New study: Association between Subjective Indicators of Recovery Status and Heart Rate Variability among Divison-1 Sprint-Swimmers

Our latest study investigates the relationship between subjective indicators of recovery status and HRV among NCAA Division 1 sprint-swimmers. The main findings were:

1) Perceived sleep quality showed the strongest relationship with post-waking LnRMSSD.

2) LnRMSSD demonstrated stronger associations with subjective parameters than resting heart rate.

We report both group and individual relationships. The full text is available here.

Association between Subjective Indicators of Recovery Status and Heart Rate Variability among Divison-1 Sprint-Swimmers


Heart rate variability (HRV) is a physiological marker of training adaptation among athletes. However, HRV interpretation is challenging when assessed in isolation due to its sensitivity to various training and non-training-related factors. The purpose of this study was to determine the association between athlete-self report measures of recovery (ASRM) and HRV throughout a preparatory training period. Ultra-short natural logarithm of the root mean square of successive differences (LnRMSSD) and subjective ratings of sleep quality, fatigue, muscle soreness, stress and mood were acquired daily for 4 weeks among Division-1 sprint-swimmers (n = 17 males). ASRM were converted to z-scores and classified as average (z-score −0.5–0.5), better than average (z-score > 0.5) or worse than average (z-score < −0.5). Linear mixed models were used to evaluate differences in LnRMSSD based on ASRM classifications. LnRMSSD was higher (p < 0.05) when perceived sleep quality, fatigue, stress and mood were better than average versus worse than average. Within-subject correlations revealed that 15 of 17 subjects demonstrated at least one relationship (p < 0.05) between LnRMSSD and ASRM variables. Changes in HRV may be the result of non-training related factors and thus practitioners are encouraged to include subjective measures to facilitate targeted interventions to support training adaptations.

Figure 1 Effect Size SPORTS jpeg

Figure 1

Effect sizes ± 90% confidence interval for resting heart rate parameters relative to subjective categorization.

HRV and Wellness responses to overload and taper in sprint-swimmers

Here’s a brief overview of our latest study capturing daily HRV and wellness ratings throughout overload and tapering in collegiate sprint swimmers preceding a championships competition.

The majority of research in the area has primarily focused on endurance athletes. It’s been a goal of mine for a while now to examine HRV responses in athletes participating in anaerobic events such as short-distance swimming.

The athletes completed wellness questionnaires and recorded HRV daily via smartphone and validated pulse-wave finger sensor (seated position) after waking. The observation period lasted 6-weeks which included 1 week of baseline, 2 weeks of overload and a progressive 3-week taper. The overload was characterized by a substantial increase in training intensity while overall volume varied by up to only 20%. Of the group, 2 athletes went on to compete in the 2016 Olympic summer games.


Heart rate variability and psychometric responses to overload and tapering in collegiate sprint-swimmers

Full-text on Research Gate 


The purpose of this study was to evaluate cardiac-parasympathetic and psychometric responses to competition preparation in collegiate sprint-swimmers. Additionally, we aimed to determine the relationship between average vagal activity and its daily fluctuation during each training phase.




Ten Division-1 collegiate sprint-swimmers performed heart rate variability recordings (i.e., log transformed root mean square of successive RR intervals, lnRMSSD) and completed a brief wellness questionnaire with a smartphone application daily after waking. Mean values for psychometrics and lnRMSSD (lnRMSSDmean) as well as the coefficient of variation (lnRMSSDcv) were calculated from 1 week of baseline (BL) followed by 2 weeks of overload (OL) and 2 weeks of tapering (TP) leading up to a championship competition.


Competition preparation resulted in improved race times (p<0.01). Moderate decreases in lnRMSSDmean, and Large to Very Large increases in lnRMSSDcv, perceived fatigue and soreness were observed during the OL and returned to BL levels or peaked during TP (p<0.05). Inverse correlations between lnRMSSDmean and lnRMSSDcv were Very Large at BL and OL (p<0.05) but only Moderate at TP (p>0.05).


OL training is associated with a reduction and greater daily fluctuation in vagal activity compared with BL, concurrent with decrements in perceived fatigue and muscle soreness. These effects are reversed during TP where these values returned to baseline or peaked leading into successful competition. The strong inverse relationship between average vagal activity and its daily fluctuation weakened during TP.

While group responses are certainly meaningful, the individual responses provide more meaningful information to practitioners. The figure below shows the individual trends from 3 athletes that exemplify 3 common training responses I’ve observed in a variety of athletes.


Subject B (middle) has the smallest CV at baseline and subsequently handles the overload very well, with minimal reductions in lnRMSSD. This indicates that Subject B is in great shape and could probably handle greater loads.

Subject C (bottom) displays what I would consider to be a very expected response to overloading. There is a considerable increase in daily lnRMSSD fluctuation (i.e., increased CV) and progressive but small decrease in the trend. I interpret this type of response to indicate that the loads are sufficient enough to provoke the fatigue/recovery process but not so high that HRV becomes suppressed. This is possibly indicative of a load/dose of training that is high but within the overall recovery capacity of the athlete.

Subject A (top) has the highest CV of the group at baseline and subsequently responds the least favorably to the overload. lnRMSSD pretty much crashes almost immediately and remains suppressed for several days (boxed data points). The coach pulled back on subject A due to high fatigue, reduced performance, decrements in pulse-rate recovery between sets, etc. The trend immediately improves until about 1-week out from competition at which point loads again were further reduced. Ultimately, this athlete improved upon previous best times at competition from that year, suggesting that the interventions were effective.

The main take-home would be that the typical response to intensified training includes a reduction and greater daily fluctuation in HRV, along with decrements in wellness scores. Athletes demonstrating different responses (i.e., minimal change in HRV trend or conversely chronic suppression of HRV) may be coping better or worse than expected. Coaches should then investigate and address factors contributing to the poor response.


The effect of training status on HRV in D-1 collegiate swimmers

When implementing HRV monitoring with a new team, the coach will be quick to point out the inter-individual variability in the athletes’ trends. Some athletes are showing high scores and some are low. Some are showing considerable daily fluctuation while others show very consistent numbers. Or, some show substantial fluctuation during this period but minimal fluctuation during that period. This can be confusing and difficult to interpret, but with some context, the trends (and changes therein) can usually be explained.

Greater fitness levels are associated with higher resting HRV and faster parasympathetic reactivation following exercise. This likely contributes to the smaller coefficient of variation  (CV) we (and others) have observed in athletes with higher VO2max and intermittent running performance. So if we were to categorize athletes of the same sport based on competitive level (i.e., training status), we should see group differences between their average lnRMSSD and CV. What makes our approach different from previous work is the longer observation period (1 month), the use of a finger sensor (PPG) and smartphone application using ultra-short HRV recordings for daily data acquisition and inclusion of the CV in the analysis. This was presented at the NSCA National Conference in New Orleans this July. Full manuscript in production soon.


Andrew A. Flatt, Bjoern Hornikel, Michael R. Esco

University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL

Resting heart rate variability (HRV) fluctuates on a daily basis in response to physical and psychological stressors and may provide useful information pertaining to fatigue and adaptation. However, there is limited research comparing HRV profiles between athletes of the same sport who differ by training status. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to compare resting heart rate (RHR) parameters between national and conference level Division-1 Collegiate swimmers and to determine if any differences were related to psychometric indices. METHODS: Twenty-four subjects were categorized as national (NAT, n = 12, 4 female) or conference level competitors (CONF, n=12, 5 female). Over 4 weeks, daily HRV was measured in the seated position by the subjects after waking and elimination with a validated smartphone application and pulse-wave finger sensor (app)  utilizing a 55-second recording period. Subjects then completed a questionnaire on the app where they rated perceived levels of sleep quality, muscle soreness, mood, stress and fatigue on a 9-point scale. The HR parameters evaluated by the app include RHR and the log-transformed root-mean square of successive RR interval differences multiplied by 20 (lnRMSSD). The 4-week mean for RHR (RHRm) and lnRMSSD (lnRMSSDm) in addition to the coefficient of variation (CV) for RHR (RHRcv) and lnRMSSD (lnRMSSDcv) were determined for comparison. In addition, psychometric parameters were also averaged between groups and compared. Independent t-tests and effect sizes ± 90% confidence limits (ES± 90% CL) were used to compare the HR and psychometric parameters. RESULTS: NAT was moderately taller (184.9 ± 10.0 vs. 175.5 ± 12.5 cm; p = 0.06, ES ± 90% CL = 0.83 ± 0.70) and heavier (80.4 ± 9.7 vs. 75.2 ± 11.9 kg; p = 0.26, ES ± 90% CL = 0.48 ± 0.67) than CONF, though not statistically significant. The results comparing HR and psychometrics are displayed in Table 1. lnRMSSDm and lnRMSSDcv was moderately higher and lower, respectively, in NAT compared to CONF (p<0.05). CONCLUSION: Higher training status is associated with moderately higher lnRMSSDm and lower lnRMSSDcv compared to those of lower training status. This was observed despite no significant difference in perceived stressors that may affect HR parameters. PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Training status appears to be a determinant of daily HRV and its fluctuation. This may be because higher level athletes are more fit and recover faster from training, resulting in a more stable HRV pattern. This information can be useful to practitioners when interpreting HRV trends in athletes. For example, an increase in HRV with reduced daily fluctuation may indicate improvements in an athletes training status. Alternatively, an athlete with high training status demonstrating reduced HRV and greater daily fluctuation may be showing signs of fatigue or loss of fitness depending on the context of the current training phase and program.

table swim HRV comarison

This figure shows a year of data from two athletes (Olympic level on top vs. Conference level on bottom) to provide a nice visual representation of their trend differences. HRV trend swim comparison