Your address will show here +12 34 56 78
Recovery, Training

A while ago while researching different topics on training stress, fatigue and recovery, I stumbled across HRV  (Heart Rate Variability) and how it is used to enhance athletic performance. This got my attention and I wanted to find out more about it.

When it comes to recovery, most athletes know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to improve fitness and performance, still many of us over train and feel guilty when taking a day off. Rest is as important as training and necessary so that the muscles can repair and strengthen. If that part is neglected, continuous training can actually weaken the athlete. Not what we really want right.

Coaches tell us to listen to our body, check our RHR (Resting Heart Rate) to decide when it’s necessary to take a day off or skip a session. We have training plans which incorporate easy workouts and recovery days to avoid over training. That’s all good and important but in the end it is an individual decision when recovery is needed. For example there are genetic factors, age, gender and baseline fitness which are determinants of individual differences. That makes it difficult to draw a general approach to recovery. I have often wondered when I felt a bit flat, if it’s fatigue or just a lack of motivation. To get optimal adaptions from your training, fatigue is an important aspect that needs to be considered.

Hence I was looking into something more reliable, a method or tool that gives me more insight into my body and how it reacts to training. I was looking for a way to control my training load in a better way in order to achieve better outcomes! That’s when I learned more about the power of HRV.

So what is HRV?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate_variability

From a fitness standpoint, we know that the heart rate increases when we exercise, because the heart needs to pump faster to deliver oxygen to our muscles. The autonomic nervous system plays a role in speeding up and slowing down HR. There are basically two branches to the ANS that influences heart rate:

  • Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
    speeds up the heart rate
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
    responsible for slowing the heart rate

SNS is often referred to “Fight or Flight”, and PNS to “Rest and Repair”. These 2 branches can now be measured using HRV analysis and permit insight into this control mechanism.The way I see it, these 2 components need to work well together, we need the SNS to accelerate and PNS to break, like with a car. If these two are not in balance or working properly we run into problems.

I have added some links at the bottom of the post if you are interested in the science behind it in more depth. I am no expert by any means in this field but find the science behind it incredibly interesting. Nowadays modern technology offers us an easy and very convenient way to measure HRV.

What do you need to measure your own HRV?

It’s actually quite, we can use an app on our smart phones to do that.There are huge number of different apps available that you can choose from. I personally use the Sweet Beat HRV app on my iPhone (it’s not a free app but can be purchased for $9.99, sorry only for iPhone). Other apps which I personally haven’t used are e.g. iThleteBioForce HRV, HRV beta, Elite HRV

The other equipment you need is a heart rate monitor that is Bluetooth compatible. Here is a list of compatible devices. I currently use the Polar H7 monitor.

How to measure your daily HRV

There are a few important variables measuring your HRV such as: Time of the day, movement, mood, food and sleep. I measure my HRV at the same time every day to get more useful results over a longer period of time. It’s right after I wake up. So my usual routine looks like this.

  1. After I wake up I put my heart rate monitor on
  2. I lay down on my back and start the app
  3. I breathe normally in and out through my nose and let the app run. I keep my eyes shut and concentrate on my breathing
  4. The app will run for about 3 minutes. Once it’s finished you can check your numbers on the screen. The higher the HRV score the better it is.

It will take a few days of measuring until the numbers make sense and will be more meaningful. I add my HRV numbers into my training plan to be able to compare and find correlations between my workout days.

Lately I have experimented a little bit to see if I can increase my HRV. The following things seem to help improving it

  1. Meditation and Yoga – Measuring HRV after a yoga or mediation session has a positive effect. Especially on the Parasympathetic Nervous System
  2. Cold Showers – Straight out of bed and into the shower. Shower with cold water for a few minutes, go back to bed and measure. I was surprised how much my HRV improves by taking ice cold showers.

Here are a few screenshots of some of my HRV readings with an explanation beneath:

image1image3

image2

image4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screenshot #1 – This shows the HRV, Heart Rate and Stress level over a period of time. (blue line = HRV, orange = Stress level, green = HR)

Screenshot #2 – These are the power frequency readings (SNS, PNS) over a period of time. This was during the lead up to a big race. As the chart shows, in the last week which was the race week, my power readings sky rocketed. That is a good indicator that I was fully rested and recovered come race day.

Screenshot #3 – HRV reading a day before a big race. Both LF, which is the power frequency of my Sympathetic Nervous system and HF which represents the Parasympathetic Nervous System  are well balanced. The LF/HF ratio is almost 1, which is a good indicator that your nervous system is well balanced. HRV score is 97 which is a very high score for me.

Screenshot #4 – Compared to the reading in the previous screenshot, this one clearly indicates that I am in a fatigue state. Both LF and HF are low and more importantly the ratio LF/HF is way out of balance. HRV is 68 which is quite low. I had low HRV readings for 2 days in a row and the app suggested to take a day off to recover. Even though my heart rate is in normal range which would not raise a concern by itself. Most likely I would have continued training if I just considered my HR but looking at the HRV it’s a clear sign to take some rest and recover.

Conclusion

It’s really interesting to see how sleep, food, stress and training can affect your heart rate variability and your overall fatigue level. In my opinion recovery is a crucial component in endurance sports and thanks to modern technology it’s very easy and affordable to measure it. So why not making use of it?! It’s a relatively simple measure that you can use to tract how well you are recovering. It helps you to prevent over training, reduces your risk of getting sick and in the long run makes you are stronger, healthier and fitter athlete.


 

References

Further articles to read

0

TRI Holistic Free Newsletter
Sign up now to get the latest news delivered to you
We respect your privacy.