We have many ways to measure the the success of our fitness program: losing inches, gaining muscle, lifting more weight, running faster, and cycling further.
But what about the impact of training and other forms of stress? Can we measure how we are responding and recovering based on more than how we feel?
Enter heart rate variability
Heart rate variability is the phenomenon of variation in intervals between heart beats.Our hearts pump blood regularly, but they don’t work exactly like a machine or metronome. This can provide lots of useful information about how we respond to stress.
To better understand this concept, it helps to know a little about how the nervous system works.
The autonomic nervous system regulates bodily functions including heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate and sexual arousal. It has two branches:
Sympathetic: responsible for “fight or flight” response. Increases heart rate, dilates pupils, inhibits digestion and sexual arousal.
Parasympathetic: responsible for “rest and digest” response. Slows heart rate, constricts pupils, and is responsible for recovery.
When measuring heart rate variability, a higher score means the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. On the other hand, a low score means the sympathetic nervous system is dominant.
Why is this important?
Monitoring heart rate variability lets you assess the stress load on the nervous system. We grow stronger by adapting to stress, but only if we can recover from it! Keeping track allows you to see when to push yourself and when to back off. This lets you individualize and manage your exercise program for better results.
How to measure heart rate variability
There are several smartphone apps (Elite HRV, iThlete, BioForce HRV, and CardioMood) that take readings for you. You’ll need a heart rate monitor with a bluetooth ready chest strap (the Polar H7 chest strap is most commonly used. The apps do not support wrist based heart rate monitoring) Take your measurement regularly and under the same conditions.
As a fast, effective, and non invasive way to measure fitness and stress management, heart rate variability can’t be beaten. Get started today and take your fitness program to the next level!
A good massage can be very rewarding
It helps us relax, relieves stress and just feels nice. Who doesn’t like to feel pampered every now and then?
That being said, massage isn’t all about candles, aromatherapy and relaxing music. If your priorities are more focused on improving physique, athletic performance, or the ability to make it through the day with energy to spare, there is good news.
Some benefits of massage therapy are reduced pain, and improved mobility and muscle tone. This is important for all types of exercise. In resistance training, best results come from performing an exercise through its full range of motion. For activities like running, cycling and swimming, full range of motion is just as important for proper movement mechanics and avoiding injury. If there is a limitation preventing you from reaching full range of motion in training, a combination of massage and regular stretching might be the solution.
Massage can also improve blood and lymph flow, speed tissue regeneration and reduce inflammation of skeletal muscle, all of which can reduce recovery time. Less soreness can lead to better quality training sessions and better results. That’s one less excuse to skip the next workout.
Other benefits of massage therapy
Massage also helps you in and out of the gym. Better quality sleep, reduced stress and increased immune function can make exercise, work, following a nutrition plan, and life in general easier to manage on a daily basis.
The benefits of massage extend to more than just athletes and performance goals. Aches and pains caused by muscle tension can be relieved with massage. That is good news for everyone. Massage therapy can also be helpful for medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. The muscle stiffness associated with these conditions can be reduced with massage, which, in some cases, may make moving around less difficult.
Whether you are a casual exerciser, athlete or fall somewhere in between, massage therapy can be very beneficial for keeping you pain free to train harder, feeling better overall and spend less time sidelined with injuries.
- Franklin, PhD, Nina C. , Mohamed M. Ali, MD, Austin T. Robinson, MS, Edita Norkeviciute, BS, and Shane A. Phillips, PT, PhD. “Massage Therapy Restores Peripheral Vascular Function After Exertion.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: n. pag. Web.
- J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky, Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 119ra13 (2012).
- Massey, C. Dwayne, John Vincent, Mark Maneval, and J.T. Johnson. “Influence of Range of Motion in Resistance Training in Women: Early Phase Adaptations.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 19: 409-411. Print.
- Turchaninov, Ross, and K. Gray. “Massage and Athlete’s Recovery.”Therapeutic Massage: A Scientific Approach. Phoenix, AZ: Aesculapius, 2000. 28-29. Print.