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The Ultimate Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Guide for Tactical Athletes

The NBA is using it to help keep the bubble COVID-free. Rory McIlroy and other PGA tour pros use it to keep their golf game at its peak. The NFL Players Association thinks it can help pro football players recover faster, avoid injuries, and have a longer career. What is it?

A. magic, B. cryotherapy, or C. performance-enhancing drugs?

Answer: D. Heart rate variability (HRV). Wearable technology like the Whoop strap and Oura ring rely upon HRV as an indicator of the individual wearer’s overall well-being. By combining HRV with other relevant measures of fitness (like sleep quantity and quality, resting heart rate, and respiratory rate), both Whoop and Oura provide users with an indication of their readiness to cope with stress. Think of HRV as accurate and timely information about your physiology; when used wisely, it’s a potential peak performance game-changer. Despite what you might expect with high-profile users like Prince Harry, Patrick Mahomes, and Lebron James, HRV tools are surprisingly cheap and easy to use.

What you’ll learn in this post:

- What HRV is

- What HRV indicates about your physiology

- What factors impact HRV

- How to use HRV to optimize your training

What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

HRV is a measure of the variation in the timing of successive heartbeats. You probably already know that heart rate (HR) is typically measured using the number of heartbeats per minute (bpm). What you may not know is that each beat does not occur with consistent cadence. If your heart rate is 60 bpm, your heart pulsed an average of once per second. Your heart does not beat every second, on the second, though. Instead, the heart beats something like this: 0.9s, 1.65s, 2.85s, 3.4s, etc. HRV describes the fluctuation in length of heartbeat intervals. A varied mix of short and long intervals represents a higher HRV. Low HRV occurs when the timing remains monotonously steady or closer to an average time value between “R” peaks. See the familiar “spikes” of an EKG below for a graphic depiction:

How to measure Heart Rate Variability or HRV