How To Use Heart Rate Variability To Improve Your Recovery

How To Use Heart Rate Variability To Improve Your Recovery

Optimising recovery is a key part of moving forward as an athlete. One of the big differences between elite, full-time athletes and normal mortals is the way the former look after their bodies in between sessions.

With the advancements in technology over the last decade or two, there are now lots of measurements and devices we can use to help us optimise recovery. One of those measurements is heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability is tracked through most fitness watches and activity trackers, often showing as a stress score.

It's a measure of the difference in the amount of time between each heartbeat. For example, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s unlikely there will be exactly one second between each heartbeat. There might be 0.9 seconds between one and then 1.1 seconds between the next.

A high variance in the amount of time between each heartbeat suggests your body is relaxed and ready to perform, whereas a low heart rate variability - when the time between each beat is similar - suggests your body is still recuperating from recent stress.

If you can track heart rate variability, you can use it as an indication as to whether or not you’re overtraining or whether you can push your training schedule harder.

When you record a low heart rate variability, meaning you are struggling to recover between sessions, try some of the following simple techniques to optimise your recovery.

Sleep More

Sleep is probably the most important factor in recovery. Getting more good quality sleep will help your body adapt to the training you’re doing. Try keeping a regular schedule of when you go to bed and wake up to help improve your sleep.

Prioritise Nutrition

Getting the right amount of nutrients to fuel your body so it can repair itself is critical. If you can’t get a balanced meal within around an hour of training, start thinking about post-workout supplements. The right quantities of protein and carbohydrates are needed to rebuild muscle.

Take A Rest Day

If you notice your heart rate variability is low, it could be worth scheduling a rest day into your programme so you can get your body back to where it needs to be. You might not actually benefit from training hard if you're not able to absorb the training and adapt after it. You could also be increasing your risk of injury or illness if you continue to train. So while a day off might not seem like it’s moving you forward, it could be the best thing for you in the long run.