Q & A: My smart watch says I’m “not ready” to train today? Should I skip my workout?
A: This is a timely question. The CDC recently put out a statement warning that Americans are exercising and moving too much. “This excessive exercise is going to dissolve the very fabric of America with sweat. We need to stop moving and start sitting more.” says Dr. En Fawkes of the CDC
Since I tend to be subtle, the above was sarcasm, and “En Fawkes” is an anagram for “Fake News.” LOLs. The point is that the last thing that anyone needs is yet another authority figure telling us to skip workouts while also admonishing us for not moving enough. In this case the authority figure is our smart watch, but our doctors also like to chastise us for not getting enough exercise, but also tell us to skip exercise if we don’t feel perfect.
What Is A “Readiness Score”?
Theoretically it is your watch using “data” to tell you if you should exercise today.* The readiness score is mostly based on (1) your average activity levels and (2) heart rate variability (HRV).
*I have a fool proof, low tech screen for “should I exercise today?” You just answer one question: did I wake up today? If yes, then workout (or move as much as possible). Not all days are the same. I had a horrible IBS attack on vacation, so the maximum movement I could do was running to the bathroom (and was still running in the bathroom), hunting for toilet paper, and doing the pinched-cheeks-shuffle to a show with my kids because I promised I’d make it.
(1) Average activity levels. If you sit at work, or travel a lot it is going to be difficult to avoid having a low step count, or to avoid having very few “zone minutes.” Zone minutes being how many minutes per day your heart rate is elevated.
If you exceed your average step count or zone minutes today, then your watch will tell you to avoid exercise and be more sedentary tomorrow. How does this help anyone with their health and fitness?
(2) HRV is a fashionable metric. HRV is supposed to be a window into something called our autonomic nervous system (ANS), and, more specifically to reflect the balance between the GSD (get shit done) and RaD (rest and digest) sides of your ANS. Your device will use an HRV measurement that it takes once a day, and will assume that this snapshot is a good reflection of your whole day. Let’s just assume all of this is 100% correct.
Word on the street, and what your watch repeats is that a low HRV means you should not exercise today, and that you should “take it easy” (be sedentary) until your HRV goes back up. Nonsense. In sedentary adults all kinds of exercise improve HRV scores, and the more minutes done and the higher the intensity the more the exercise improves your HRV. What you should really do with your “readiness score” is know the lower is it is the more important it is for you to workout today.
Back In The Day…
The first company with an HRV and readiness score system that cost <$10,000 was Omegawave back in 2010-ish. A bunch of big names in the industry hyped it up and I spent a bunch of money I didn’t have to get one. Their system was based on red, yellow and green. Red = don’t train today, Yellow = do recovery work, Green = train hard.
Quick aside: at this point in my life I worked 80+ hours a week, slept 4-5 hours per night, and most of my day was the office work of managing a large personal training studio… I was too fat for my body and my blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting glucose all reflected this.
Day 1 I was red, so I skipped my workout. It didn’t take too much convincing because I was always exhausted. Day 2, still red. Day 3, red. Day 4. Red. Again? WTF?!? My wife let me know that I was being more than a bit of an asshole and that I needed to workout, so I took a “risk” and did a half-assed workout at a level of effort that I would never, ever accept from a client. I re-did the Omegawave afterwards and I saw yellow for the first time. Huh.
Day 5 I was red yet again. I did a real workout with actual effort, cursing and sweating. I re-did the test and I saw green for the first time.
In effect, what the omegawave HRV and readiness score was telling me was what I already knew: I felt like shit, and needed more sleep; but it was also giving me counterproductive advice – skip exercise, which was the only thing that helped me not feel like crap all day.
If you woke up today, then you are ready.