Recovery and Heart Rate Variability

 

 

There is an all too much overlooked aspect of fitness and that is recovery. Many don’t realize that recovery is where the benefits of training is. I’m not talking during a workout recovery. I’m talking rest, sleep and active recovery. When we train we stress the system. We tear our muscle fibers, we breakdown. Now if a car has a blowout (a muscle tear in a sense), we don’t just start it up and go, because if we do, we risk more damage to the wheel, alignment, suspension, maybe even the frame. We take it in to get the tire repaired (recovery) and then we’re back on the road. Our body needs that same attention, we break it down, we have to let it recover.

“How do I know if I’m recovered?” this could be as simple as asking myself “how do I feel?”

Am I sore? No.
Do I feel sluggish? No.
Cool. Let’s rock’n roll!

There is a way to ask your body if it is ready to go and that is by checking your Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

Years ago, I started tracking my resting heart rate (RHR). I learned about through Strength and conditioning guru and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt Steve Maxwell when he talked about a recovery tracking process involving just checking your RHR. It would work like this: I would check my RHR first thing in the morning when I woke up. My normal RHR would be around 40-42 beats per minute. So Steve states, on a particular morning after hard training the day before, my RHR will be higher, around 50 beats per minute, which in turn states my body is working harder, hence the higher RHR and that I am not fully recovered, so it would be in my best interest to rest or at least scale my workout.

Checking HRV is a more accurate way to check your bodies recovery. HRV is the variability in you heart beat. It is also an indicator of your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS is composed of two systems:

Sympathetic Nervous System: fight or flight
Parasympathetic Nervous System: rest and digest

In the sympathetic state, the ‘fight or flight’ state, your body is working, your heart rate increases. You might be being chased by a lion and running for your life, in a boxing match, in the middle of a hard workout or fighting off an infection in your body. In this state, your body will be stressed and your HRV will be low, the variability of the beat of your heart will be low, it will be in a steady and rhythmic beat. For example, in a Work Capacity workout, your heart rate will be elevated probably around 150bpm. Your body is obviously stressed from the workout, your HRV number will be low. Conversely, if you are sick and in bed with a heart rate around 50bpm (point I’m trying to make is you are not exercising), your HRV will still be low, because your body is fighting off an infection, your body is still in a sympathetic state in both these scenarios.

Now when you are in a parasympathetic state, your body is at rest, your heart rate decreases. It is in “zen” mode, maybe taking a nap, it is in its restful nature. In this state your HRV will be high, there will be more of a variable beat, scattered in its rhythm, the variability of the beat is all over the place.

You want a balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic states. We want to be able to activate the sympathetic nervous system when we need to and then turn it off quickly and spend most of our time in the restorative parasympathetic state.

“How do I check my HRV?”

You are going to need a heart rate monitor, I have a Polar Bluetooth Heart Rate strap (https://www.amazon.com/Polar-Bluetooth-Sensor-Fitness-Tracker/dp/B00NOHWTO6) and I use the Elite HRV app, that checks for HRV (https://elitehrv.com/). You will want to test your resting HRV, which is first thing in the morning, before coffee, really before you do anything. HRV numbers are based on 1 – 100 scale, 100 being optimally rested state – 1 being stressed to the gills. Obviously shooting for 100 is great, but a number in the 80’s is a good HRV number to strive for. My high HRV number right now is in the high 70’s with an occasional 80’s here and there.

example week of HRV testing:

 

Resting                  HRV                         Day’s Activity

Sunday:                  78                             Active Recovery (Went on a walk)

Monday                  84                            60minute Work Capacity Workout

Tuesday                  75                            60minute Jiu Jitsu Training

Wednesday            64                            Rest

Thursday                82                            60minute Jiu Jitsu Training

Friday                     68                            Rest

Saturday                 80                            60min Strength Workout

 

The above weeklong scenario is based on my resting HRV numbers, where a number in the 80s is my ceiling. If my number is in the 80’s, my body rested quite well, even a high 70’s number is ok. But once I dip into the 60’s, I’m definitely going to rest or active rest. Active rest is something low impact or even meditation.

Everyone’s resting HRV number will be different. If you are very low stressed, in good condition, get adequate sleep, your resting HRV number could easily be in the 90’s. With that being said, you could be in great shape, eat great, but your stress and sleep are horrible, which could easily drop your resting HRV. Someone out of shape, high body fat, doesn’t eat well, mostly likely will be predominately low on the scale. Lifestyle can easily affect your HRV number, or being sick. Many things can affect you resting HRV.

The goal is to get the HRV number higher. A resting HRV that is a high number, will be a well rested and recovered state. A lower resting HRV and means the body is still working. Whether it be from a workout or fighting a cold, HRV gives you an idea where your body is at.

HRV is a great and easy to use tracking tool that you can use to determine the state of your body. We want our workouts to help us, we don’t want to overdo ourselves and lead to more problems when our ultimate goal is to look and feel better. Am I right? HRV tracking is a great way to communicate with your body and get the most out of your workouts. If you want to know more, feel free to shoot me an email at jason@moveaustinfitness.com.