HRV and Endurance Athletes
In this article, we discuss how to understand your HRV (Heart Rate Variability) data on your Garmin.
As endurance athletes, we value keeping a close eye on parameters like heart rate, power output, sleep duration and training stress to optimise our performance.
However, these metrics provide only partial insight into our overall well-being (Edwards et al., 2018). Until relatively recently, one aspect that eluded us was measuring how much stress we experience outside our workouts. In other words, quantifying the daily stresses has been challenging for many years; Heart Rate Variability has allowed us better to understand this aspect of our health and performance.
What is HRV?
Heart Rate Variability refers to the variation in time between successive heartbeats, measuring the time interval between one heartbeat and the next, called R-R intervals. The differences between these are not random but are affected by factors such as our physical activity, sleep quality and stress levels. (Gancitano et al., 2021)
This variability provides insight into the health of our autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, digestion and heart rate. In general, the longer between R-R intervals, the healthier our nervous system is.
A higher HRV indicates good adaptation (in general), while a reduced HRV may indicate cardiac impairment or, in other words, increased stress on the body for some reason. This could be from several sources, such as:
2. poor sleep quality or lack of sleep
3. nutritional deficiencies
4. emotional stress
What does it mean to me? – How can I use it
HRV can provide valuable information about our overall health and whether we are under too much stress to perform optimally in our chosen sport; it can give an insight into how prepared our body is for today’s session.
One of the key reasons to monitor HRV is to indicate your readiness to push your body during training. As discussed earlier, a High HRV is associated with better recovery, while a low HRV indicates a potentially higher level of stress on the body and less readiness for strenuous activity (Zou et al., 2018). It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t train at all. It just means that you should probably take it easy and modify your training plan for better recovery.
When I use HRV with athletes, I like to approach its use as a tool to either corroborate how the athlete feels or give a prompt to think about how they are feeling that day. I don’t use it to dictate how they should train solely based on HRV readings but as one aspect to consider when making training decisions. This allows for a more holistic view of stress on the body and gives another insight into how the body is affected by real life’s stresses.
For example, suppose an athlete is feeling a little off on the day of a planned interval session; I would encourage them to think about why that might be and then use their HRV results to either agree that they shouldn’t be training hard or to get them to think again about if it actually fatigue or just a bit of procrastination. Furthermore, HRV monitoring can also help identify potentially dangerous overtraining patterns.
An extensive analysis of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) trends over a prolonged period makes it possible to determine the optimal training intensity and frequency that would avoid negative impacts on our overall health and performance.
Such insights from HRV data can help us modify our training schedules to prevent burnout or other harmful outcomes associated with excessive physical strain. Finally, one key thing to remember is that HRV is very individual and that comparisons between individuals are neither useful nor advisable.
To sum up, HRV monitoring can be a valuable tool to assess our overall health status and readiness for strenuous activity. It can also provide insight into whether we are experiencing an impairment or increased stress on the body. It allows us to make informed decisions about our training and recovery, which can help us perform better in our sport, and plan, react and develop our periodised plan, so long as we remember its limitations and treat it as a tool to inform, not a master to dictate.
If you want to gain a deeper insight into how to use HRV, our go-to is HRV4Training. Their app is easy to use and provides valuable features, such as tracking HRV trends over time, assessing training loads, and more. Additionally, they have several great resources on their website for those looking to learn more about HRV and how it can be used in training.
- Edwards, Toby et al. (2018, February 27). Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball. MDPI. https://scite.ai/reports/10.3390/sports6010019
- Gancitano, Giuseppe et al. (2021, March 31). HRV in Active-Duty Special Forces and Public Order Military Personnel. Sustainability, 13(7), 3867. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073867
- Zou, Liye et al. (2018, October 31). Effects of Mind–Body Exercises (Tai Chi/Yoga) on Heart Rate Variability Parameters and Perceived Stress: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(11), 404. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7110404