What Is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

In this day and age, we are looking for ways to quantify everything – our daily calorie consumption/expenditure, our steps, our workouts, even our sleep. Well, what about stress? Since this is something very subjective to each person, how would we know if we have too much, or too little in our daily life?

Enter Heart Rate Variability, or HRV. Simplistically, this is the measurement of the spacing between each one of your heart beats. We can use apps to check your morning HRV score versus a baseline to help determine your stress level. This is known as your morning readiness – think about this more of a measurement of how RECOVERED you are from the previous day. A good score (60+ out of 100) will help to determine if your body is ready to take on another day of hard training, or if you are better off with some active recovery.

Why Is This Important?

Ultimately, HRV can aid in the avoidance of over-training, injuries, and your body breaking down or getting sick. The amount of stress your body experiences daily has a lot to do with your ability to stay healthy. Remember in previous emails, we discussed the two sides of our nervous system, Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic (rest and digest)? They both work together to regulate many of our bodies functions such as digestion, heart rate and respirations to name a few. Since emotional and physical stresses are perceived similarly by the body, we can now use this single measurement to get a better glimpse as to how well our daily stress & de-stressing techniques are working.

Consider how you are currently gauging your daily readiness for training. For most, when you get up in the morning, we use this type of flow chart. If you:

  • feel good – you come to the gym.
  • feel a little beat up –  you probably still come to the gym and try to psyche yourself up.
  • feel bad/stressed – maybe then you take an off day or come in and workout harder to get your mind off of work/family/etc…
Unfortunately, you are missing the whole picture. Remember, emotional stress is still stress. Working out can be an emotional release, but it is still physical stress. Pair a stressful week outside of the gym with intense training volume and you have a recipe for sickness, injury, or, if done long enough, adrenal fatigue.

Most of us adapt very well to stressful situations, so simply listening to your body can only go so far. HRV gives our training one more dimension to allow us to continue performing optimally!


What Do I Need To Get Started

You will need 2 pieces, a Bluetooth enabled chest strap heart rate monitor (NOT A WATCH STYLE HR TRACKER) and an app. Here are my recommendations.


  • Polar H7 Chest Strap – This will run you about $50, but is necessary as this measurement requires tapping into the electrical side of your pulse, so  unfortunately those wrist HR trackers that measure your blood flow are not as accurate.
  • Sweetbeat (iPhone) $10 app – I have had the most consistent results and from my research, this app gives the most reliable data.
  • Elite HRV (any device) FREE. This is a great starter app. Very user friendly, but you don’t get as much information as you do from sweetbeat.
The test should be done every morning around the same time while lying in bed, taking about 3-5 minutes of your time. A baseline will take about 2-3 days to establish and the accuracy of scores will improve with the more days of testing you have.

HRV scores are typically out of 100, and your app will help you interpret your daily results. Be on the look out for a big spike or drop in daily resting heart rate (RHR), HRV score, or the apps stress measurement. Chat with your coach if you need assistance figuring out what your results mean.

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