When doing exercise or training, most people monitor the heart rate, the calorie burn, the BPM, and other variables. But one metric that has become very popular in recent years is the measurement of the Heart Rate Variability. Once you understand what it means, you’ll see how it can benefit you in your fitness and sports training!
What is HRV?
Heart Rate Variability is, to put it simply, the amount of time between your heart beats.
The average human BPM (beats per minute) hovers somewhere between 60 and 100. That means your heart beats at least 60 to 100 times per minute. However, did you know that your heart speeds up when you inhale, and it slows down when you exhale? This is because, on inhale, your heart has to saturate your blood with the oxygen you just inhaled so it can be spread around to your body. When you exhale, there is no oxygen, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. It’s an involuntary reaction that most of us take for granted.
The Heart Rate Variability is a measurement of this acceleration and deceleration of your heart rate. When you have a high HRV, it means you are more resilient and have lower stress levels. When your HRV is lower, it means you are suffering from more stress and are less resilient.
Basically, HRV is a way to measure how much stress you have in your life!
How is HRV Measured?
To measure your Heart Rate Variability, there are a few ways to go:
Most sports organizations use the Omegawave, a $30,000 machine that measures the beat of your heart. Of course, how many of us have that kind of money to spend?
A deep breathing test (DBT) is a quick and simple way to measure your HRV. For this, you need to perform deep breathing techniques for 60 seconds, after which your nervous system (both sympathetic and parasympathetic) is monitored for activity.
This is just a simple way to detect your HRV, and there are many more complex scientific methods of testing, such as:
- Time domain analysis – Basically, these tests measure the amount of time from heartbeat to heartbeat, using a range of mathematical formulas to determine the standard deviations of your heart beat. The standard deviations mean how fast your heart beats when you inhale, and how slow it beats when you exhale.
- Geometric methods – For those who prefer to visualize their efforts, the results of the Time Domain Analysis test can be translated into geometric patterns to allow you to see a graph of your HRV.
- Frequency domain methods – This test uses electric frequencies to measure your HRV.
All of the tests will last for at least 5 minutes. This is because at least 60 seconds is required to measure the Highest Frequency part of the HRV, and 4 minutes is needed to measure the Lowest Frequency part of the HRV. Some of the tests will last for more than a few hours–up to 18 hours connected to an ECG machine!
How You Can Measure HRV
If you don’t have the time or money to spend on a clinical test, you can always test your own HRV using one of the myriad smartphone apps available online:
• iThlete — This is an app that will allow you to track your HRV in addition to your heart rate and calorie-burn. You will need an ECG receiver and a heart rate chest strap, but it will make it easy for you to measure your HRV right from your smartphone.
• Bioforce — The Bioforce HRV app is designed for both Android and iOS devices, and it measures your heart rate similar to the way iThlete does. It takes longer to measure your HRV, but the increased length of time helps you to get more accurate results.
Here are a few more of the apps available to download:
• Somatic Vision Alive
• OPzone Connect
• Elite HRV
• emWave2 and emWave PRO
• Breathe Sync™
• Firstbeat Technologies
• Vitness Rx
• CardioMood HRV Expert
• Biocom Technologies
• Elite HRV
• Inner Balance
(List courtesy of Wikipedia…)
In addition to these apps, you will find that the Polar RS800 can also measure your HRV in addition to your heart rate. This Polar heart rate monitor watch has actually been used in scientific research into HRV, so it can come in handy to help you check your Heart Rate Variability. You will need to manually export the data to your computer, but it will give you the raw data you need to measure your HRV.
HRV and Wellness
How does knowing your HRV rate help you?
1. It can help you know if you are training too hard. Overtraining can lead to stress and reduced physical performance.
2. It can help you know your rate of recovery (how much time you need to rest between training muscles).
3. It can help you know when to train hard and when to take it easy.
4. It can help you know if you are stressed, your blood pressure is too high, or if there are other physiological signs of strain.
Basically, if you are an athlete, monitoring your HRV will help you to make the best possible progress without pushing your body beyond its limits.
HRV in Tennis
When training to be the best tennis player you can be, you will spend A LOT of your time doing cardiovascular conditioning drills. If you push yourself too hard, you could end up plateauing in your workouts. If you don’t push yourself hard enough, you’ll never make progress, get faster, or reach your peak conditioning.
Monitoring your HRV will show the stress of the exercise and will tell you when to back off on the training. You’ll see the signs of strain on your body, know when it’s time to take a break, and when you can really push yourself hard to reach your fitness goals!
The HRV is purely a physiological measurement and currently we use it only for assessing the physical state of the players.
On the other hand, we also know that our mental and emotional states affect our physiology and can therefore be indirectly measured.
An interesting question then comes up: is there a correlation between HRV and Ideal Performance State (IPS) of the player and can we therefore track the mental state of our player throughout the match by tracking the HRV?
Imagine having a chart tracking your player’s HRV, the fluctuations of the score and your notes of his behaviour on key points.
How would that data help you diagnose your player’s mental state during each point of the match and thus help you in developing a specific mental training programme for your player?