Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is gaining more traction as a training tool to measure the impact of stress on the system and the tools to measure it are becoming easier to access and user-friendly. There are now apps that use the camera on your phone that can give you a guide in as little as two minutes! That and the validity of research using short-term HRV monitoring as a strong predictor of increased all-cause cardiac and arrhythmic mortality  lend strength to using such Apps.
Great question. Hang on, hang on, Chaddy, what is HRV? Analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) is a reliable and reproducible technique for assessing the autonomic branch of the nervous system . It is the measurement of the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval .
Change a low HRV
So now you’re asking, “all that info is great, but what can I do to change low HRV?” Another great question. I want to show you some examples, including a personal example.
To learn WHILE improving my performance, I started using the HRV4 Training Coach App. This app provides vital information about my Heart Rate Variability, whether within my normal range or OUTSIDE, and tells me how much intensity I can put into my system. Here’s how to use it:
We’ll break down app usage in three steps: (source: http://www.hrv4training.com/quickstart-guide.html)
- Measurement & Tags: Take an HRV test each day right after waking up. This value will contribute to your baseline. After each measurement, you will be prompted with a short questionnaire that will help contextualise your measurements and make sense of your data. Try to be consistent and follow the same monitoring routine. If you do get out of bed before taking your test, make sure you are again well rested (e.g. relax for a few minutes).
- Daily advice: Changes in HRV on consecutive days and with respect to your baseline will be analysed to determine possible periods of higher physiological stress. The daily advice can be used to understand how much stress your body is under and make daily adjustments to your training accordingly.
- Insights: When you start accumulating weeks and months of data, advanced features will automatically unlock, providing you with much more insights on the relations between training intensity, recovery and performance. Make sure to fill in your tags after each measurement, and all the information will be processed to provide more accurate assessment of physical condition.
When my HRV is LOW, my body is telling the app, and the app is telling me not to do high-intensity stuff! (And yes, I do listen!) I find the Insights extremely useful when deciding how to train each day.
Techniques to improve Heart Rate Variability
This valuable information allows me to use the tools and principles I’ve been researching and using recently and gauge their effectiveness.
- A cold shower (a great place to learn some of the benefits of cold therapy can be found at the Wim Hof website),
- A skin brush (yep, just like brushing a horse, visit here for a good read on the benefits), and
- 10 minutes of guided meditation (so much research has been done on the benefits of meditation. If you’re not doing it yet, find a way to start), with the help of another App.
After using three strategies I was able to improve my HRV. Because my lifestyle factors are trending negatively, I am still being asked to limit intensity, but the numbers have improved. Thus, I have reduced my systemic stress and therefore my chances of increased all-cause cardiac and arrhythmic mortality. PHEW! That’s a good thing right!
The Apps I have mentioned are:
HRV – HRV4Training
Meditation – Calm
HRV is something you can easily and quickly measure, and it will guide you on how hard you should push or not push (is that the question?) yourself on any given day! Once you’ve experienced this yourself, you will be in a much better place to empower and coach your clients on understanding and improving their HRV leading to less injury and better results.
- Sztajzel, Juan. “Heart rate variability: a noninvasive electrocardiographic method to measure the autonomic nervous system.”Swiss medical weekly134 (2004): 514-522.
- Nolan, James, et al. “Prospective study of heart rate variability and mortality in chronic heart failure.”Circulation 15 (1998): 1510-1516.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate_variability. As at 231538June2017.