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Heart Rate Variability For Runners

Heart Rate Variability For Runners


Heart rate variability (HRV) is a term that is becoming more and more familiar to runners as a way to measure their bodies’ readiness for training. It’s a simple way to get a deeper understanding of how your body is functioning and whether it’s ready for training or if it needs more rest. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at HRV and how runners can use it to improve their training.

What is Heart Rate Variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between successive heartbeats. Typically, there’s a slight variation between beats, with some beats faster and some slower. This variation is called HRV. It can indicate the balance between the branches of the autonomic nervous system, i.e., the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, and is shown to be related to athletic performance and recovery. 

By analyzing HRV, athletes can gain valuable insights into their physiological state, including stress levels, fatigue, and recovery. An athlete or coach can use this information to optimize training programs, avoid overtraining, and improve overall performance. With the advancement of wearable technology, HRV measurement has become easily accessible and affordable, making it a valuable tool for athletes to monitor their health and fitness status.

Many factors influence HRV, such as stress, sleep, nutrition, and exercise. When we’re feeling stressed or tired, our HRV decreases, and when we’re relaxed and rested, our HRV increases.

Why is Heart Rate Variability Important for Runners?

For runners, HRV can be an essential tool in helping to prevent injury, illness, and burnout. By measuring your HRV regularly, you can better understand when your body is ready for intense exercise and when it needs more rest.

Heart rate variability can help you manage your training load by giving insights into your level of fatigue and recovery, which is essential to avoid overtraining. Monitoring changes in HRV provides valuable insight into an athlete’s physiological state and can give athletes and coaches the ability to adjust training programs, the intensity of workouts, and rest days. This not only aids an athlete in achieving their goals but can also help avoid injury and burnout.

How to Measure Heart Rate Variability

There are several ways to measure HRV, but the most common method is through a heart rate monitor that measures the time between beats and then calculates your HRV score for you. Some heart rate monitors have built-in HRV measurement capabilities, while others require a separate HRV monitor. Some fitness watches, like the COROS Apex 2 and the Vertix 2, have the ability to measure HRV with the push of a button. You can also measure HRV using a smartphone app like the HRV4Training Pro app, which uses your smartphone camera to measure your pulse and calculate your HRV score.

Some products, like the WHOOP strap, automatically take your HRV during a specific phase of your sleep cycle, while other products require you to take the HRV manually with the press of a button. When taking HRV measurements, it’s always best to take them at the same time every day. It’s generally recommended to measure your HRV in a relaxed state first thing in the morning before you’ve had coffee, food, or daily stress. 

How to Interpret HRV

Often people wonder how their HRV compares to others. They want to know exact numbers for what’s “good” or “bad.” However, Heart Rate Variability is highly individualized, and can fluctuate greatly from person to person, and change drastically throughout the day and night. If your running partner has a higher HRV than you, that does not mean that they are more fit than you.

A more practical approach to Heart Rate Variability is to keep track of your own trends. Monitoring trends takes some dedication to measure your HRV every day, but after some time you will start seeing patterns show up in your data. A decrease in HRV over a period of time might mean that you’re not recovering from your workouts, or that you’re getting sick, not getting enough sleep, or even dehydrated.

Taking care of your fitness and overall health should lead to an increase in HRV over time. The idea is to find what is normal for you, and to adjust accordingly. 

How to Use Heart Rate Variability in Training

Marco Altini, founder of HRV4Training and advisor at Oura, warns that if your fitness tracker gives you the green light for hard training, that doesn’t mean you should intensify your training.

“You first need to have a plan,” Altini says, “then you can make adjustments based on how you respond to such a plan. If your HRV is within your normal values, it should give you confidence that everything is going well and in general, you are coping well with your current training and lifestyle. Yet, if your training plan says you are due for a rest day, take it. If you are due for a low-intensity workout, do it.”

Plan your Training Intensity

If your HRV is low, it’s a sign that your body needs more recovery time, and you should probably scale back your training for a few days. On the other hand, if your HRV is high, it’s a sign that your body is responding well to the current stress levels, and you can continue with your training plan.

Monitor your Progress

Watching how your HRV is trending helps you better understand how your body is adapting to your training. If you notice a decrease in your HRV, it’s a sign that your body is not adapting well to your training and that you or your coach should consider adjusting your training program.

Monitor Stress and Fatigue

Many factors influence HRV, such as stress, sleep, nutrition, and exercise. By measuring your HRV regularly, you can better understand how stress and fatigue affect your body. An increase in stress from  Sometimes a lowered HRV means you may need to get more sleep, practice stress-management techniques like yoga or meditation, or adjust your nutrition to ensure you’re fueling your body properly.

Set Realistic Goals

Monitoring your HRV can help you better understand what kind of training your load your body is capable of handling. If your HRV is low, it’s a sign that your body is not ready for intense exercise, and you should set more modest goals for your training. If your HRV is high, it’s a sign that your body is handling training well.

Personalize Your Training

HRV is a unique measure that is specific to each individual and can help you better understand what works best for your body and what doesn’t. You can use this information to personalize your training program to ensure you get the most out of your workouts.

Improving Heart Rate Variability

You can improve your HRV through a multifaceted approach.

  1. Sleep: Adequate sleep is essential for improving HRV as it allows the body to recover and recharge. Aim for at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
  2. Nutrition: Eating a balanced diet rich in natural nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can improve HRV and overall health. Limit processed and junk foods, and aim to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Stress Management: The stress of daily life can significantly impact HRV and athletic performance. Incorporating stress-management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine can help improve HRV and overall well-being.
  4. Exercise Intensity: Decrease your running intensity by utilizing low heart rate training, as described here.
  5. Hydration: Staying hydrated is essential for overall health and can improve HRV by ensuring optimal blood flow and circulation.

It is also important to note that various factors, such as illness, injury, or lifestyle changes, can influence HRV. As such, seeking professional guidance from a healthcare provider or sports coach to develop a personalized plan to improve HRV is recommended.

The Takeaway

By measuring your HRV regularly, you can better understand when your body is not functioning optimally. Heart rate variability is a valuable tool for runners to help improve training and prevent injury, illness, and burnout. By measuring your HRV regularly, you can better understand when your body is ready for intense exercise, when it needs more rest, and how it’s adapting to your training. With the correct information, you can make informed decisions about your training program and reach your goals faster and more effectively.

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