Reviewing HRV, RPE, 1RM and Grip Strength Data Over 6 Weeks

I’ve been continuing to collect data on a competitive powerlifter that trains out of our facilities here at AUM. This athlete has cerebral palsy and therefore only competes in raw bench press. Currently, he can press approximately 2.21x his bodyweight (265lbs at 120lb).  I’ve posted his older training cycle data previously here and here. This time around, I’ve been tracking a few different variables that are listed and described below. The purpose of this was to see if any of the monitored variables were able to reflect or predict daily variations in 1RM strength.

1RM – Unlike previous cycles, I calculated his 1RM bench press each session based on reps performed and RPE. For example; on his first working set of the day, if he performed 3 reps at an RPE of 9 (1 rep left in the tank), this was considered a 4RM weight and approximately 85% of 1RM using Mike Tuchscherer’s 1RM formula/table. I’ve chosen this specific formula because it is designed for powerlifters. We pause each bench press rep at the bottom which obviously decreases the total amount of reps that can be performed. After trying a few different formulas I found that most were under-predicting his actual strength.


230×3 RPE @9 = 4RM

Tuchsherer’s Formula: 1RM = 271.4 Calculator:  1RM = 251

Obviously, since many of these are calculated and not true 1RM’s, there is some give or take with these values.

sRPE – Following his workout, I asked him to rate the entire session on a 10 point scale. I do not multiply this by total reps performed but rather just use the rating as a general indicator of how hard the workout was for him.

Hand Dynamometry – Grip strength for each hand was assessed prior to each session via hand dynamometer (starting after week 2). You’ll note that there is a difference between his right and left grip strength due to his condition.

HRV – The athlete measured HRV each morning after waking on his iPod Touch with ithlete in a seated position.

Details of First Training Cycle (Weeks 1-3):

  •  3 weeks in duration
  • Trained 3 days/week (M-W-F)
  • Monday:  sets of 3 progressing from approximately 82% in week 1 to 87% by week 3
  • Wednesday: sets of 5 progressing from approximately 75% in week 1 to 80% in week 3
  • Friday: Singles progressing from approximately 92% in week 1 to 100% in week 3

Details of Second Training Cycle (Weeks 4-6):

  • 3 weeks in duration
  • Trained 3 days/week (M-W-F)
  • Monday: Same as previous cycle
  • Wednesday: Speed work progressing from 60-70% from week 4 to week 6 (no 1rm calculations on these days)
  • Friday: Same as previous cycle

Assistance work progressed each week and would consist of rowing/pull ups, dumbbell pressing variations and some lower body exercise.

Data is presented below:

Daily HRV and sRPE

Daily HRV and sRPE

Daily HRV & 1RM

Daily HRV & 1RM

*Regarding the last two 1RM’s on the above chart, 26o is likely lower than his true 1RM that day. He smoked it but I cut him off there. The 277 1RM was based off a 3RM calculation that is probably a little higher than his current ability.


  • Daily sRPE shows a progressive increase from week 1 -3 which accurately reflects the progressive increase in intensity for his main work.  A decrease in HRV in week 3 along with high RPE’s and a slight decline in 1RM suggests some fatigue accumulation.
  • Week 4-6 is the second training cycle. Day one of week 4 is missed and therefore this cycle doesn’t start until the Wednesday. This missed workout caused us to slightly extend the cycle to fit one more lift in on a Monday of the last week.
  • Since Wednesday’s are speed focused in the second cycle, intensity is reduced and therefore, RPE was expected to be lower. However, Wednesday of week 6, the workout is rated quite high with an 8 which also happens to be on his lowest HRV day of the entire 6 weeks. The speed emphasis prevents me from collecting a good 1RM estimation and therefore average values are based on only Mon and Fri lifts in contrast to the previous cycle that allowed for 1RMs to be calculated on all three days.
  • In week 6, HRV peaks which is in complete contrast to the first cycle where HRV bottomed out in week 3. Interestingly, session RPE’s are lower in week 6 vs. week 3. As HRV declined in week 3, RPE increased, whereas in week 6, though intensity increased, HRV continued to climb and RPE did not increase. There are several instances where HRV relates to RPE (high RPE on low HRV days and vice versa).
  • 1RM avg peaked in week 6 along with HRV avg, however I included an extra workout (the last Monday) in this average as this was the day that made up for the missed workout at the beginning of the second cycle. Therefore the average is of 8 days (4 lifts) rather than the typical 7 days (3 lifts).
  • HRV on a given day doesn’t particularly appear to be a good predictor of the subtle variation in 1RM strength in this athlete, however weekly mean values showed a strong relationship. This of course needs to be taken in context with where one is within a training cycle. You won’t magically set a PR because your HRV is high or your weekly mean is high.

Raw Data Below


  • Grip strength testing did not start until week 3. In this athlete, it does not seem to provide any insight as to daily performance potential, fatigue etc. Perhaps this assessment is more useful for lifts directly involving grip requirements (e.g. deadlifts, Olympic lifts, etc.).
  • Though not presented, sleep ratings never really dropped below 4 out of 5 and therefore sleep did not seem to be impacted by nor affect the other variables.

This data set has a laundry list of limitations. The main one being that 1RM’s were mostly calculated based on the athletes reported RPE of a set and not a true RM attempt, thus leaving plenty of room for error.

I attribute the adjustment in cycle 2 to its success compared to cycle 1. Adding in the speed work and removing the sets of 5 resulted in less fatigue and allowed for more recovery.

This data set convinces me of nothing, but simply encourages me to continue to explore the relationship between HRV and strength in athletes. Though no conclusions should be drawn, the main findings of this small case study are as follows;

  1. In this athlete, weekly average changes in 1RM Bench Press strength were related to weekly average changes in HRV (in all but week 5)
  2. On many instances, low HRV days corresponded to higher ratings of perceived exertion, however this didn’t necessarily affect strength performance.
  3. Grip strength assessed via hand dynanometer did not appear to be a useful indicator of anything in particular (other than grip strength of course) in this athlete.
  4. The peak in HRV and Strength in week 6 along with lower than expected sRPE suggests that the second cycle was well tolerated and fatigue was minimal (likely due to the programming adjustment). This is in contrast to week 3 from the end of the first cycle where HRV fell to lowest values, as did strength, while sRPE’s peaked.

HRV and Training Cycle Review of Powerlifter with CP

I’ve been continuing to work with Zarius out of our lab here at AUM. I provided a detailed account of his  recent powerlifting meet prep and competition data in this post. Zarius is 22 years old, weighs 120lbs and has Cerebral Palsy. Due to travel/work schedules we have had a hard time completing a solid training cycle since his last competition earlier this summer. We were finally able to get a good 1 month of training in before one of us had to travel again. Here is an overview of the training and HRV data from our most recent training cycle.

The Plan:

Our schedules allow for 3 training days per week. We train full body every Mon-Wed-Fri. Zarius is able to do some lower body exercises and we always finish each session with some walking laps around the track. (As an aside, prior to getting involved with the Human Performance Lab here at AUM about a year ago, Zarius’ main mode of transportation was his wheel chair. Now he walks most of the time. A testament to the great work done by Dr. Esco and the staff here at AUM as well as the effort put forth by Zarius.) Since we’re not currently preparing for a meet, we only performed the competition press once per week and performed incline and narrow-grip press on the other two training days as his main movements. I also started recording RPE for each set of his main lifts. There is definitely a learning curve to using RPE so I take the earlier values with a grain of salt. Volume for the main lifts remained constant while intensity increased each week. For his assistance work we just did some basic progressive overload. Since we wouldn’t be training for at least a week after the training cycle I wanted to overreach him a little. Zarius recorded his HRV each morning after waking with ithlete in a seated position.

The Data and Analysis:


* Training Load (TL) above is simply referring to the average intensity (%1RM) that we used for his main lifts that week. 7.4=74% , etc. For his future cycles, I’ll be collecting sRPE as he gets more comfortable with the rating system.

Week 1:

–          Lowest intensity week

–          Avg. RPE for main lift this week was 8.4

–          Previous week mean HRV was 85.2 to serve as a baseline, though not on chart. Near +2 increase (86.9) in HRV after week 1.

Week 2:

–          Intensity increases

–          Avg. RPE for main lifts this week increases slightly to 8.6

–          +1 increase in week mean HRV. Training is well tolerated and apparently not very stressful.

Week 3:

–          Highest intensity week

–          Avg. RPE for main lifts this week increases to 9.1. This week he had four RPE@10 compared to week 2 which had 1 RPE@10 and 0 in week 1. (RPE@10 means it was a maximal set, no further reps could be performed)

–          As expected and consistent with his previous meet prep cycle, HRV declines this week -2.3 to 85.7. You’ll note that on weekends his HRV tends to climb back up, indicating good recovery even though the week was quite physically stressful.

Week 4:

–          Low intensity lift on Monday

–          Bench 1RM Test with competition rules (pause and rack command) on Wednesday. Zarius pressed 260lbs cleanly (at 120lbs bodyweight) which is a 10lb Gym personal record and is 5lbs over his competition best of 255lbs.

–          – 3.5 change in HRV this week down to 82.2. This is consistent with his competition cycle where HRV reached lowest values the week of competition. However, we deloaded after week 3 of his competition prep which allowed HRV to recover and peak going in to competition. In this case, due to time constraints, we tested before the deload. It’s possible he may have been stronger with a proper deload before testing.

Week 5:

–          No training this week due to travel

–          HRV week mean returns to baseline at 84.9 (the week before the start of the cycle with no training had a week mean HRV of 85.2).

Overall, this was a successful training cycle based on the result of his 1RM test. Training to at or very near failure with high intensity appeared to have a large effect on his HRV during training evidenced by the downward trend starting in week 3. Though volume was reduced considerably, the 1RM test day appeared to be very taxing as it  had the biggest effect on his HRV (consistent with his previous competition). During week 5 where there were no training sessions, HRV returned to baseline values.

Here is a little video interview that the local media did on Zarius. Take a second and check it out.

HRV Case Study of a Powerlifter with Cerebral Palsy Preparing for Competition

Shortly after my relocation to Alabama, I was given the opportunity  to oversee the competition preparation of a young powerlifter who had been training here at the AUM Human Performance Lab under the care of Dr. Mike Esco and his staff. He was about 5 weeks out from competition at the time of my arrival. Below is a detailed account of the training program with HRV data, training load and sleep score.

The athlete is a 22 year old male with Cerebral Palsy and can therefore only compete in the Bench Press. He competes in the 123lb weight class (actual weight is 121). His best competition lift was 200lbs recorded this past February at his first competition.

After observing a couple of workouts, I could see that Zarius was missing out on some poundage due to technical flaws. The focus of the program was therefore to improve his bench press technique and get him more accustomed to the competition commands. We trained 3x/week and used a full body, undulating approach that enabled us to Bench Press each session to further develop technique.

The original program is below and was followed with only minor adjustments here and there. The chosen sets/reps and percentages were inspired by those outlined Tri-Phasic Training. This allowed for the completion of only quality reps; avoiding failure and saving the grinding for competition. You’ll notice the corresponding rep ranges for each percentage are well below typical capabilities. (i.e. 85%x2 rather than 85%x5-6). Assistance work progressed in weight or reps each week based on performance.


Beginning on day one of week one, the athlete recorded HRV each morning with ithlete on his iPod Touch in a seated position. Sleep was rated on a scale of 1-5 on the app. Training load was manually entered based on training intensity to make interpretation easier from the trend in relation to his HRV. Perceived values are not included.

Below is all of the raw data as it appears when exported from the app into Excel followed by a recreation of his 4 week trend. I’ve highlighted high and low HRV days in the respective colors used by ithlete. You’ll note that measurements are missing on two occasions; 4/18 and 5/12.



Below are images of his weekly averages of HRV and training load. Training load in this context is simply intended to represent a progressive increase in intensity followed by a deload and then competition.



There’s a clear progressive increase in his HRV trend right up until the start of week 3. Week 3 was the highest intensity training week with a slight reduction in volume. It appears that intensity rather than volume created more fatigue. His HRV peaks during the deload week. The deload week included 2 workouts. On Monday we worked up to his opener of 240lb for a single and on Wednesday we worked up to 70% for a few singles with emphasis on the competition commands and pausing.

You can see that the morning of the competition (5/11) there is a small drop in HRV. I attribute this to pre-competition anxiety based on feedback of mood, perception, etc. He appears to have slept well leading up to the meet. HRV remains suppressed until the 3rd day after the competition where it starts to trend back up, however still remains below average. This clearly shows the additional psychological/emotional stress that competing places on the body.


1st Attempt – 240 Good
2nd Attempt – 250 Good
3rd Attempt – 255 Miss at lockout (very debatable)

He added 50lbs to his competition best since February. His next meet will be in October where he’ll be looking to shorten the gap he has to close to fulfill his dreams of qualifying for the Paralympics.