Why gym fanatics claim to measure the time BETWEEN your heart rate can tell you if you’re overdoing it
If, like a third of the British, you own a fitness tracker, you can already count your steps, track your sleep quality and keep a list of calories burned and expended.
And you might also reasonably think that your daily data is extensive enough to keep ill health at bay.
But those who are “ in the know ” add another measure to their DIY wellness assessment: their heart rate variation, or HRV. Unlike regular heart rate – the number of beats per minute your heart makes – HRV determines the time between each heartbeat and how it varies.
This is given as a general HRV ‘score’, which is a calculation based on how much variation there is.
Guarded HRV: singer Ellie Goulding, 33, who is an avid runner and has hinted that measurement is an important aspect of her own regimen
A higher score, meaning greater variability, is most desirable. A lower score, meaning less variability, can mean you’ve trained too hard – and need a break.
HRV has long been a parameter used by elite athletes seeking that extra physiological insight to give them an edge over rivals – allowing them to push their bodies to the limit, without risking damage from overtraining, which may damage the immune system and lead to injury.
But now the trend is creeping into the wider world of fitness.
Ellie Goulding, the fitness-conscious singer, has hinted that HRV is an important aspect of her own regimen: “I spent a lot of time running as a teenager and in my early twenties – at least 10k a day,” said the 33-year-old. old.
“And that gave me a really good heart rate variation.”
There is certainly no shortage of ways to monitor your HRV. It can be recorded on an Apple Watch, some versions of FitBit (the Charge 3, Ionic and Versa), Polar chest strap heart rate monitors, the Whoop wristband, the Oura ring (spotted on the fingers of Prince Harry and Will Smith), and via apps like Wattson Blue, which allows you to record your HRV with the camera on your smartphone, and ithlete, which uses a finger sensor to take an HRV measurement.
But what does HRV actually mean, and is it really worth adding to the ever-growing list of metrics we keep?
John Brewer, a professor of sports and exercise science at the University of Suffolk, explains that the heart rate is not constant, pointing out that just because your resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute doesn’t mean your heart beats second every time.
He says, “In a nutshell, your heart rate variability is a measure of your heart’s electrical pattern and the milliseconds between heartbeats.
“And it’s subject to fluctuations due to a range of factors, including your age, fitness, work stress, time of day, diet, the amount of alcohol or caffeine you consume, and your overall health.”
HRV can be recorded on an Apple Watch, some versions of FitBit (Charge 3, Ionic and Versa), Polar chest strap heart rate monitors, the Whoop wrist strap and the Oura ring (file photo)
There is no normal HRV level and there is no point in comparing yours to someone else’s.
As a rough guide, Whoop, who makes the fitness tracker of the same name, says 20 to 25-year-olds usually have an average HRV in the range of 55 to 105, while 60 to 65-year-olds usually have between 25 and 45. But where it really what matters is how your figure fluctuates daily – and the higher it stays, the better. Experts advise to measure in the morning.
If you’ve overdone it at the gym or if there have been too many ‘stressors’ in your life, your HRV will drop – an early warning sign that you need time to recover.
On the other hand, if your HRV remains high, it means you have enough energy reserves to keep attacking every workout plan with verve. Jim Pate, senior exercise physiologist at the Center for Health and Human Performance, says, “Stress affects the nervous system, decreasing the variability over time between heartbeats.
“It’s like holding your foot on the accelerator pedal all the time to maintain the speed, rather than kicking a little and then letting it go to shore.
“So, simply put, lower HRV signals higher levels of mental and physical stress.” Studies have suggested that exercising when HRV is high leads to greater gains in fitness, compared to exercising when HRV is lower.
HRV has long been used by elite athletes looking for that extra physiological insight to give them an edge over rivals. But the trend is creeping into the wider world of fitness (file photo)
And top athletes who tuned their training to their HRV significantly improved performance during training.
But other researchers have found that HRV makes no difference to exercise or sports performance, and Prof Brewer says, “The jury is still out. Scientists still don’t know if it’s worth following. ‘
Pate adds, “It’s a tool to track your training load, but there are many more factors to consider.”
According to Prof Brewer, it should not become a practice obsession. “Don’t read too much in HRV, because it doesn’t tell the whole story,” he says. Often the most reliable – but boring – way to see if you’re overdoing things is simply by listening to your body.
Excessive fatigue, poor sleep, constant struggling in the classroom or while running and cycling despite the workload not increasing is a clear sign that your body needs rest.
“These classic complaints are often overlooked,” says Pate.
“Tracking your heart rate and HRV may be helpful for some people, but if you still end up thinking,” Well, you know … I just don’t feel well, “then you should give yourself a break.”
Try THIS with Mariam Al-Roubi: a simple side stretch for better breathing
Last week I gave you a simple exercise to unlock the lower back, to relive tension and stress. This week, the focus is on the latissimus dorsi muscles, which run all the way from the back of the shoulder to the hips. The piece feels SO good, and I find it interesting that I can breathe deeper if I did this as part of a warm up before a workout.
When I feel a little anxious, I find it also helps calm me down. Give it a chance…
1 Sit in a “child’s pose”: kneeling on the floor with your hands supporting you, leaning back on your heels as you lift your hands away from you.
2 Once you have found a comfortable position, walk with your hands to one side, keeping your body still and the hips still on your feet – feel the stretch along your entire side. Hold for ten seconds and try to keep your hips on your feet without lifting.
3 If you want to deepen the piece, feel free to walk your hands further to the side and hold for ten more seconds. Repeat on the other side by running your hands the same way, all over. You can repeat each side up to three times.