Faster heart-rate recovery (HRR) after high to maximal exercise (≥90% of maximal heart rate) has been reported in athletes suspected of functional overreaching (f-OR). This study investigated whether this response would also occur at lower exercise intensity.
Responses of HRR and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were compared during an incremental intermittent running protocol to exhaustion in 20 experienced male triathletes (8 control subjects and 13 overload subjects led to f-OR) before and immediately after an overload training period and after a 1-wk taper.
Both groups demonstrated an increase in HRR values immediately after the training period, but this change was very likely to almost certainly larger in the f-OR group at all running intensities (large to very large differences, eg, +16 ± 7 vs +3 ± 5 beats/min, in the f-OR and control groups at 11 km/h, respectively). The highest between-groups differences in changes in HRR were reported at 11 km/h (13 ± 4 beats/min) and 12 km/h (10 ± 6 beats/min). A concomitant increase in RPE at all intensities was reported only in the f-OR group (large to extremely large differences, +2.1 ± 1.5 to +0.7 ± 1.5 arbitrary units).
These findings confirm that faster HRR does not systematically predict better physical performance. However, when interpreted in the context of the athletes’ fatigue state and training phase, HRR after submaximal exercise may be more discriminant than HRR measures taken after maximal exercise for monitoring f-OR. These findings may be applied in practice by regularly assessing HRR after submaximal exercise (ie, warm-up) for monitoring endurance athletes’ responses to training.