TdF Mountain Stages – HRV was 23.9ms lower – WHOOP

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Revolutionizing Research: How Wearables are Transforming Endurance Sports

Tracking biometric changes during gruelling elite endurance events is a challenge for researchers made even more challenging if both performance and recovery are being analysed.

For the first time, TdF riders from two women’s teams and one men’s team wore WHOOP for the duration of these races in a study jointly by WHOOP and Central Queensland University (CQU). The wearable technology provided continuous data on sleep duration, sleep staging, strain, heart rate, and heart rate variability.

More: Detailed WHOOP Review

The Challenges of the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes

The Tour de France, a 21-stage cycling race held in July, spans over 2,000 miles in three weeks, featuring mountainous terrain, hilly countryside, and winding city streets. The shorter Tour de France Femmes covers 642 miles over 8 stages

Professional cyclists in these races endure extreme cardiovascular loads and restricted recovery opportunities between stages. Despite the rigorous demands of the tour, athletes wearing WHOOP averaged an additional hour of sleep each night compared to the general population.

Comparing Professional Cyclists to WHOOP Members

To comprehend the efforts exerted during the tours, researchers examined the strain experienced by average WHOOP members aged 20-29 when engaging in similar cycling rides. Although WHOOP does have some novice athletes and elite athletes, its user base still represents a much fitter-than-average group of people. The comparison revealed that female cyclists recorded an average strain of 19.7 and male cyclists an 18.3 strain during stages that lasted around 110 miles and approximately 4.5 to 5 hours. In contrast, WHOOP members completing similar distances averaged a strain of 17.4, requiring around 6.5 hours.

Stages and Their Impact on Cyclists

Fatigue during the tour would be expected to elevate resting heart rate and reduce heart rate variability yet this study observed minimal changes in HRV and RHR for both groups of cyclists. On reflection, perhaps this was to be expected as the athletes are peak human specimens who should be able to handle the extreme rigours of The Tour. After all, HRV is a measure of how we are coping.

Male cyclists experienced 23.9ms lower HRV on days following mountain stages compared to the days following the rest days

The study also aimed to explore how different stage types may affect riders differently. While individual riders may specialize in climbing or speed, the overall impact on the Team as a whole was examined during four main stage classifications: flat, hilly, mountainous, and individual time trials. Male cyclists experienced 23.9ms lower HRV on days following mountain stages compared to the days following the rest days. In contrast, female cyclists saw a higher percentage of light sleep (+11.4%) after mountain stages, suggesting less restful sleep.

Additionally, the study found that day strain was lowest for individual time trials and flat stages, increasing as stages became hilly and then more so as they became mountainous.

Takeout

To me, this kind of study demonstrates the need for recreational athletes to better understand how they cope with exercise stress and how they recover. You and I could perhaps both relatively easily knock out a fast 100-mile ride and we would probably both have the sense to rest the next day. Whilst we could train the following day, have our bodies really handled the exercise-induced stress? Depending on our physiologies some of us, like the TdF riders, may well soon be ready to go. Yet perhaps many more of us will feel ready to go when our bodies are not adequately recovered. That’s where recovery tech from the likes of WHOOP, HRV4Training, Garmin, Athlytic and Polar can help. Proper HRV tools sometimes know you better than you do.

The pros have obviously figured out the importance of sleep. But you and I may well have a day job or a social life that gets in the way of optimal sleep but perhaps we should look at getting more sleep and better quality of sleep to shorten our recovery times. Simple sleep hygiene helps – like avoiding late meals and caffeine and sleeping in a cooler, dark and quiet room but tech like the Eight Sleep bed pod can also help regulate the temperature conditions in your bed and during each sleep cycle.

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