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Using Heart Rate Variability

A few weeks back, I came across an intriguing vlog post on YouTube by Tom Bell. Tom is a mountain biker and coach who I feel has a lot of great stuff to share on his channel. This post on heart rate variability was a concept totally new to me, and I decided that I would give it a try.

Using a basic heart strap and your smart phone paired to a mobile app (I use Elite HRV) you can measure your heart rate variability. HRV is a look into the space between beats, and it is touted as being a good predictor of your ability to train hard on a given day. It requires that you take a morning HRV reading.

Like tracking fatigue in Training Peaks or Strava Premium, I was curious and started taking daily readings. Over the past few weeks, the program would indicate how ready I would be to train hard that day. The test takes about 2:30 minutes, but seems to work quite well.

Last week, I had several days off with the start of a new school year, and missed riding four days in a row. This break was probably the longest gap in my riding schedule all year. I took my reading, and it indicated that I should focus on rest or active recovery. What? I should be well rested after four days off I figured. I cannot skip a Saturday ride, especially with the great fall weather we were witnessing.

When I got out on the cyclocross bike later that day, I just could not seem to lay down any consistent power over the course of the hour that I was out. I don't think this was really a placebo affect as I was not really thinking about that morning's reading when I got out on the bike. I felt like crap the whole time.

On Sunday, I took my morning reading, and it indicated that I should be able to train very hard. Sure enough, I killed it on the 45 mile coffee shop ride with a group of friends shortly after. Maybe this app is onto something?

Now, I would not skip a ride or a race due to the app telling me to rest, but I am a little more than interested in tracking this over time and comparing it to the fatigue scores I see in the other apps I use. I know that over the course of the last two weeks I have found the Elite HRV app to be a good predictor of my ride outcome. Doing hard workouts has been tough at times when the morning HRV score is low, and profoundly easier when the HRV scores have been high.

Give the app a shot, and let me know what you think. Most people have a strap already, so why not look into it? Also, check out Tom's channel for lots of great cycling information and advice.

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