Heart Rate Variability. What is it and why measure?

Heart rate Variability (HRV) is one of the most talked about monitoring tools for athletes, but what is it and who else can benefit from using this evolving technology?

Originally used in critical monitoring situations in hospitals and aerospace, heart rate variability (HRV) analysis is a sensitive measure. When used with care, it can provide valuable insights on how well your body is coping with the physical stress (TSS) as well as emotional stress placed upon it. HRV is of particular interest to 2 groups of people. Firstly athletes, who are prone to injury, illness and fatigue as their training stress and load increases. The second group are those who struggle with their energy levels and maybe are affected by a condition such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue or M.E. HRV measurement has now become increasingly popular thanks to freely available and easy to use apps and sensors.


So what is HRV? Heart rate variability is less concerned with your resting pulse rate (how many times your heart beats in a minute when at rest) but more to do with the variation / irregular nature of the spaces in between heart beats when you are at rest. The more variability there is between heart beats; the higher your HRV. In general, after doing a 7 day baseline test, the higher your HRV is the better, as it indicates good recovery and adaption to stress. Lower HRV than normal can indicate fatigue and can flag up an increased likelihood of illness or injury.


From an athletes perspective, I have found this tool easy to use and invaluable in monitoring adaption to training. Like many who are committed to a plan, it is sometimes tempting to push through a hard training day when you feel below par. Differentiating why you feel below par is tricky. If it’s due to a drop in motivation, then it’s crucial to stick to the plan. If however, you feel less than enthusiastic because you haven’t recovered fully, its important you listen to your body and ease off. This is what HRV can help you do. It brings some objectivity to what would otherwise be a subjective feeling.


Certain HRV apps on your smartphone also link up with ‘Training Peaks’ so if you share data with your coach, they can monitor recovery too. The only app I have used is ‘HRV4Training’. I am on an android phone and using the flashlight as a sensor was time consuming and erratic. The flashlight also got really hot and burnt my finger!! Using my Polar chest strap however has been straight forward and I assume, highly accurate.


Combining daily use of HRV info in conjunction with supporting my immune system with a daily shot of Aloe Vera, has meant I have experienced 2 years of training  without any lost training days for either illness or injury. Well over two thirds of this period has been based around a program that demanded 2 sessions per day so I have been impressed at how well this combination has served me.

No injury or illness means consistent training. Consistent training means progress. Progress equals results!

For more information on HRV, follow the link to an article from Training Peaks. It gives an overview and discusses all the main influencing factors, including exercise, that affect your recovery and therefore your HRV. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/how-to-use-hrv-training-to-identify-weaknesses/


For an in-depth explanation of use for athletes, this is a great resource. https://elitehrv.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/User-Guide-2015-10-03.pdf

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