In my recent articles on HRV in Team Sports, I discussed the idea of having our athletes report to pre-season camp with favorable autonomic profiles prior to the initiation of intensive training. The goal of this being to enhance adaptation and reduce injury potential. Today I’d like to delve into this topic a little deeper.
First I’d like to review some important research that helped form the basis of this thought process. Other, more intelligent minds thought of this stuff way before I did and have produced what I consider to be, some pretty compelling research.
Vesterinen and colleagues (2011) found that recreational endurance runners who had high baseline HRV levels prior to intensive training improved their performance significantly more than runners who had low baseline HRV levels prior to training.
Oliveira and colleagues (2012) found a strong correlation between parasympathetic indices of HRV (analyzed before training) with the performance improvement in Yo-Yo IR1 in soccer players during pre-season training.
Hedelin and colleagues (2001) set out to investigate relationships between HRV and central and peripheral performance measures in various trained endurance athletes over a 7 month period. The authors reported that; “higher parasympathetic activity, at least in these fit subjects, rather was a cause than an effect of a further increase in aerobic fitness.”
Kiviniemi et al (2007) found that in fit males, training when HRV levels are at baseline or above results in significantly higher improvements in maximum running velocity and greater improvements in vo2 max compared to a group that followed pre-planned training, of which saw insignificant changes in both measures.
In a repeat study Kiviniemi et al (2010) included female groups and found that females take longer to recover from a training session and that fitness can be improved with fewer high intensity training days when guided by HRV compared to the pre-planned training group
Hautala et al (2003) reported that baseline HF Power was the most powerful determinant of future training response in healthy subjects. I strongly urge interested readers to read through this review by Hautala et al (2009) for a thorough discussion on this topic.
I’m certain I’m leaving out some good research but I think you get the idea. There is evidence to suggest that HRV levels can be a good indicator of training response in athletes and fit individuals.
A couple issues I’m having with the evidence as it applies to team sport settings;
- HRV measurement is different in much of the research. Some is nocturnal, some is morning, etc. Therefore, we can’t say for certain if we can draw similar conclusions based on a morning measurement if the researchers used nocturnal HRV measurements. Having said that, I do feel that morning measurements are sufficient, if not optimal.
- The research mostly pertains to aerobic athletes and aerobic training. However, given that most team sports require a sufficient level of aerobic capacity I still think the discussed research offers valuable information. Even in a sport like American Football, many of the drills are serial and repetitive in nature and thus places a greater dependence on energy production from aerobic metabolism. Further, repeated sprint ability is related to oxygen uptake during rest periods (Dupont et al. 2010).
It appears that having a high level of resting parasympathetic tone prior to intensive training results in more favorable responses and performance improvements in athletes. The research suggests that HRV levels appear to reflect adaptive potential. It should be of high priority to the coaching staff that players remain healthy throughout training. Keeping tabs on HRV levels throughout training, taken with other measures of training status, may reveal maladaptation and therefore a necessitation for intervention.
I’d personally like to see HRV levels monitored in Collegiate American Football players throughout pre-season training camp. It’s conceivable that injury risk is heightened in athletes showing consistent decrements in HRV. It surprises me that there is very little research on HRV and injury (risk, recovery, return to play, etc) in comparison to HRV and performance enhancement/monitoring.
Whether or not we can apply this to strength/power athletes is not clear as there is very little research on this. It’s been a personal goal of mine to investigate this issue and I hope to do this at some point in the future.
Provided that athletes are engaging in training throughout the off-season having a high level of parasympathetic tone at rest shouldn’t be an issue. Team sport athletes will generally have low resting heart rates and a high work capacity. The concern would be with athletes that are either not preparing themselves for intense training, or with those that may be over doing it.
Apart from aiming to have high HRV levels prior to training we may also want to use HRV as an indicator of recovery status day to day. During intense training periods, recovery and restoration modalities can aid in parasympathetic re-activation and therefore more rapid recovery. Paying closer attention to nutritional strategies, active recovery, cold water immersion (a controversial topic at the moment it seems) sleep quality and duration, etc. may help us in maintaining favorable ANS activity; perhaps a topic for another day.
Dupont, G., et al. (2010) Faster oxygen uptake kinetics during recovery is related to better repeated sprint ability. European Journal of Applied Physiology, (110)3: 627-34
Hautala, A.J., et al. (2003) Cardiovascular autonomic function correlates with the response to aerobic training in healthy sedentary subjects. American Journal of Heart & Circulatory Physiology, 285(5): H1747–52.
Hautala AJ, et al. (2009)Individual responses to aerobicexercise: the role of the autonomicnervous system. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 33(2): 107–115.
Hedelin, R. et al. (2001) Heart Rate Variability in athletes: relationship with central and peripheral performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(8), 1394-1398.
Kiviniemi, A.M., Hautala, A., Kinnumen, H., & Tulppo, M. (2007) Endurance training guided by daily heart rate variability measurements. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 101: 743-751.
Kiviniemi, A.M., Hautala A.J., Kinnunen, H., Nissila, J., Virtanen, P., Karjalainen, J., & Tulppo, M.P. (2010) Daily exercise prescription on the basis of HR variability among men and women. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, 42(7): 1355-1363.
Oliveira, RS. et al. (2012b) The correlation between heart rate variability and improvement in soccer player’s physical performance. Brazilian Journal of Kinanthropometry, 14(6)
Vesterinen, V. et al. (2011) Heart rate variability in prediction of individual adaptation to endurance training in recreational endurance athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2011.01365.x