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!