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What Is Heart Rate Variability for Workout?

by Abdul Shaikh
What Is Heart Rate Variability for Workout

Many sports watch wearers have probably seen the Recovery Time, a single number that tells you how many hours you need to relax and recover before your next workout.

This succinctly presented information is based on several parameters: age, gender, the weight of the owner of the watch, conditions, and results of the last training session. But the “foundation” of the figure is the heart rate variability. This indicator is also called the “R-R interval”.

The indicator is essential in all aspects because it helps to consciously relate to training, your body and competently build a training plan.

What Is Heart Rate Variability? 

The time between two heartbeats is not fixed. The cardiovascular system, delivering oxygen and nutrients to organs and tissues, constantly adjusts to the body’s needs, so the heart rate is continuously fluctuating. The difference between two consecutive heartbeats is called heart rate variability (HRV) or “R-R interval”.

Previously, variability was determined using an electrocardiogram, but now this data can be obtained using a chest heart rate sensor and a watch (or a smartphone application – for example, the Welltory). 

HRV is measured using only resting heart rate. It is pointless to monitor this indicator while running. 

HRV: What This Indicator Tells You? 

HRV reflects the balance of the nervous system and the level of accumulated stress. 

The human autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The first is the “gas pedal” in the body, the “fight or flight” reaction. When it is activated, the pulse quickens. The second, parasympathetic, is, on the contrary, the “brake pedal”, which affects the decrease in heart rate. An imbalance in the interaction of certain systems leads to decreased performance, disrupted recovery, and in some cases, overtraining. 

Heart rate variability allows us to evaluate the interaction between the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the nervous system with the help of such physiological chains:

  • The body experiences any stress (psychological, physical, chemical, hormonal) → the sympathetic nervous system is activated, → an increase in the heart rate, stroke volume → , and decrease in HRV. 
  • Recovery process = parasympathetic nervous system activity → heart rate decreases → HRV increases. An increase in HRV at rest is a sign of positive adaptation / good recovery, while a decrease in HRV may indicate severe stress / poor recovery. 

However, it remains challenging to determine precisely which stress factors fundamentally affect our recovery and which do not. Therefore, only regular measurement of HRV, together with a subjective assessment of your condition and training plan, will help you get a more or less complete picture. 

Why Is It Important? 

HRV shows: 

  • how is the recovery process going, and whether you have overtrained; 
  • how well you adapt to the load (optimization of the training process); 
  • your current physical condition and even predisposition to developing illness or injury. 

Sometimes, according to the indicator of heart rate variability, training plans are even built, making sense: constant stress measuring and recovery allow you to adjust the program depending on the athlete’s current state. For example, a normal or high HRV (i.e., low-stress level) allows for more intense exercise. Conversely, if the HRV is low, light training is performed.

It is very important to know your boundaries, especially if you are an amateur in sports. If you opt for the more intense workout you are potentially at more risk of having a cardiac arrest or stroke. That’s why you need to take every precaution and you should also consider getting certified in first-aid so you can be ready for every dangerous situation you may encounter.

Several studies have proven the effectiveness of an HRV-based training plan compared to a classic one. It was also found that athletes with high HRV values ​​significantly improve maximum oxygen consumption (MOC) compared to athletes with lower HRV values.

What is Good Heart Rate Variability? 

Unfortunately, nobody can answer this question with a vague statement only. The good heart rate variability for an individual is the one that occurs during the period of one’s relaxation. 

How to measure HRV?

It is a popular question indeed, but the measurement per se is quite simple. It is nowadays being done with all sorts of technical devices, ranging from, for example, electrical chest-on straps (that observe the differences in the numbers of the electrical potential of the myocardium) to optical (that send the frequent beams of light waves to the skin than catch them back, studying the differences in refraction) gadgets. 

Interestingly, the analysis of the gathered data and the understandable presentation of its conclusions to the user often don’t grasp many physiological concepts. These efforts are more often than not done by the specialized apps, of which there is myriad. 

I consider Welltory to be the fittest choice for the role since, quite frankly, it is rightfully considered to be the user-friendliest health-tracking app in the market. The processed data is neatly organized into tidy, clean submenus titled as performance (overall stats), Energy (evaluating the parasympathetic half of vegetative NS), and Stress (assessing the sympathetic half of vegetative NS). So, the user interface is practically perfect. Welltory also has additional regalia aplenty such as “Best blood pressure app” and “Best blood oxygen monitor app”. What is a surprise is the fact – Welltory is free to use for aforesaid basic measurements. Logically, it would be wise to give this app a try should you become interested in integrating the health-tracking apps into your lifestyle. 

Conclusions:

  • HRV reflects the time between two subsequent heartbeats; 
  • HRV change reflects the adequacy of recovery; 
  • Low HRV values ​​reflect poor recovery or accumulated stress; 
  • Never measure HRV in isolation from your general health analysis and training plan;
  • Resting HRV values ​​do not always accurately reflect the state of overtraining; therefore, regular measurement of the indicator is recommended;
  • HRV is useless while running;
  • Athletes with high HRVs can respond better to increased load and improve performance;
  • HRV training is often more correct than a traditional training plan; 
  • HRV dynamics can be an indicator of an athlete’s predisposition to diseases (for example, upper respiratory tract diseases);
  • “Good heart rate variability” is inherently subjective and unique to each person;
  • For using HRV-related data, a health-tracking app is not mandatory but can be of great help and convenience.

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