Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV)


Heart Rate Variability refers to the variations in the time intervals between consecutive heartbeats, also known as R-R intervals.

Instead of being a constant, evenly spaced phenomenon, a healthy heart actually exhibits a certain amount of variability. HRV is typically measured by analyzing a heart rate signal and extracting the change in the time period between successive heartbeats.

Importance of HRV


Indicator of Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) Functioning:

High HRV is typically associated with a well-functioning autonomic nervous system and good cardiovascular fitness, while low HRV might indicate stress, fatigue, or even underlying health issues.

Stress and Recovery:

HRV is a valuable measure for understanding how your body responds to stress and how well it recovers from exercise.

Emotional Well-being:

Research has indicated a connection between higher HRV and positive emotional states, as well as better emotional regulation.

Using HRV to Improve Performance:


Training Optimisation:

    • Adapt Training Load: By monitoring HRV, athletes can adapt their training loads to avoid overtraining and ensure adequate recovery.
    • Optimal Training Times: Tracking HRV can help determine the optimal times for intense training versus lighter, recovery sessions.

Stress Management:

      • Identifying Stressors: Regular monitoring of HRV can help to identify physical or mental stressors that may be affecting performance.
      • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Integrating mindfulness and relaxation techniques when HRV indicates high stress to support recovery and maintain well-being.

Enhancing Recovery:

    • Monitoring Recovery: By keeping a close eye on HRV after intensive training sessions, athletes can gauge whether they are sufficiently recovered to engage in another intense workout.
    • Rest and Recovery Strategies: Athletes can employ strategies like adequate sleep, nutrition, and active recovery when reduced HRV indicates a need for enhanced recovery.

Sleep Quality:

    • Understanding Sleep Impact: Since poor sleep can negatively impact HRV, tracking changes can provide insights into sleep quality and its impact on performance.
    • Sleep Strategies: Implementing sleep hygiene strategies, especially when HRV indicates suboptimal recovery or heightened stress levels.

Nutritional Adjustments:

    • Analysing Nutritional Impact: Observing HRV in the context of dietary habits might provide insights into how certain foods or eating patterns impact the body.
    • Diet Optimisation: Athletes might adjust their nutritional strategies in response to insights derived from HRV, such as modifying carbohydrate intake or hydration status.

Performance Prediction:

    • Readiness to Perform: Some athletes and coaches use HRV as one metric to assess an athlete’s readiness to perform or compete.

Methods to Measure HRV:


HRV Apps and Wearables: There are several smartphone apps and wearable devices available that facilitate HRV monitoring. One of the most popular at the moment is Whoop and also the Elite HRV app. 

Final Note:


While HRV is a valuable metric, it’s also vital to consider it within the broader context of overall wellness and performance strategy. Integrating HRV with other metrics and utilising it to inform, rather than dictate, training and recovery strategies is generally considered best practice in the sports science community.

Example studies and further reading 


Plews, D. J., Laursen, P. B., Stanley, J., Kilding, A. E., & Buchheit, M. (2013).

    • Title: Training adaptation and heart rate variability in elite endurance athletes: opening the door to effective monitoring.
    • This study can be found on PubMed and gives insights into how HRV is used to monitor training adaptations in elite athletes.

Thayer, J. F., Yamamoto, S. S., & Brosschot, J. F. (2010).

      • Title: The relationship of autonomic imbalance, heart rate variability and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
      • This study, also available on PubMed, explores the relationships between HRV, autonomic nervous system imbalance, and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Stanley, J., Peake, J. M., & Buchheit, M. (2013).

    • Title: Cardiac parasympathetic reactivation following exercise: Implications for training prescription.
    • This paper discusses the implications of HRV and parasympathetic reactivation following exercise for training prescription.