Understanding Heart Rate Variability

October 5, 2021

The introduction of fitness trackers and wearables, like the Whoop or Oura ring, has opened our eyes to heart rate variability. But, what exactly is HRV and what does it tell us?

Whether you’re an endurance athlete, a runner or cyclist, a gym goer, or weekend warrior, it’s important to understand heart rate variability and how it can be used to your benefit.

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, while heart rate variability (HRV) measures the time between each heart beat. This beat-to-beat interval variation is measured in milliseconds and can vary based on a number of factors such as: respiration, exercise volume and intensity, recovery from workouts, age, gender, diet, genetics, sleep quality, stress, hormones and metabolism.

Understanding HRV can provide you with important information about your health and the progression of your training plan, including how you've recovered from a previous workout and can tolerate another hard session.

HRV is unique from person to person so can be hard to compare with others. High HRV numbers can indicate your heart is functioning well, adapting to stressors and seeing fitness gains. Poor nutrition, hydration, sleep, illness and high stress can cause low HRV numbers.

By monitoring your HRV, you can see trends and make adjustments in training, recovery, sleep, nutrition and hydration preventing a decline in your health and performance.

As your cardiovascular fitness increases, you should see your HRV slowly improve. If you don't see improvements, this can indicate you're not taking enough time for rest and recovery, you're under high stress, not fueling your body properly, or you would benefit by adjusting your training plan.

Monitoring your HRV and using it as a tool in your training and recovery toolbox, can help you train more effectively, and improve your performance without risking injury or illness!