HRV Explained Part 3: How to measure HRV

*Update: For a much more thorough and updated description of how to measure HRV please see this post.

If you’ve been following my discussions you’re probably curious about how one goes about monitoring their HRV. Today I’ll inform you of how I monitor mine as well as a few other options available. I strongly suggest reading Part 1 and 2 of my HRV discussion before reading this if you haven’t already.

If you have $30,000+ lying around then you can buy yourself an Omegawave. This device is used by organizations within the NFL, NCAA, Olympics, Pro Soccer leagues in Europe, etc.

Here is a demonstration of NFL players having their HRV measured on the Omegawave prior to training camp.

Assuming that dropping 30 g’s is unreasonable for you there are some other options.

I personally use an app called the iThlete that is compatible with both ios and android. The iThlete requires a heart rate strap and a small ECG receiver that you plug into the headphone jack.

To measure HRV you simply plug the ECG receiver in, strap on the heart rate monitor and press the start button on the app. You should measure HRV in the morning after you wake up. This will give you the most accurate score since you’ve yet to encounter any stressful events for the day. The app will measure your heart rate for about a minute and provide you with your heart rate score in beats per minute (bpm) and HRV. It provides the HRV score through a calculation based on the time interval between each beat. You do not see the raw data but are just given a score. The higher the score for HRV, the more recovered and rested you are (parasympathetic dominant). Here is a screen shot from my score this morning.

HRV and Heart Rate score this morning

*To give you an idea of my HRV scores anything between 77-80 would be good. Anything above would be exceptional recovery and anything under would indicate insufficient recovery. This morning my resting heart rate was 63bpm and my HRV was 81. This is a great score for me.

Now here is where the app gets really cool. If you select the chart button at the bottom of the screen you see a chart of your HRV trends over time. You can see a chart displaying all HRV scores ever measured, all HRV within the last 3 months, 1 month or week. Here is a picture of mine.

HRV Chart

Upward deflections represent higher scores (increase in parasympathetic activity) and the downward deflections represent lower scores (decrease in parasympathetic activity). Green lines tell you that intense training will be well tolerated, amber lines caution you not to go overboard with your training and red lines tell you to take a recovery day.

The massive red downward deflections you see on the chart all occurred the day after I performed intense conditioning sessions. These were so stressful to my body because I’ve been training for powerlifting for the past few years and have done little conditioning. My body was not adapted to that type of training and clearly reflects this in my HRV scores. The most recent drops in HRV (shown in late December) actually show my adaptive reserves plummet while getting sick with a head cold. The first day I started to feel the cold coming on my heart rate was 78bpm and my HRV dropped to 68! The next day (the worst day of my cold) my morning heart rate was 92 and my HRV was 56! Needless to say I did not train on those days.

The last image I’ll show you from the app is the graph you can view.

This displays all of your HRV scores ever taken. You can scroll down for more scores. Additionally you can e-mail your data to your coach or anyone who may be overseeing your training allowing them to make any necessary adjustments in your training.

Another app exists called the Bioforce HRV App. Bioforce is compatible with ios and Android. This was designed by former NFL strength coach and current MMA strength coach Joel Jamieson. This app functions similar to the iThlete as it is manufactured by the same developer. BioForce differs from ithlete mainly in measurement duration (2.5 minutes vs 55 seconds), preferred position (supine vs. seated or standing).

I’ll also mention that Polar has heart rate monitor watches that can also provide HRV scores. The RS800 watch from polar is a valid instrument for collecting RR intervals and has been used quite a bit in research. However, be prepared to manually export your data from the watch to software that can analyze the data. This is not the most convenient option but will provide very accurate data.

If you’re interested in buying an HRV device I suggest you do your research on each one and find which best suits your needs.

In my next post I will discuss what I’ve learned from monitoring my own HRV for the past 7 months or so. I’ll include details on how I’ve altered my training structure because of it and give examples of how I manipulate my training day to day based on my HRV score. Additionally I’ll discuss non-training related events that have sapped my HRV scores that really taught me about how my body responds to things such as travelling, poor sleep, etc. I’ll include anecdotes about when my HRV scores were exceptionally high and what I think may have influenced them.

Thanks for reading.

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About hrvtraining

I hold an MS in Exercise Science and am a CSCS with the NSCA. I"m currently working in the Human Performance Lab at Auburn University (Montgomery) completing several research projects on HRV and exercise. I will be pursuing a PhD in Human Performance this Fall (2014) at the University of Alabama. Formerly, I worked as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Cal U in PA. I have an extensive athletic background including hockey, rugby and collegiate football. I now compete in raw powerlifting and was the 2010 Canadian National Champion (amateur). I am interested in all aspects of strength and conditioning however my research interest pertains to heart rate variability and its application to monitoring the training of athletes.
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12 Responses to HRV Explained Part 3: How to measure HRV

  1. brayjason says:

    Great article! Looking into hrv training myself!

  2. Sean says:

    Good article and definitely a hot topic.

    To be fair all of the Polar watches that feature R-R intervals can be used for HRV analysis vis the OwnZone and ZoneOptimizer applications on the watches. They also use HRV measurements in their Fitness Tests on the units too.

    Big growth area as athletes strive to understand the bodies response to stress and recovery.

  3. hrvtraining says:

    Thanks for adding that, Sean. Good to know.

  4. Craig Walters says:

    Hi im currently testing the hosand hrv system which is medical device certified http://tocasports.com/hosand/

    apparently used by a number of Italian football teams including the national squad …having trouble interpreting the outputs but will stick with it ….great blog !!

  5. hrvtraining says:

    Thanks, Craig. This article definitely needs to be updated as there have been plenty of new HRV tools made available in the past couple years. I just recently started testing out this one https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hrv4training/id686923970?mt=8

  6. Great articles Andrew! They helped me a lot on deciding to implement HRV in my training.

    I just want to add (for those who are really geeky about this) that I am measuring my HR with a Suunto Ambit2 which is then imported to Kubios HRV (Suunto data files can be found in C:\Users\Casper\AppData\Roaming\Suunto\Moveslink2) to analyse the HRV. Kubios is a really awesome and free HRV analysis software from the University of Eastern Finland. It works on Windows and Linux. http://kubios.uef.fi/ :)

    Blue skies from Denmark!

  7. hrvtraining says:

    Thanks Casper. Kubios is a great free software that I’ve used previously. Currently, we use Nevrokard software here in our lab but this is definitely not free.

  8. John Hosten says:

    Hi,
    I stumbled upon this blog (great stuff!!) in searching for which app to use (Android) to measure HRV. I am a geek when it comes to exercise physiology stuff and love the topic of HRV, admittedly much to learn on this! Anyway, since you wrote this several years ago, would you still recommend using Ithlete? I was going to go with it anyway (based upon reputation, what my colleagues say, etc. Do you still personally measure your HRV with ithlete?

    As an aside, I find it fascinating when I read personal examples such as your regarding daily influences (training and other factors) on HRV.

  9. hrvtraining says:

    Hi John,

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the blog.

    I currently still use ithlete and have recently switched from the Bluetooth Strap to the pulse-wave finger sensor. Much more convenient.

    I personally prefer ithlete over other systems for the following reasons;

    - It’s the least expensive
    - It utilizes a shorter measurement duration (55 s compared to 120+ s in other devices)
    - It is compatible with a finger sensor (as mentioned above)
    - I’m confident in its accuracy as I have personally tested it on several individuals vs. an ECG.
    - ithlete also allows you to track your training load and psychometrics (sleep quality, mood, fatigue, soreness, etc.) all in one app from the same interface.

    Hope this was helpful,

    Andrew

  10. Oskar says:

    Hello, great post about HRV!!! Regards from Brazil. I want to ask all of you, had you tested the android based applications for HRV measurements just with the finger (as many apps for heart rate)? For example this one? What do you think?
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.vitapulse.demo

    Best regards from Brazil

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