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Previously, I discussed the importance of managing your training program along with the easiest and most effective ways to use a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re on track and getting the best results possible. In this article, I’ll share the perfect tool to complement heart rate monitoring, a relatively less known, yet incredibly powerful technology known as heart rate variability.

 

Used together, the combination of heart rate monitoring and heart rate variability tracking represent the most effective way to get the most out of your training program. Not only will you be able to see a day-by-day snapshot of how your fitness and conditioning is changing from the inside out, but you’ll also be given a virtual roadmap that leads toward your training goals.

 

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In order to understand how it all works, let’s talk a bit about what heart rate variability is.

 

What Is Heart Rate Variability?

Despite the fact that heart rate variability has only recently been used within the fitness and sports performance fields, it’s been around since the 1960s. Originally developed as part of the Russian space program and used in 1961 by the first man in space, Yuri Gargarin, heart rate variability is often confused with heart rate, even though the two biomarkers are quite different.

 

"By looking at specific patterns contained within the rhythm of your heartbeat, HRV is able to accurately gauge fitness and fatigue levels at any given time."

Heart rate is a simple measure of how many times your heart beats, most often measured in beats per minute. Heart rate variability is a measure of something much more complex. Instead of just looking at the function of the heart, heart rate variability (HRV) reflects how the brain is regulating the heart. By looking at specific patterns contained within the rhythm of your heartbeat, HRV is able to accurately gauge fitness and fatigue levels at any given time.

 

ALSO BY JOEL: How to Manage Your Conditioning Program, Part 1

 

Though this may at first seem like something out of Star Trek, it’s incredibly well supported by years of research. And it makes sense when you consider the brain is responsible for keeping the heart functioning properly. As part of this responsibility, which literally means the difference between life and death, it the brain that is able to change the way the heart is regulated during periods of fatigue and stress.

 

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Because of this, HRV is able to provide a real-time snapshot of how much stress your body is under. This means it can help you manage your training more effectively by giving you an accurate gauge of how much volume and intensity is appropriate so you can push your body to its limits without going overboard and into a state of overtraining.

 

Using HRV to Guide Training

One of the best aspects of heart rate variability is its overall ease of use. To measure your heart rate variability, you don’t need to do anything more than to put on a heart rate monitor and lie down and relax for a few minutes. During this short period, HRV can be calculated and reported by a mobile app.

 

"By looking at specific patterns contained within the rhythm of your heartbeat, HRV is able to accurately gauge fitness and fatigue levels at any given time."

This HRV information should then be used on a daily basis to help guide training. On days where HRV shows you’re already under a moderate or high level of fatigue, it’s best to take your workouts down a notch or two so your body can recover faster. Overworking on such days slows down progress and increases the chances of injury and eventual overtraining.

 

LEARN MORE: HRV an Important Variable for Combat Athletes

 

On the other hand, when HRV shows you’re in the green and ready to go, you can push your body to its limits and know that it’s ready to adapt and respond effectively. By looking at specific patterns contained within the rhythm of your heartbeat, HRV is able to accurately gauge fitness and fatigue levels at any given time - and work with your body rather than against it.

 

Combining Heart Rate Monitoring and HRV

Of course this entire approach works best when combined with the heart rate monitoring discussed in my first article. For example, say you’ve planned a day of high-intensity intervals that, according to your previous records, typically results in four to five minutes of total time spent above 90% of your max and an average heart rate of 150 for a total duration of sixty minutes. This is definitely one of the harder workouts you do, but you feel like it’s been leading to great progress lately.

 

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Now on the day of the planned workout, suppose you take your HRV measurement and it shows moderate fatigue. In this case, you realize it’s best to cut back the workout a bit. You take it down to forty minutes, shoot for a total time above 90% of two to three minutes, and rest longer in between intervals. All this results in a bit lower average heart rate, as well.

 

LEARN MORE: Heart Rate Monitoring: An Effective Test for Overtraining

 

The end result is that you were able to take what your body was giving you rather than trying to force a workout just because you had it planned. By making small changes over time, this process of individualizing your training based on biofeedback leads to much better outcomes and more consistent progress. The difference is the same as trying to travel from one place to another by trying to guess the best route versus using the latest GPS to guide you there.

 

Getting Started

We live in a technological world with almost endless amounts of information available to us 24 hours a day. We can use our cell phones to navigate and get directions, order our food, pay our bills, check up on our favorite sports teams, and send pictures and videos almost instantly around the world.

 

"The difference is the same as trying to travel from one place to another by trying to guess the best route versus using the latest GPS to guide you there."

Given this, it’s surprising how little information most people rely on when it comes to their training and all the hours they put into their workouts. Without the use of high-tech tools like heart rate monitors and heart rate variability, there is nothing to do but guess, and this rarely, if ever, leads to the best results.

 

KEEP READING: Heart Rate Variability: The New Science of Recovery

 

This is starting to change as more and more information about how your body is running is becoming available, and no doubt this trend will continue into the future. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until the future to get more out of your training.

 

With nothing more than a common heart rate monitor and the use of a heart rate variability app like BioForce HRV, you’re able to quickly and easily get invaluable information about how your body is performing and about how it should be trained. Give this approach and these tools a try and I guarantee you’ll quickly wonder how you ever trained without them.

 

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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