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HRV and Training

HRV (heart rate variability) is something I’ve tracked on and off for some time, I first started doing this back in 2018 when I stumbled on this app, HRV4Training, which claimed to measure your HRV. According to what I'd read, tracking your HRV can give a further insight and better sense of how you respond to specific doses of training. I think the app was in it’s infancy at the time but since then it looks to have gone through several developments and has gained scientific approval.

So what is HRV? In simple terms it’s the variation in time between successive heart beats. It might feel like it’s steady but in fact the length of time between each beat is different, and it's an indication of how well balanced both your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) autonomic nervous systems are. They are working in tandem to control your heart rate (amongst other things), with the sympathetic system trying to raise your heart rate and with the parasympathetic system doing the opposite -hence you get variability between heart beats. Generally speaking a high HRV is seen as a good thing as it means both systems are primed and ready. If one system is overly dominant then it could mean you are carrying too much stress or something else isn’t quite right.

Along with resting heart rate, HRV is a very useful metric and can help you identify if you’re carrying too much fatigue and haven’t yet recovered from previous training sessions. Typically I find that it’s after the longer rides that my HRV gets suppressed and I think this is due to a number of factors. The first one is hydration; the long ride is more likely to dehydrate you than shorter, more intense rides. Similarly I think you also run the risk of building up a calorie deficit on those longer rides which can suppress your immune system and also elevate cortisol levels.

Other factors that can impact your HRV are, unsurprisingly, diet and sleep.

A diet rich in Omega 3 has been shown to help elevate HRV levels and ensures you get enough micronutrients, in particular vitamins B12 and D, which will ensure your system has all it needs to operate effectively. Alcohol has also been shown to supress HRV, so perhaps keep this to a minimum.

As with most things performance related - physical and mental - sufficient sleep is critical to allow the rebuilding process to take place. Insufficient sleep can lead to reduced HRV levels.

I still use HRV4Training as it is a very useful resource to monitor the impact of training. It provides quite a few useful insights and one in particular is how you are responding to current training levels. For this to work you need to link it to your Strava account and it will auto populate training sessions and if you have both power and heart rate you’ll also get even more insights.

I use my smartphone each morning to log my heartrate data - it takes a couple of minutes and I think it’s a worthwhile investment.

Below are a series of trend lines from my own data.

The first is my HRV trendline for the last 3 months. You can see around the middle of February there is a dip which coincides with the introduction of more intense training efforts around and above my threshold heart rate. It then recovers and seems to have leveled off.

The next two lines show my resting heart rate which in itself is useful to track as an elevated resting heart rate can indicate either the onset of an infection or virus or that you are struggling with your current training load. As you can see mine has been falling slightly since January - hopefully that’s a sign I’m getting fitter.

The next line is the coefficient of variation (CV) - basically a larger variation coupled with a declining HRV would suggest I was struggling with the load, however fortunately this is actually suggesting the opposite.

The final and probably most informative trend is how well I’m coping with my training - as you can see it’s mostly green in the last 4 weeks which is good.

There’s a bunch of other insights available on this platform which could be useful. One in particular is the training load analysis. It is similar to Training Peaks in that you get a freshness assessment and risk of injury, however I like the bottom trend where it indicates if training has become too monotonous. i.e. are you doing too much of the same thing. Essentially the graphs should be green - maybe occasionally yellow, but ideally never red. This is where the danger of stagnation and a plateau might start.

Hopefully this short post gives you a better sense of what HRV is and how you might use it effectively to guide your training and recovery strategies.

If you're interested in learning more or subscribing to this platform here’s the link

I’ve also managed to get a discount of 15% off the price of the subscription if you use the referral code TRIED&TESTED.

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