Do you know that there is such a simple way to track the state of your nervous system, your resiliency, and your readiness to perform in life or sport?
Rather watch or listen?
What is heart rate variability (HRV)?
Essentially, HRV is the inter-beat between the heartbeat, so it is different than your heart rate. It is a measure of the autonomic nervous system. Because of that, heart rate variability is the best way to measure vagal tone.
You’ve heard me talk many times about vagal nerve function. It’s a way for us to see how well recovered our nervous system is, therefore, how ready we are to take on life stressors. Ultimately, it plays into our emotional resilience as well.
Personally, I find that tracking heart rate variability is one of our greatest technological advancements. The fact that we can objectively measure our nervous system, to me, is simply fascinating.
First, I want to disclose that I am not an affiliate of these tracking devices, which there are many. I have found, however, that in my personal experience and professional experience, some tools have been extremely valuable.
I personally used the Whoop watch for over three years and found that to be extremely valuable. It helped me understand the patterns of my HRV, my recovery, and how sleep, alcohol, stress, foods, and exercise affected it.
I also recommend the Oura ring, which is another great tracking device to look at not only the HRV but, of course, but all of the other things that factor into your HRV. This is great if you don’t want to wear a watch. The rings are quite fashionable, might I add.
And currently, I’m using Elite HRV, which is a chest monitor, along with a free app, that is super easy to do. Every morning, you can take your morning readiness score. You can wake up and have your chest monitor on. You can get your baseline heart rate variability and resting heart rate to be able to see what your readiness is for that day. Are you sympathetic or parasympathetic? Are you ready to perform? The Elite HRV is a really valuable tool. It’s easy to use; you don’t have to wear a watch or a ring. You can also use this for biofeedback to change your HRV before you start your day with things like paced breathing, for example.
I think all of these tools and more — Fitbits, Apple watches, Garmin — can be valuable tools. It depends on what is most practical and appropriate for you, like wearing a watch, ring, or chest strap, for example. The goal is that you’re tracking it consistently, so finding the tracker that works for you is very important.
This is a tough question. There is no specific number that you are trying to achieve, and that is why it’s important that you track your heart rate variability over time. There are some numbers that different companies have done research on to determine what is their average population’s heart rate variability. For example, Elite HRV has tested over 72,000 people, and they have suggested that the average HRV is around 58. This may include a more athletic population, so the heart rate variability might be higher.
Now, ultimately, a higher heart rate variability is better than a low heart rate variability for looking at average. Different populations also might have lower heart rate variabilities, so it’s really important to determine what yours is. Therefore, once again, tracking over time is necessary.
The above devices, as long as you’re consistent, will help you determine what your best heart rate variability is in addition to your best readiness score and how well your autonomic nervous system is recovered.
1. Remember that a high heart rate variability is not always a good thing, and a low heart rate variability is not always a bad thing.
Although I just mentioned that overall that’s a positive thing, just because you have an outlier of a really high number one particular day, that could actually mean that it’s signaling you may be getting sick, you’re having an immune response, or you are in a deep state of recovery. You may not be ready to perform! You may need rest and recovery.
The same applies with a low heart rate variability. It is not always a bad thing. If you had a really intense workout or a competition day, for example, you would have taxed your nervous system.
In summary, both of those are okay, and any outliers don’t necessarily mean something’s good or something’s bad.
The great thing is that most tracking devices will naturally do this. For example, with the Whoop watch and the Oura ring, you’re going to wake up in the morning and look at your HRV and other scores. With the Elite HRV, you can monitor first thing in the morning, same position, etc., to ensure consistency.
Although heart rate variability by itself is a particular score, and it’s giving us information, it does not at all tell us why you have that. That’s the work you have to do!
Here are the things that you want to think about. How was your sleep last night? Did you get seven to eight hours? A lot of the tracking devices can do that as well. Do you feel well rested? Did you have a tremendous amount of stress yesterday? Did you do an intense workout yesterday? Did you not work out at all? Did you sit all day? Did you have a lot of caffeine? Did you eat really well or crappy? What kind of stress are you under? Are super busy and overwhelmed? Are you feeling like you’re just ruminating over a certain thought?
All of those things are going to factor into your nervous system and how well your nervous system is recovered.
You really want to be diligent about tracking those things, whether that’s through the device or independently, to really understand your trends. This allows you to make positive changes going forward.
In summary, heart rate variability is an amazing way to track your resilience and your recovery, and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m not suggesting you have to track forever, but you want to track until you don’t need to track anymore. You want to track until you really understand your health habits and all the things that you can control to really optimize how you feel.
I hope this was helpful. If it was, give it a like, give it a share, and subscribe to our youtube channel, The Movement Paradigm, for weekly tips on mindset, nutrition, and movement.
Make sure you reach out to us for our upcoming Vagus nerve program that starts on September 19th. We would love to have you deep-dive into concepts like this and many others. Register here.
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