Runner using heart rate variability

What is HRV and Why is it so Important?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can be a great, inexpensive way to get a snapshot of how your body

As pedorthists, we see so many injuries that are in large part due to overtraining or with the body being generally run down.  Being healthy and uninjured while dealing with the various stressors in our lives (busy work, hectic training schedules, lack of quality sleep, sitting all day, etc) can be a very difficult task!  These factors can affect us inside and out potentially delaying healing time, decreasing performance, and even leading to training burnout.  It can be a very difficult task for us to assess how much harm these stressors are causing to our bodies.  While symptoms like injury, pain, and/or illness tell us when things are wrong, how do we know how well we are when things are ‘right’?  A new metric being used to measure our body’s homeostasis as it deals with balancing stress and rest is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV).  Basically, HRV measures the time between heart beats.  Even though your heart may beat 60 times in a minute doesn’t mean it’s beating once every second.

The ideal HRV score is with high variation as it indicates synchronicity between our sympathetic (fight/flight response) and parasympathetic (rest/repair response) nervous systems and the heart’s ability to respond.  When HRV is low in variation it can suggest the body is locked into a pattern of stress, overtraining, under recovery, or even burnout.

Monitoring HRV is as simple as using a bluetooth HRM (heart rate monitor) chest strap and apps like SweetBeat to help you track. Using HRV monitoring can provide significant feedback to help know your limits, execute a safe return to activity after injury, and monitor your bodies handling of various stress inputs.  A great way to take some of the guess work out of recovery! 

HRV testing to prevent running injuries

Want more information?  Check out these excellent articles and research summaries to find out more!

Marks Daily Apple: Have you checked your heart variability lately?

SweetBeat: HRV Background

Ben Greenfield Fitness: Heart Rate Variability Testing

Neil and Ryan have each tried monitoring HRV for a few months and share their thoughts below!

Product Reviews:

RATING (out of 5):

I’ve always been a bit old school with my training and definitely failed to use many of the body tracking technologies available when I was doing the bulk of my training. As attentive as I always tried to be with listening to my body, there was always a bit of guess work involved with knowing whether or not I was recovered and ready for my next hard workout. HRV is a tool that certainly can take some of the guess work out of things. Although I’m not training as much as I used to, I love being able to get a snapshot of how my body is doing when I wake up in the morning. The only reason I give it four stars instead of five is that I haven’t really been sick or worn down in the time of testing HRV (touch wood…;)), so I haven’t really been able to see if there is a significant dip when my body has been worn down. That being said, I would definitely recommend HRV as a relatively inexpensive way of listening better to your body!

RATING (out of 5):

I love to train. It’s just a part of my life to be pushing myself. I look forward to testing my limits in preparation for an event or to stay fit every year. As such however, I have got myself into overtrained/under recovered situations more than once. Some of these dug me into a deep hole where my actual health versus my fitness were not on parallel trajectories. So I began testing my HRV daily at the beginning of 2015. This was a crucial step to know that I was honouring the signals from my body as to when to push the gas or step on the brakes. I stress this often with clients and athletes I work with and scoring HRV allowed me to personally gauge this with precision.
A simple 3 minute morning measurement for physical ‘preparedness’ delivers a clear picture of my nervous system and whether to go hard or take it easy. It has taught me what helped improve a low HRV score (such as inversion tables, meditation and cold showers.) Likewise certain factors I learned plummet my score I can strive to avoid (i.e. late nights/broken sleep, poor nutrition, and skipping a rest day.)
Using the Sweetbeat App is incredibly easy and records multiple attributes to understanding your score. Tracking a historical ‘trend’ also sets me up to get a pretty intuitive sense of what’s working. The investment of a Bluetooth enabled chest strap and <$10 app make this one of the most accessible and valuable self quantification setups.

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