Heart Rate Variability, a new number to geek out over…

I have a new tool toy to geek out on in my running arsenal!  I’ve been listening to a few podcasts, and reading articles on HRV, or Heart Rate Variability.  I had never even heard of HRV until a month or so ago, but in the reading I’ve done, it sounds like an awesome tool to use in my training.  

I’ve only been using my HRV monitor for a few days now, but Lori has been doing it for a few weeks longer.  Just as I was starting to write this post, she send me an email with a post of her own, so since she’s been at it longer, and has some good experience, I thought I’d share it with you all!

For anyone that has ever gotten burned out or injured heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring may be for you. The body sees life stress and the stress of training the same way – as stress. I learned that the hard way this last spring/summer when training for a marathon, working 50+ hours a week and trying to be the world’s ok-ist mom all collided and I ended up injured. I knew there were runs I shouldn’t have done, days I should have rested, but it’s hard to miss a run when it’s your solace and stress relief. Even harder when you have a training plan that almost feels written in stone.

As a solution to my running problem I invested about 80$ in a heart rate monitor that communicates through Bluetooth to my iPhone and has ANT+ capability to work with my Garmin. Another 10$ on iTunes for the SweetBeat Life app and I now have an unbiased, objective way of measuring my recovery and stress levels to help me decide whether I should run or rest.

Heart rate variability is the difference in time between each heartbeat. When you inhale your heart rate speeds up and when you exhale it slows down. HRV is a view into the health of your nervous system. When your system is stressed your HRV goes down and when your system recovers it goes up. A 3 minute HRV monitoring session every morning can indicate whether you’ve recovered from your last workout or whether the combination of life and training stress is too much and you need a rest or easy day. For an interesting article on HRV monitoring in elite athletes go here.

Since I love being an experiment of one (and I love graphs because I am a nerd) it has been very interesting to me to monitor my HRV for the last few weeks. I am in a recovery/base building phase of training right now so my runs should not be decreasing my HRV but as shown in the graph below working in the field (physical labor, in the cold, while under the stress of managing a complicated project) lowered my HRV to the point where the app instructed me not to work-out one day. It will be interesting to see if a couple of weeks of no field work results in an increased average HRV.

Green line = HRV, Orange line is resting heart rate (in bpm)
Green line = HRV, Orange line is resting heart rate (in bpm)

SweetBeat does many other things such as monitoring your heart rate recovery (HRR) which is an indication of how fit you are. In the last few minutes of a run you start the app and when you are done you hit “Stop” and sit down. It will measure how many beats per minute (bpm) your heart rate recovers in the first minute after exercise. It plots these sessions on a graph (yay more graphs!) so you can see changes over time.

SweetBeat can also be used for biofeedback teaching you how to lower your stress levels through breathing and monitoring your stress levels throughout the day (traffic, meetings, kids!).

SweetBeat can also sync with other monitoring apps such as MapMyFitness and Vivofit to correlate your HRV with other parameters such as calories burned, sleep, blood pressure, skin temperature etc. This can help show you what is affecting your HRV. As I only have MapMyFitness and none of the other devices/apps I only see the correlations with my workouts.

So for now I will listen to my HRV and take rest days when it tells me to. I like that it is a objective monitor of my overall stress and recovery level. For someone like me with such a hectic busy life trying to “have it all” with a career, family and running problem (lol) it is an effective way to measure the cumulative stress my system is under each day.

Terry back here… Lori and I are both going to monitor HRV for the next while, and I’ll probably post a bit more about it as I get more data.  I’m also curious about some of the other apps out there.  SweetBeat is available on the iPhone (IOS), another popular one is Ithlete  which is available on both IOS and Android.  There are also a few software programs that give more data and feedback than the simple phone apps.  So far it seems to me like an excellent tool to help us to stay in that sweet spot between over and under training, making the most of our workouts and recovery!

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4 thoughts on “Heart Rate Variability, a new number to geek out over…

  1. Pingback: Adaptive Training | Terry's Blog

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