Sports teams and athletes around the world spend millions each year trying to gain an advantage over each other. The difference between winning and losing can come down to milliseconds in sport and everyone is looking for the next big innovation or piece of equipment to help them win. But what if your body was already providing you with all the information and you just couldn’t hear it. What if your body could tell you when to train hard or when to back off, when to sleep more or when to bounce from the bed and hit the gym. Your heart rate variability may be the sign your body is trying to give you that you just haven’t heard….yet!
HRV, or Heart rate variability, is a measure of the variance in time between each of your heart beats. HRV is regulated by your autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is one of the bodies most important unconscious systems. The ANS helps regulate many of the main functions of the body such as heart rate, digestion, breathing and even levels of sexual arousal. By measuring HRV it may be possible for us to understand how well our ANS is working and what effects that may have on our body.
With the world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, tracking your own health markers and doing what you can to remain fit and healthy has never felt more relevant for every one of us. Overtraining has been shown to have a negative impact on overall health and can lower the effectiveness of a person’s immune system, making it more important now than ever to listen to the silent clues your body is giving you about your current health status.
It is generally accepted that the higher your HRV, on any given day, the more ready you are to take on high levels of strain such as a tough workout or endurance event. HRV rate can vary massively between people and the key is to find your average and use this number as an indicator of whether you are well recovered or not. A low HRV will often indicate that you will not be able to perform optimally or that your risk of injury could potentially be increased.
HRV can be affected by many different factors. Your base rate will naturally decrease with age and people will normally see a peak in HRV during their late teens or early twenties. Other factors which have been shown to affect your HRV reading include:
- Training load
- Hydration status
Thanks to advancements in fitness and health tracking, it is now possible to track your HRV rate on a range of devices. Wearable straps such as the Whoop band are popular with elite sportsman such as Rory Mcilroy, Lebron James and Michael Phelps and allow you to automatically track your HRV. Other popular brands such as EliteHRV and Polar also have apps that will allow you to record your HRV at any given time of day.
How can you improve your HRV rate?
Don’t over train – Use your HRV reading as a way to adapt your training load for that day
Stay hydrated through the day – If you wait until you’re thirsty then your body is probably already dehydrated
Focus on sleep – not all sleep is created equal. Excess screen time, room temperature and light levels are just a few of the things that could be stopping you fall into those important REM and deep wave sleep cycles
Avoid Alcohol – Alcohol will not only affect your recovery the next day but has been shown to have an effect on performance for up to 5 days after consumption
Limit stress – The world can be a stressful place. Try to reduce stress by doing something you enjoy at least once a day. Regular meditation, mindfulness and yoga have all been shown to help increase HRV rates
Have a routine – Your body loves routine. Try to get to bed and wake up at consistent times throughout the week to have a positive impact on your HRV rate and your performance the next day
The use of heart rate variability tracking as a performance enhancement tool is a relatively new field and the science and use of the data is constantly evolving. A low HRV reading may be a sign your body is over stressed either through excess exercise, under-recovery or the onset of a new illness or infection. By using the information we obtain from these affordable health tracking devices we can all have a positive impact on our own health and fitness.
Written by Tom Ward - Director of Training