Heart Rate Variability Apps

Last week we discussed how HRV is an easily measured, non-invasive means of evaluating your nervous system’s response to stress.  This week we’ll review how you can start monitoring your HRV scores and gain insight into how your body is adapting to stress.  Elite HRV and HRV4 are two apps that sync up to Training Peaks and allow you to easily track daily HRV changes with your training.

Training for endurance sports requires subjecting your body to exercise stress.  Properly balanced training and recovery will make you faster and stronger.  If the body isn’t stressed enough, you won’t gain fitness.  And if the body is stressed too much then you cannot maintain the workload long term and are at a higher risk for injury or illness.  Stress is essential and necessary to grow, and HRV can be a great tool to monitor if you are applying stress in an appropriate manner to achieve your training goals.

What is HRV?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation between each heart beat.  This is different from heart rate, which is an average of the number of beats per minute.  The variability among heart beats is driven by your body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) and is a reflection of how your body is responding to the stressors of daily life, including training.  Under periods of increased stress, our “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system is more active and the HRV scores will generally decrease.  We expect to see that during certain phases of training.  When your body is recovering and adapting, your parasympathetic nervous system is more active and HRV scores will generally increase.  Monitoring your daily HRV score along with training can help maintain an appropriate balance of stress and recovery.

 

How do I use HRV?

To begin using HRV, you’ll want to find an accurate app.  I recommend one that syncs up to Training Peaks so you can store that data in one location.  Not all apps and HR straps are created equally, but Elite HRV and HRV4 straps and camera tech have both been validated in research and measure up to recordings collected by ECG, which is the gold standard (1).  I’ve experimented with both of these apps among several others and here are some of the pros and cons:

App Pros Cons
Elite HRV ·        Syncs to TP

·        Can take multiple measures per day

·        Offers guided breathing exercises

·        In app analysis

·        Daily baseline comparisons

·        Some users do not like putting HR strap on for measurement

·        Not compatible with all HR straps (Wahoo and Polar will work)

HRV4 ·        Syncs to TP

·        Do not need HR monitor (uses phone camera to measure)

·        In app analysis

·        Daily baseline comparisions

·        Can only store one measurement per day

·        Must sit or lie still for accurate reading

Once you’ve chosen an app you can begin morning measurements.    Measurements should be consistent so they are comparable.

Measurement tips:

  • Take measurement each morning before breakfast
  • Record from the same position (sitting or lying down) each day
  • If you forget to take a recording before breakfast or leaving for work, wait until the next day

How do I use the results?

At first, you’ll just record and observe.  Once you have a baseline of at least one week established the daily morning trends become more relevant.  Next article we’ll discuss what the numbers and the red, yellow and green colors mean and how to use that in training.

Happy Training and Recording!

Reference

Plews DJ, Altini M, Wood M, Kilding AE, Laursen PB.  Comparison of heart rate variability recording with smart phone photoplethysmographic, Polar H7 chest strap, and electrocardiogram methods.  International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2017; 12(10):  1-17.

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