The more I’m researching about training for your athletes, the more excited I get about the information that is out there for them.  I’ve recently stumbled across something that I had heard about, but really knew very little about it.

It is Heart Rate Variability or HRV for short.

What is Heart Rate Variability?

HRV can be described simply like this.  Your heart beats at X amount of times per minute.  The time between each beat is not necessarily the same.  There is an irregularity to it.  That is HRV.

HRV is controlled by the nervous system specifically the autonomic nervous system (ANS).  There are divisions of ANS – the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (relaxation).  The demands of these two nervous systems cause the irregularity in the heart rates, thus creating HRV.

When these two systems are working together and in harmony, you can have a very high HRV number.   When one is dominating more than the other, the HRV has a more consistent heart rate and the number is lower.

For example, if a bear is chasing you, the sympathetic takes control to get you out of the situation.  But, other factors can tip the scales to one system being more dominant than the other – stress, illness, fatigue, or pain to name a few.

HRV can vary among individuals based on age, gender, fitness, health, and other factors.  Really, you are comparing your HRV with yourself over a long haul.  If you look back on the previous 7 days of HRV data and notice a dip in your HRV, one day could be an anomaly.  A few consistent days might mean something is happening to your body you need to be aware of.

How can knowing your HRV help your athlete?

By understanding what your HRV is typically like you can determine several things in regards to the training of your athlete:

  • If in the above example, it does dip consistently over the course of a few days below your average, your athlete might be getting sick or being overtrained.
  • If you were to see that dip, you would then know you might want to back off high intense training and get some more rest until the HRV comes back to the normal level it showed prior to the dip.
  • Rather than guessing when to increase the intensity, you now have more data to go by to determine definitively when to increase the intensity because you know the athlete is feeling fresh.
  • One study recently released findings that when you base workouts on one’s HRV adjusting to when HRV levels are at the baseline or above, you get much better performance results then when you just have preplanned workouts with no regard to HRV.

How to monitor HRV?

I recently wrote an article about the WHOOP band, but I think it is a very reliable piece of equipment to determine HRV.

There are other devices, but none of them you have on your body as much as this WHOOP band which can take all the data it records and really pinpoint with fairly good accuracy what your HRV is.

At some point, I will be putting this into my programs.  I’ll keep you posted how it turns out, but I think this is the next big thing for data geeks like me.