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How Healthy Are You Really? (HRV)

a woman squatting with a barbell in a gym.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV): Heart rate variability, or HRV for short, is a measure of your autonomic nervous system that is widely considered one of the best objective metrics for physical fitness and determining your body’s readiness to perform. – Whoop

We want increased variability between your heart beats. The lower your variance is, the more you are stuck in the fight or flight response of your nervous system (which is in charge of every aspect of your body). This means more inflammation markers in your body, higher cortisol levels, poor recovery from workouts, sleep quality may be affected, and so on. In summary, it is a very good tool to use when looking for and predicting over use injuries, which are very prevalent in the Crossfit and “every day athlete” community!

Your HRV can even start to decrease before you start noticing pain in a certain area that is being over used. The same is shown BEFORE you start feeling sick if you are about to have the flu or catch a cold. Our body is built to push through injuries and compensate to get you through a certain task. This is great for the short term, but can lead to some significant long term problems.

Now, some mechanical shoulder pain is always better than being over weight, having high blood pressure, and diabetes when your 60 years old, but imagine if we can prevent the chronic disease AND the mechanical shoulder pain while you train for the healthiest, longest life possible!

A decrease in HRV can predict an injury within the next week of a crossfit athlete. This also applies to the general active population as well! (And for the sedentary population, we have a lot more we can do with this info for your health like looking at your body’s ability to recover from a sore back, experiencing poor sleep, a poor diet, and general inflammation in your body which may be contributing to chronic pain!)

Thats the importance of HRV….

So what are some things that can boost your HRV??

Training (physical stress): Knowing that it can take up to 80 hours after a max effort lift, run, workout for your HRV to return to normal levels can help with your programming and keeping it efficient and effective without increasing your risk to injury.

Mental/Emotional Stress: Decreases in stress = decrease the overriding stimulus of the sympathetic nervous system = improve your recovery and HRV. It’s not about decreasing your stress, it’s about learning how to manage it. Progress > Perfection.

Sleep: Not only getting the normal quantity of sleep for your body, but the highest quality of sleep to help you recover. Your body recovers while you sleep, so if you aren’t sleeping well, you aren’t recovering well.

Body work pre/post workout: Foam rolling, mobility work, or light stretching (we are biased to dynamic stretching). Anything that is relaxing that will slightly increase your heart rate for about 10 minutes.

Diet: Vegetarian diet had the highest HRV compared to other diets – Not that we need to eat vegetables only, but let’s eat some more plants, especially dark leafy greens like spinach and kale. I haven’t read research on this but the Mediterranean diet would help to increase your HRV as this diet is known to decrease systemic inflammation in the body. We know that increased systemic inflammation has an affect on increasing the sympathetic nervous system, which tends to decrease your HRV. Lastly, a high fat/low carb diet has been shown to improve your recovery/HRV numbers.

Alcohol or other drugs: Decreasing alcohol consumption and drug use (including prescription pain killers (obviously keep taking your prescription that is prescribed by your MD)), especially before bed. Your body recovers while you sleep and if you drink alcohol before bed you don’t sleep well. This is like giving 87 octane gas from Arco to a nascar right before a race. Probably won’t go well. Also, side note, it takes about 3-4 days for your body to fully recover from a night of drinking even 2-3 beers.

Age: Be younger (the only thing you can’t change but the rest are free game!)

What can we do for you??

Whoop band

– This is what I recommend the most although it involves the most commitment in terms of money. It is a device you wear on your wrist 24/7 and it continually tracks data throughout the day. This accurately tracks your HRV and also provides data on your sleep quality and quantity, recovery scores, heart rate throughout the day, and tracks workouts for you. This is the easiest for us to track because we can put you on our team where we can have direct access to your data and you’ll have direct access to us!

Apple Watch – If you have an apple watch that is a series 3 or higher, good news, you’ve been tracking your HRV this whole time and didn’t even know it. We can look at your data and help you track it to actually make changes in your body’s recovery and over all health!

HRV4 training – app that can track your HRV for you using your heart rate taken by your phones camera. This is a one time payment to the apple store of $9.99 and if you aren’t ultra serious about tracking your data or wanting to spend the extra money on a wearable device, this may be the best option for you!

Some resources:

1. Williams S, Booton T, Watson M, Rowland D, Altini M. Heart Rate Variability is a Moderating Factor in the Workload-Injury Relationship of Competitive CrossFit™ Athletes. J Sports Sci Med. 2017;16(4):443-449.

2. Chen J-L, Yeh D-P, Lee J-P, et al. Parasympathetic Nervous Activity Mirrors Recovery Status in Weightlifting Performance After Training: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011;25(6):1546-1552. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181da7858

a man standing in front of a rack of dumbs.

William Schopp, PT, DPT, CF-L1, TPI, TRS-C

Owner and Founder of The Movement Schopp

"We help everyday athletes like YOU bounce back from injuries and get back to performing at their highest levels!"