Are You A Candidate For HRV Training?
By Erin Knight, FDN, Research Scientist, Health Engineer
Heart-rate variability (HRV), or the change in the time intervals between heartbeats, is easily measured at home and can help you decide to go hard at the gym today or to take it easy and focus on recovery.
HRV has been mathematically correlated to resilience and physical readiness and a number of companies are offering apps to help you quantify and interpret this relatively new piece of data.
Is HRV different from heart rate monitoring?
Yes, totally different. It is the same monitor (chest strap), but a different metric. Heart rate monitoring is used to measure cardiovascular exertion, while HRV is about the state of your nervous system.
The two angles that this biofeedback tool is usually presented for are:
- training yourself to achieve a desired state of calm and “centeredness” ideal for balancing stress hormones and entering a peak mental state (read more at www.heartmath.org)
- to monitor a daily HRV reading (after establishing a baseline) to see if you are ready to push yourself at the gym or pull back and focus on recovery (see elite athletes talk about how they use daily HRV monitoring)
Now the question is, Will YOU benefit?
You will love using heart-rate variability measurements to guide exercise if you are someone who:
- wants to optimize recovery but feel guilty when you don’t stick to a strict training regimen
- has had adrenal fatigue in the past and don’t want to relapse
- likes quantified data on the results of your lifestyle (i.e. does having two glasses of wine at book club change my ability to run fast the next day?)
- is a go-getter who doesn’t necessarily “listen to your body” very well
I have been there…
A few years ago, I was training for my third half-marathon and come hell or high water, I would complete or exceed my training plan. Although I met my time goal for the race, I was setting the stage for a major leg injury that happened only a week after the race and plagued me for two years despite thousands of dollars and months of treatments. Combined with some crazy work-stress, pushing myself past my physical limits sent me spiraling into exhaustive adrenal fatigue shortly thereafter.
Am I proud of my race? Yes. Was pushing myself past my limits worth two years of chronic pain and fatigue? Uh, no. But hearing my story probably isn’t going to convince you to pace yourself. Sometimes we have to learn this for ourselves and if you are still reading this, you may have already had a similar experience where “pushing through it” and “giving it 110%” left you hurting and wondering if you should even get back in the game.
For those eager beavers who can’t wait to get back in the gym or who are really ready to go back but are just a little uncertain about getting into trouble again, I always recommend giving HRV monitoring a shot. My clients recovering from adrenal fatigue or injuries say that it gives them peace of mind to use HRV to guide their workouts.
So how to get started?
Once you have picked up an app and compatible heart-rate monitor, you will start by gathering your baseline for about a week. (Need an app? Take a look at BioForce, SweetWater or Myi
By closely monitoring HRV, elite athletes like swimmer Georgina Gardner Stockley and rower Shay Seager adjust intensity and frequency to get the adaptive benefits of workouts without damaging their bodies.
The BioForce model comes with a book with more explanation and instructions on how to modify training based on the results.
You may also start to optimize the lifestyle factors that impact readiness like hydration, sleep, eating right for your metabolic type, alcohol and sugar consumption, and stress management. Instead of just feeling a little groggy or slow the next day, you will be able to see a measurable drop in HRV when you have a little bit too much fun the night before. Noticing an extended period of low HRV can help you tune in to sources of stress before they become bigger issues.
Curious? Going to give it a shot?
Let us know on the Facebook Community and maybe find an accountability partner or two.
Already a fan of HRV based training?
Share your experience in the comments below!!
About the Author
Erin Knight is a Health Engineer who helps high performers eliminate hidden sources of chronic stress to optimize mental and physical states. Erin has a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan and is trained in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition™ and nutrigenomics. She shares tips for achieving radiant health through online classes and her blog.