extra objective insight HRV/HR adds but I have said that my favorite part of the app is how it has helped many clients who were resistant to commenting on their training in get there via syncing a ‘survey’ of subjective measures direct to along with resting HR and HRV.

I am starting to collect some neat data from different times of the year and different phases of life (return to school, change in job, concussions, menopause, changes of meds, and different training blocks).

HRV and Training Load

Today I wanted to share a few examples of how different types of training load, or different phases of the training year, might affect HRV.

I find consistently that HRV can be a good indicator of when we have been endurance training regularly and perhaps at similar levels to past performances. We should certainly compare and contrast to our peak powers, race results and metrics like TSS to ensure we aren’t training harder/longer simply to try and elevate our HRV to past levels. We do change as people over time and each year can be different. (refer to the 5 tequilas above)

case 1 – fall peak and off-season

Above is a pretty typical build towards a September race, then reduced training load and slowly HRV is reduced (blue line is 7 day rolling avg)

case 2 – elite … back to school

The above image has a top/bottom image included. The top is the HRV tracing and the bottom is a *rough* training load done by RPE x duration. This case is perhaps unique because this athlete has a high HRV and a very high fitness/performance level in the spring/summer. Come September a break after the main race season (and some missing data) before school starts and the routine is regular but not focused on such high and regular endurance.

case 3 – peak, bike pack, race, off

The above screenshot also has a top-bottom and this athlete raced their A-priority race in September (far left) and then wanted to keep riding while the weather was good and build towards a November event AND got coaxed into a big multi-day bike packing trip with riding most of each day.

You can see the big spike in the training stress (bottom) and the corresponding drop in the top image (HRV). The athlete’s November race was ok but there was missing the snappy workouts and lower volumes typical ahead of short/hard events that seem to lead to great race days. A trade-off that is perhaps captured in the drop in HRV and training load prior to the event (and in this case likely worth it for the great 4-day adventure!)

Finally this is two years of training and racing for an elite-level athlete where there was some injury/illness on far left before starting winter training (red arrow). Peak race in July for the first summer.

The second red arrow near the center is the most recent year’s spring training which was much harder and better absorbed. 2 Additional good camps were done and racing was generally better and more consistent. the second year was much more consistent. The yellow arrow is the 2nd summers peak event which included much more racing over the month. HRV returned to previous levels (not pictured, 3-4 years out) for the season before dropping again for the off-period (far right)

Curious about HRV?

If you are curious about HRV training please take a look at the HRV4Training APP and also their very informative blog

HRV4Training on GOOGLE


Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced? What Training Should You Focus on?

How complicated do you need to make your training? It is, after all, as simple as riding a bicycle. 

This Joe Friel blog post is one that I think of and reference often. I have used it (and adapted it) as a simple framework for deciding how to train a given athlete. An (over) simplified summary is that beginners (1st year in sport) might focus on increasing frequency (how often they ride). Intermediate riders (1-3 years) should focus on volume (duration), while for advanced riders (3+ years in sport) the key aspect is the intensity (both easy and hard) that you ride at.

Continue reading

Podcast Q&A: Pan Am Cross, Indoor Trainer, Nutrition at College, Fueling early runs

The latest Consummate Athlete covers your questions including:

  • Cyclocross Pan-American championships in Milton Ontario
  • – The recent press around The Mary Cain Op-Ed regarding the troubling focus on body composition in elite sport.
  • – Riding and training indoors – boredom and technology
  • – College Nutrition Challenges
  • – Fueling for early workouts and races
  • – Training and nutrition for Menopause
Continue reading

Getting Back on the Trainer

The latest Episode of the Candian Cycling Magazine Podcast is a big one and worth checking out

Listen in the below player or see the notes and links for the episode on THe Canadian Cycling Magazine webpage (here)

Looking for an Indoor Training Plan? Get a 3 Month 100% Made for You Plan with Downloadable Workouts for Zwift + other training you do for $99 + HST (read more!)

How is your IT band? + Leg Pain

This is a new, updated version of an old post responding to the below question about IT-Band Pain. I have adjusted the content to be more general to leg pain common to cyclists and endurance athletes generally. 

It is OK to get Help! 

Try some of these modifications and ideas but it is rarely a bad idea to go see a local, trusted practitioner who has helped you or similarly athletic friends – this could be a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Osteopath, Massage Therapist, Kinesiologist or other practitioner. These sessions can provide some ideas for reducing pain now and progressing back to your sport gradually. The benefit of seeing someone is also in the psychological benefit of talking to someone about your concerns and perhaps having the benefits of touch generally.  

How Did It Start?

  • Consider things you have done that are in exceess of your usual or very different in terms of volume or intensity (ie. did you do a really long ride? or Lift really heavy weight?) 
  • Read: Are you Training to Much on the SmartAthlete Blog
  • Your Training Log can help (ie. Training Peaks? or something in one of those wearable watches?) 
  • Position? Did you change the position on your bike (and then do something listed above?) Be cautious with changes to your position / movement by reducing the volume/intensity. A New position, bike-part, whole bike, cleat/pedal setup (or old parts) can be part of the issue! 

Listen to Greg Lehman talk about pain science on the Consummate Athlete Podcast and how psycho/social aspects can influence our pain sensation

Rest – Sometimes We Don’t Need to do anything! 

  • While it is  tempting to roll, stretch, ice, get massage, get chiro, get supplements, get cremes, get braces … sometimes we just need rest and to leave that ‘hot’ area alone. 
  • Can you (have you) taken a few days to let your body recover? Often we can treat our pain and soreness with adequate rest. This can be a complete off day or even just a day (or three) where you do a different type of activity or movement (ie. swimming or pilates instead of cycling).
  • Move differently is a solution sometimes but complete rest (again) can be under-appreciated. Dr. Stuart McGill in his books (including ‘Back Mechanic’) discusses how surgery often ‘works’ because we are forced to take time off. If you have an ongoing/chronic issue consider a ‘fake surgery’ where you skip the scalpel and just take 2 weeks off before gradually easing back into your sport. 

Change Something

As a Registered Kinesiologist, I love the idea of foam rolling, stretching and movement but we need to be careful thinking we can spend enough time stretching each day to compensate for hunching over our desk, bike and dinner plate and also need to be careful thinking movement is the only thing that influences pain (ie. we may just need to rest and relax!). 

Sleep, Nutrition, Lifestyle factors (stress) can all influence our sensation of pain (read more about Greg Lehman’s ‘Cup’ Analogy)

Are you doing something in your daily life you could modify? This could be a nutrition, stress reduction techniques or more movement/posture oriented changes like a pillow between the knees or under the low back, or cruise control while driving or a walk at lunch to change up our routine, enhance digestion and reduce stress. 

‘Easy’ Habits

I like things we can do once and they are set. The Shoes we wear, beds we sleep in, seats we sit in, and options for movement we setup (ie. book into a class or lunch massage) are ways we might shift loads and stimuli we are exposed to each day without adding another thing we have to motivate ourselves to do each day. Many of my clients have pushed ‘walking meetings’ and phone calls to get outside and move more. Often the meetings seem to go better! 

Listen to Katy Bowman talk about how ‘movement matters’ On the Consummate Athlete Podcast. Those little movements each day can add up! 

Try to Add Variety into your day – while it is tempting to say ‘stop sitting’ this is very challenging for most of us (and frustrating!) Thinking of ways to sit differently and vary position is perhaps more workable. 


  • You can ice that ‘hot spot’ to reduce pain. This is not a long-term strategy but can reduce pain initially. 
  • You can roll above and below the area (or stretch/move those areas) … try to think above and below more then right ontop of the sore/painful area (give that spot a break!) Mobility Wod on Above/Below concept
  • Ensure your bike-fit is suitable. Generally, front of knee pain comes from a saddle that is low or too far forward. Back of knee pain from a seat that is too high or too far back. Mark your current position then make a small change and see if its better!
  • Try to avoid painful ranges/sports/movements for a few days and see if you can focus on moving in different ways. This might mean using a different bike (clueing you to a bike fit issue?) or a different sport like going for a walk, swimming, upper body strength etc.
  • Your Knee alignment in the movements you do *may* be a way to influence your pain. Hip and foot exercises can help enhance your athletism, which may then also influence the knee position. mobilitywod video discussing this knees out in stair climbing


If you do not have a local therapist, or you are visiting Collingwood, Ontario we can work together in person or consider a phone/skype consult. Booking is here. 


Subsribe to the Smart Athelete Newsletter LINK

Off-Season, Goals and Reflecting on the season

In the below episode of the Consummate Athlete Podcast we discuss how to come to terms with the end of your racing and training season when to take an off-season, off-week and what that means. We also hear from a couple of listeners who asked questions in previous episodes.

  • How do you choose what to do next year?
  • How did this season go?
  • What are the signs you need more or less off-season?
  • What is the Wide Angle Podium Donar Drive?


iTunes: RSS/Play Live/Google: DOWNLOAD  

New Indoor Cycling Studio – Toronto

**Note that I have no affiliation with this cycling studio but think they are doing a great job and this service may be of use to Smart Athlete clients and newsletter subscribers**

T Train Cycling Centre is a cycling studio in Leaside Toronto that offers group cycling classes that are power-based and coach-led for cyclists of all abilities.

SIGNUP for a Class

Weekly Classes:

  • Tuesday:  6-7:30am (Coach Tara) and 6:30-8pm (Coach Suzanne)
  • Wednesday:  6-7:30am (Coach Suzanne)
  • Thursday:  6-7:30am (Coach Tara) and 6:30-8pm (Coach Jessica)
  • Friday:  6-7:30am (Coach Tara and Coach Jessica)
  • Saturday:  7-9am (Coach Tara)
  • Sunday:  7-9am (Coach Suzanne and Coach Celeste)

Location: 4 Overlea Blvd, East York (Leaside), ON M4A 1A4


  • 90-minute drop-in:  $30 +HST
  • 2-hour weekend drop-in:  $35 +HST
  • 10-pack class (can be used for all classes):  $250 +HST
  • Limited bike storage:  $150 +HST/year (first come first serve basis)
  • Towel service included.
  • PLEASE BRING the appropriate trainer skewer – special ones are required for disc brake wheels, specific to your bike brand.

Sign up on Mindbody:

SIGNUP for a Class


Please email Tara at

Concussions in Cycling

Concussions have been interesting to me for several years for both personal and professional reasons. This article is meant to put together some of the learning I have had over the years, as well as more recently with enhanced concussion education in Ontario and through working through concussions with my coaching clients.

I have sustained many head injuries in my life but I have been fortunate not to experience symptoms beyond perhaps 24 hours at most. I do spend time wondering about long term consequences, given findings around frequent impacts and football.

Beyond my own head injuries, I interact with many cyclists and athletes each year through my coaching, skill sessions, training-camps, and races. It strikes me that more cyclists are experiencing these prolonged symptoms after a head injury (called post-concussion syndrome). It is possible we are all more aware of the risks of head injury or that we are seeing more participation at higher levels by people with existing risk factors for post-concussion syndrome. This interesting study from 1992 describes the condition and some of the controversy around it. These symptoms are quite debilitating and, while ‘invisible’ from the outside, can be life-changing for those affected and their loved ones.

Early foundations of position and pumping on a ‘beginner’ pump track that is straight, wide and regular in frequency and size at Joyride 150 in Markham Ontario.

I wrote this article in 2015 talking about things I felt like we might do to reduce crashes in general. I wrote about risk-taking and gradual exposure because I felt like some of the injuries (at the time and in my estimation) were happening in younger athletes, especially females, quite frequently. I surmised that these young athletes were being forced to catch up to the new, technical features on ‘Olympic cross country’ courses and that athletes and coaches were taking undue risks by rushing proper progression and not analyzing the risk: reward adequately.

What is a Concussion?

“A concussion is a brain injury that *can’t* be seen on x-rays, CT or MRI scans. It affects the way an athlete thinks and can cause a variety of symptoms.” (page 29 in the Canadian guidelines)



“Any blow to the head, face or neck, or somewhere else on the body that causes a sudden jarring of the head may cause a concussion. Examples include getting body-checked in hockey or hitting one’s head on the floor in gym class” (page 29 in the Canadian guidelines)

In cycling, we might suspect this with any dents, scrapes or dirt on the helmet and certainly with any injury to the face. Remembering that we do not need to hit the head but also might experience extreme forces (think whiplash or sudden stops) and so if there is a crash it is likely wise to stop training for the day.

What to Do If You Suspect a Head impact

Recognize and act – this is a quick guide to knowing when to call for an ambulance versus remove from play. The guide includes questions to ask and symptoms to watch for.

Follow these three steps if you — or someone you know — experiences a blow to the head, face, neck or body and you suspect a concussion. Call 911 if you are concerned the injury is life-threatening, such as the person is unconscious or they had a seizure.

1) Recognize signs and symptoms of a concussion and remove yourself or the athlete from the sport/physical activity, even if you feel OK or they insist they are OK.
2) Get yourself or the athlete checked out by a physician or nurse practitioner.
3) Support gradual return to school and sport.

Mistakes I keep seeing

In the last year when I have seen more males and masters aged clients getting concussions with lasting symptoms and it seems that with a very high frequency the following two overarching rules are not followed:

  1. Stop playing if you hit your head (or crash as per above). This may mean calling for a ride home or not finishing a race or group ride.
  2. Don’t do much, if anything, including work/screens/exercise in the  24 hours after the head impact. Don’t go ‘test’ your body/brain out in that period. It isn’t a bad idea to go to the doctor!

Return to Sport / Work

Essentially you have a 24-48 hour period of low to no symptoms with no activity (typically you would get medical clearance from a doctor), the first step, which is detailed in the below return to sport link, is to do some light activity around the home, if symptoms do not worsen in the next 24 hours then you might progress to something like indoor cycling for 10 min at a very light exertion (low recovery zone) and again wait 24 hours before progressing to the next level, which again will add volume, intensity or extra variables (other people, outdoors, offroad etc.)

When Recovery Takes Longer

Post Concussion Syndrome is when there are symptoms that persist for weeks, months and even years after the initial injury. Below is a quote from a client whom I coach who dealt with symptoms for several months after a concussion.

“I think that two of the lessons that I’ve learned that I would not have known before are that every concussion is unique. It’s unique between people […] So healing takes its own path and is not linear. That was very challenging to wrap my head around. Secondly, for many people the expectations need to change from days to weeks and months and sometimes even years. It’s easy to say these words, but living through the pace of healing is extremely frustrating and patience is so critical. “

Should you experience prolonged recovery it is worth asking (and asking again) about options to be assessed for neck musculature, vestibular/vision dysfunction and other possible causes/factors in a prolonged recovery. This can be missed if you are with a practitioner not familiar with the latest concussion protocols and strategies. (more here)

In Ontario, the concussion protocols have been formalized and mandated by the Ontario government. Anyone working with athletes under 25 likely needs to confirm their understanding of the protocol and submit a document to their sports organization. Really anyone in sport should review this up to date information on what a concussion is and how to deal with one when it happens both immediately and when symptoms persist. 

Thank you for reading!

Hopefully, this is a helpful compilation of links and summary of ideas, please let me know as this becomes outdated or if any information is not accurate!