HRV Guided Training, Periodization and Training Variables

Here are some things to consider when planning your daily workouts guided by HRV;

  1. What load of work can my body handle today?

    I primarily use HRV to determine this, however lately I’ve been doing some morning tap tests as well to see what I find (Tap Test App for iPod).

    I like to break adaptive capacity rating up into 4 categories

    1. High – Increase loads
    2. Baseline – Proceed with planned load (moderate to high)
    3. Below Baseline – Reduce load
    4. Low – Rest or Active Recovery

      *In this context load refers to a combination of volume and intensity of training

    iThlete provides color indications for each of these days to simplify interpretation;

    1. Green = High
    2. White = Baseline
    3. Amber = Below Baseline
    4. Red = Low

      Here is a “Baseline” HRV Score measured this morning

  2. What is the goal of the current training phase?

    Accumulation of volume? Intensity? Weight gain? Weight loss?

Your training plan will obviously reflect your training goal however I’ve learned that it’s wise to make necessary adjustments to load in response to the present day’s adaptation potential. The following are a list of variables that I like to manipulate on a daily basis according to HRV score within the context of the training phase/goal.

  1. Volume (number of sets and reps performed with the main lift and assistance work)
  2. Intensity (the amount of weight on the bar)
  3. Rating of Perceived Exertion (how close to failure I get with my sets)

Here is an example of how I manipulate these variables based on training phase and HRV score.

Example: Volume Phase in a Block Training system:

I consider total reps in the 15+ rep range (usually no more than 25 total reps) to be high volume. This can be 3×5, 5×3, 4×4, 5×4, 6×4, 7×3, etc.

  • If HRV is high: I will typically take the higher end of the volume scale using higher sets and lower reps. RPE falls between 9-10 (10 only on last set).
  • If HRV is baseline: I will work in the middle set/rep range of the volume scale. RPE stays around 9.
  • If HRV is below baseline: I’ll stick with the lower end of the volume scale (no more than 15 total reps) with RPE staying around 8.
  • If HRV is low: Active Recovery work, no lifting.

With this set up I can still accumulate volume as long as HRV isn’t low. If I take care of my sleep, eating and overall stress levels, low day’s usually only occur the day following a training session. This is why I lift every other day and perform active recovery on “off” days. The idea is to increase the volume when HRV is high with higher intensities (<3 reps, higher RPE). When HRV isn’t quite where we would like it, we still accumulate volume, but with less intensity and a lower RPE.

Another method I’ve used for manipulating loads on a daily basis is to use more of an undulating periodization approach as opposed to a block approach. With this approach volume, intensity and RPE are constantly changing from workout to workout.

Example Undulating Periodization Approach;

  • If HRV is high: Both volume and intensity will be higher (ex: 6×2 with RPE 9-10)
  • If HRV is baseline: Reduce volume OR intensity (ex: 3×3 with RPE 9 or 3×8 RPE 8)
  • If HRV is below baseline: Intensity AND volume is reduced (ex: 2×4 RPE 8)
  • If HRV is low: Deload workout/active recovery

With this system we increase total load when the body is prepared to handle it better and back it off when necessary. Higher HRV days will involve lower rep ranges to allow for a higher %of 1RM whereas lower HRV days will have higher reps to reduce % of 1RM.

Keep in mind these set ups were for the purposes of increasing strength. Through constant experimentation and evaluation I’m improving on my approach to training. These set-ups aren’t perfect but they worked well. I’m presently using the block approach illustrated in my first example in my current training.

In a few weeks I’ll hopefully get a good post up on how the tap test fits into my program design. I’m looking to see how it correlates to strength, HRV, RPE, etc.

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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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2 Responses to HRV Guided Training, Periodization and Training Variables

  1. Pingback: All about the ithlete HRV device | HRVtraining

  2. Pingback: HRV and Strength Research: Implications for Strength/Power Athletes? | HRVtraining

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