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A Beginner’s Guide to Recovery, Part 3: Heart Rate Variability as a Guide

August 11, 2018

 Last fall, I wrote a little bit about using heart rate variability (HRV) after having seen it on Tom Bell’s blog. Read that original post from Tom, here.

 

Now that I have been using HRV and the EliteHRV app for quite awhile, I figured this was a great time to discuss its benefits to the athlete committed to proper recovery. 

 

What is HRV?

HRV is a measure of the variability between heart beats or how consistent your heart beats are if you will. Your HRV reading gives insight into the nervous system and measures how much stress your body is under, whether from training or "the real world." Instead of only measuring beats per minute, the EliteHRV app claims that it looks at the "changes in time between successive heart beats."

 

By getting a baseline reading and then measuring each morning throughout your training cycle, you can get an idea of the stresses your body is under due to training, all other stresses considered. This will give you an idea of how much workout stress you are ready to undertake later that day. Sounds good, huh?

 

Taking an HRV Reading

Using a heart rate strap and smartphone or tablet, you can use EliteHRV to measure the HRV. Not all heart rate straps are supported, but if you have a Polar, Wahoo TICKR, or Garmin strap you are probably okay. Check with the app support page to see if your strap will work.

 

Be forewarned that most armbands and watches that use LEDs do not work well for HRV readings, like my otherwise awesome Scosche Rhythm Plus. I take my reading every morning as recommended, and the thing that stinks is actually the chest strap! It is a true bummer that the arm strap doesn’t work well for HRV. I try to keep my TICKR clean and funk free, but it is on me lots of times when I am sweating profusely. Since I use the iPhone, I need a Bluetooth compatible strap, and I really cannot afford another one just for “clean” usage for HRV in the morning when often I take a reading before work. 

 

So how does it work and what does it do?

Every day, I take a seated two and a half-minute reading. The app then gives me a score from 1-10. This is the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Here is how the EliteHRV site explains the score (I couldn't really explain any simpler, so I will just paste this in).

 

What Do HRV Scores Mean?
Higher resting-state HRV scores signify the ability of the body to activate the Parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” response. Higher heart rate variability is correlated with:

  • Increased fitness level

  • Better health