Disclaimer… i am not a medical professional and i am still learning about these things, so please don’t take this as absolute gospel. If you are in doubt at any time about your heart rate or heart rate variability readings then please go and talk to someone qualified in heart stuff.
The reason i use HRV is because it is a good indicator of overall health and recovery from previous exercise. But it is also important to note that many things can affect this. Like having a night out on the tiles and not getting much sleep. Things like that will affect you readings, sometimes quite drastically, depending on how far you’ve taken your night out and what you’ve taken on your night out.
I’ve had situations at weekend music festivals when i haven’t eaten well, hardly slept, inhaled all kinds of naughty things and swallowed others, where my resting heart rate has gone up nearly 30bpm. This isn’t a sign that you’re dying, it’s a sign that you’ve kicked the shit out of your body and your body is having a normal reaction to the damage you’ve done and the toxins you’ve shoved into it and is trying it’s best to fix things by raising your heart rate and blood pressure. But point to note, this is not a great time to go and do a hard training session, it’s a time to rest and eat healthy and let your body recover.
And this is why i use these things, to let me know when to push and when to take it easy and when to just have a total duvet day.
For example, if i go and push a two hour bike ride ramping up into lots of zone 4 intervals, my HRV the next morning is likely to be quite low because my body is in serious recovery mode trying to fix the damage done during the exercise. Depending on how low the HRV is, depends on whether i take the day off completely from training, or go and do some gentle training like a zone 1 bike ride or a nice easy walk.
One of the things i’ve found is that when you get used to where your HRV is normally and what it does post certain training conditions you can keep pushing on even when your HRV is going lower. You can keep pushing it lower and lower until eventually it’ll rebound upwards – that’s the point at which you take a total duvet day.
So seeing your HRV lower a couple of points doesn’t mean you should just give up training for the day, it just means you should keep a close eye on it and adjust your training accordingly.
And example would be a low HRV on a nice weather day, a day perfect for that nice long bike ride. And you look at the weather forecast and the following day is forecast for horrible stormy weather. So you may as well go out and have a good long bike ride knowing that the next day you won’t be going out doing anything – have a duvet day.
As i said above, i’m not an expert on this, i’m still learning what most of this means in relation to myself – and we are all different. My figures do not mean much to anyone else’s figures as the variability is affected by too many things, like diet, drug/medication use (coffee and tea are drugs), health, fitness levels, etc.. The only way you can truly get to know how to use HRV in relation to your training and health is to get using it.
I use Elite HRV. It’s free and works great with a Polar H7 chest strap. I use it first thing in the morning when i wake up – do empty your bladder first, take any clothes you’re wearing off, and then go straight back to bed, put the chest strap on, turn the app on, turn the lights off and lie down and relax.
Once you are nicely relaxed start the Morning Readiness reading. This last for 2.5 minutes. During this time i feel it is important to maintain a standard breathing pattern. I listen to my heart beats and breath in 2 beats and out 3 beats. The depth of breathing i keep just deep enough to feel i’m just getting enough oxygen. If you begin to feel breathless then you’re breathing too shallow.
The aim is to relax and breath to get your heart rate down as low as possible – which you can see on the screen. Don’t worry about the HRV score on the screen, just focus on the heart rate and focus on relaxing every muscle in your body to lower that.
It’s actually a great little meditation to start the day with.
Once the morning readiness reading has finished, i delete the first reading and start again. Essentially i simply use the first reading to relax and focus with before i do my daily reading. I find that this gives me a more stable platform on which to base my readings. If you’ve just woken up from a bad dream it’s not going to do you much good to just switch on Elite and take the first reading when you haven’t even begun to relax until the last 10 seconds of it.
So that’s something i do think is something to keep in mind. Make your morning readiness reading under the exact same circumstances every day, keep the same breathing patterns, do it naked (under the duvet if it’s cold), don’t drink or eat before hand, empty your bladder, turn the light off. And on the second reading close your eyes and don’t worry about the heart rate, just focus on relaxing and breathing until it goes beep at the end of the reading. You’ll see a little speaker symbol in the bottom right of the screen when it’s running – make sure it’s unchecked.
That all said, play around with it. Keep notes of your training and the resulting next morning’s readings. Keep notes of your diet from the day before. Keep notes of anything that you think may have affected your reading, like a really stressful day at work etc..
Eventually you’ll begin to see patterns emerging, and once you understand the patterns you can better adjust your training to get better results. You can completely eliminate overtraining/underresting problems that plague a lot of athletes, you can also eliminate undertraining/overresting problems as well and get more training done with less recovery. You can also use HRV and heart rate to ascertain allergies and foods and drinks that aren’t doing you any good and eliminate them from your diet, which will also help greatly in your fitness and health.
At the end of the day, what’s not to like?
And this is just the beginning. This level of personal health monitoring is so new and so accessible that the science isn’t really keeping pace. This stuff has always been the realms of top professional athletes who keep their secrets to themselves, now it’s available to all and the information and science is only beginning to come out as we learn more an more about what these figures can do for us.
So please, do your own research while you measure your own heart and see what this data can do for you.
Love and hugs…