Heart Rate Variability Overview & How to Measure

Heart Rate Variability Overview & How to Measure

Heart Rate Variability Overview & How to Measure

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Heart Rate Variability Overview & How to Measure

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Heart Rate Variability Overview & How to Measure

Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) analysis is a way to observe the action of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system that controls restoration and recovery

*While the body is stressed, the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ branch of the nervous system is more active, and the parasympathetic branch is less active – performance is gradually restored during recovery, with parasympathetic activity rising to a level above where it started*

Study – European Journal of Applied Physiology (2018)

The study involved 18 elite skiers who took part in a 15-day training camp – slept in altitude chambers that simulated the thin air at 9,000 feet above sea level

Half of them followed a preassigned training plan designed by a coach, while the other half altered their training each day based on their morning HRV measures

Before and after the training camp, they did a VO2max test and a 10K roller-ski trial, and
to adjust their training, the skiers in Millet’s study followed these rules:

If their HRV stayed the same or increased, they increased their training load; for example, by skiing longer that day

If their HRV decreased by more than 30%, they decreased their training load

If their HRV decreased two days in a row, they took a rest day

In the end, the two groups ended up doing relatively similar overall training – on average, the skiers in the HRV group modified their training due to HRV readings an average of 3.3 times

But since the modifications could be either increases or decreases, they ended up with pretty much the same total training volume

After two weeks of heavy training, the “normal” group showed significant changes in their heart rate variability corresponding to increased “fight or flight” and reduced “rest and recover” responses

These changes, the researchers suggested, would translate in the long term to an increased chance of overtraining or getting sick

The HRV-guided group, on the other hand, kept these parameters stable

As for race performance, there was no difference in VO2max changes and little difference in final 10K roller-ski times:

HRV-guided group was the only one to “significantly” improve performance, but their average improvement of 2.7% wasn’t much different from the control group’s improvement of 2.5%

However, it should be noted that it’s really hard to improve VO2max and race performance in athletes who are already elite, and these findings were only after 2 weeks


1) Marcelo Campos, MD. (2017, November 22). Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being – Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved from
2) Heart Rate Variability vs. Heart Rate. (2018, February 4). Retrieved from
3) Heart-Rate Variability’More than Heart Beats? (n.d.). Retrieved from
4) What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and why is it important? (2017, April 6). Retrieved from
5) Cockrell, W. (2017, January 10). The Popular, Misunderstood Tool That Helps You Recover Better. Retrieved from
6) Getting Practical on Heart Rate Variability & Training – Strength of Science. (2016, November 19). Retrieved from
7) Schmitt L , et al. (n.d.). Live high-train low guided by daily heart rate variability in elite Nordic-skiers. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from 3

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