My observations with HRV and how I will now use HRV to guide my training

I’ve been monitoring my HRV for almost 7 months. Throughout this time I did not use HRV to guide my training but rather have just observed how my HRV scores responded to my regular routine. My regular routine consisted of training upper body and lower body twice/week. Monday was Squat, Tuesday was Bench, Thursday was Deadlift, Friday was Incline or Overhead press. I’d follow each main lift up with assistance work.  Today I’ll disclose what I’ve learned from my observations and how I will start to use HRV to vary my training.


I’ve noticed that conditioning sessions (intervals on steps) affect my HRV the next morning much more than heavy strength work outs. This is obviously because I had been performing no conditioning work within the last year. However, after performing the conditioning sessions consistently over several weeks (one time per week) I noticed an overall improvement in HRV and I no longer experience massive drops the morning after the conditioning session. This is a prime example of HRV reflecting adaptation to what initially was an immense stress on my body. To give you an example, the morning after my first stair interval workout my morning heart rate after waking was 84 bpm and my HRV was 66. My typical morning heart rate is around 60 bpm (give or take) with HRV averaging almost an 80. If I miss a few weeks of conditioning, the next time I do them again my HRV plummets (I have deconditioned) .

We run 67 steps that look very similar to those above for between 30-50 rounds depending on the day.

I’ve recently began performing 20 minute light aerobic recovery work on off days to see what would happen. I found that when I do these consistently my HRV scores show smaller fluctuation from day to day. No surprise here.

I rarely get sick, but when I do, I see a significant drop in HRV. This winter there was a morning where I woke up (from a terrible night’s sleep) with a head cold, stuffed nose, etc. My morning heart rate was 92 bpm and my HRV was 56. This was my worst ever result. Needless to say I did not train that day. In the past I would often debate in my head if I should train anyway. Actually seeing how much it affects my adaptability to training was very eye opening.

I have not experienced any significant changes in HRV from minor muscular injuries. However, I do notice a decline in HRV after a few days if the injury causes me to stop training. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that HRV stays higher on average when I am consistently exercising over time and am more active throughout the days. When I’m at Cal in the weight room every day moving around and training athletes, my HRV is tpyically higher compared to when I go home for a month over Christmas and sit around too much. Within a few days of inactivity I’ll typically see HRV decline somewhat.

I’ve noticed lower HRV scores during times of travel and sleeping at places other than my own bed. I drove 4 hours from Pittsburgh to my folks place in Cincinnati and slept there for 2 weeks. The first two mornings my HRV was noticeably lower than normal. I found this to be surprising as I didn’t feel that the travel was too stressful, nor did I think that sleeping in a different bed was too stressful. This happens pretty much every time I travel.

I have not experienced a correlation with higher strength levels on days where HRV is above baseline. I’m going to elaborate on this more in a different post as I have a lot of thoughts on HRV and performance prediction as well as more research to share regarding this.

How I plan on using HRV to manipulate my training loads:

– I will change from lifting on Mon-Tues-Thurs-Fri , to adjusting to an every other day format. This is because my HRV scores on Tuesday and Friday are always lower due to Monday and Thursday training sessions. Having a day off between workouts allows for an increase in HRV on all training days which hypothetically allows for better adaptation. We’ll see how it affects my training.

– On days where HRV scores are above 80, I will perform a higher volume of work over 90% of my 1 rep max. The idea here is that since I’m more adaptable to training, I will place a greater stress on my body. For example I’ll perform 3 sets of 3 above 90% whereas I typically would do only 1 work set over 90%.

– If HRV is around baseline (77-80) I will perform a lower volume of work over 90% such as 2 sets of 2.

– Finally, if HRV is below baseline I will avoid working over 80%. I typically deload after every 3 week cycle but will no longer be doing so. I will simply reduce volume and intensity on days where HRV is low. I will deload only if and when I feel I need it based on HRV scores, performance markers (strength) and how my joints feel.

For now, this is the plan. The reps and percentages are not set in stone. The main idea is that I’ll be training with high intensity and volume on high HRV days; high intensity and moderate volume on baseline HRV days; deload on low HRV days. If I set any personal records in the gym on Bench, Squat or Deadlift I’ll know the plan is working. I haven’t hit a PR since Canadian Nationals in 2010. This is partially due to injuries and partially due to dropping 20 lbs of body weight. I’ll stop now with the excuses.

In my next post I’ll give an update on the research we’ll be doing here in the weight room with HRV and football players. I’ll also elaborate on my thoughts on HRV and its ability to predict performance.

Thanks for reading.


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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5 Responses to My observations with HRV and how I will now use HRV to guide my training

  1. Brian says:


  2. Pingback: HRV response to perceived training load – Observations from 2.5 months of data | HRVtraining

  3. D a v i d says:

    Thanks for this series of posts. I am very interested to learn about HRV and using it to train smarter rather than harder.

    D a v i d

  4. hrvtraining says:

    Thanks David, I’m glad you found it helpful.

  5. Pingback: ithlete | HRVtraining

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