Training Tuesday: training with heart rate variability (HRV)

[For some reason this scheduled post didn’t post on Tuesday so I’m manually reposting it day late. Selah.]

Normally, I’m not a big podcast listener because I (thankfully) don’t spend much time in the car, and I find having people talking in the background while I work distracting. However, working on the Office 365 Exposed podcast with Tony has helped me see that lots of people do like them, and that I might be missing out, so I’ve expanded my listening a bit. When I found that my coaching team at Complete Human Performance had a podcast, I subscribed. The most recent episode was with Dr. Mike T. Nelson, and he was discussing something called HRV (heart rate variability). It was a fascinating topic so I want to try to summarize what I (think I) learned:

  • HRV refers to the variance in the amount of time between heartbeats (not your heart rate itself)
  • It’s calculated based on heart rate measurements, from an EKG or other methods.
  • The most commonly used scale gives you a rating from 1-100.
  • You want your HRV to be high. A low HRV is generally a bad sign, and may in some cases even indicate impending heart problems.
  • The trend of your HRV is a useful indicator of fatigue, stress, and so on.
  • People who have low HRV values after heart surgery tend to have worse outcomes

Tracking HRV is especially useful for endurance athletes because it gives you a data point showing the total amount of stress that your cardiovascular system has been under. Mike Nelson, in the podcast, said that you should think of HRV as reflecting the cost of everything you do. Exercise, diet, rest, job stress, and personal stress all add to this cost. Factoring all those in, and measuring your HRV daily, you should be able to intensify or ease your workouts to keep your day-to-day HRV in the desired range.

“You can measure HRV with an app,” he said, so I did– I paused the podcast, grabbed the iThlete app, read its instructions, and took a reading. Mid-50s.

Nelson went on to outline a number of strategies for adjusting training to take HRV data into account– you want to get the most effective training possible, while still not having a long-term negative impact on HRV. I’m not doing that yet because you need a solid baseline of data to see what your “normal” HRV is. Mine looks like it’s hovering around 60ish. I don’t know enough to know if that’s good, bad, or what considering my age and physical condition, and I don’t yet understand the relationship (if any) between my resting heart rate and my HRV. I’ll keep an eye on it for another month or so and then start considering, in consultation with my coaches, what, if anything, I should use it for besides another nerdy data point.



Filed under Fitness

4 responses to “Training Tuesday: training with heart rate variability (HRV)

  1. John Grant

    Paul, your post prompted me to search a bit more on HRV. The Wikipedia article is surprisingly detailed and indicates a great deal of scientific interest in all aspects of heart rhythm. As I read this, I was reminded of work I did a number of years ago at Wyle Laboratories with Dr. Jen-Yi Jong. Jen is a world class signal processing expert and now the CEO of ASRI (Artificial intelligence Signal Research) here in Huntsville. He is an amazing guy and I’d be surprised if he was not familiar with work being done in this field.

    • robichaux

      Thanks, John– that’s really interesting. As with so many other things we now take for granted, HRV has its roots in the early days of space exploration, so it’s no surprise to find that there are some Huntsville connections.

  2. I’m also tracking HRV, with an iPhone app and also Garmin (via the chest heart rate).

    What’s not clear is HRV-based training vs heart rate-based training.

    Higher HRV means higher intensity trainings or races are possible.

    However, I also understand lower resting heart rate also indicate a higher tolerance to high intensity trainings. For example, if I see on my Garmin Fenix 3 that my resting heart rate is 5bpm lower than usual, that means I can run or bike faster or longer than usual. If I see that’s it’s on the high side, it’s a sign that I should rest and take it easy today.

    How do you manage the two together? Is HRV-based training better than HR-based training?

    • robichaux

      Those are good questions. I’m not trying to base my training on either HR or HRV right now; I’m just monitoring HRV to see what happens and how my training affects it.

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