Our society has a very predictable way of integrating new health information and technology - that is once a new concept is developed, it soon explodes onto the worlds stage promising to change your life until some months later it slowly fades to the background. This is problematic because some of the ‘latest and greatest’ foods, workouts, or mindfulness habits aren’t truly worth our attention, but some are, and when every new idea gets shouted from the rooftops, it is hard for most of us to know what we should really be listening to.
Assessing your heart rate variability, however, is one of those things that does in fact merit some attention. What heart rate variability (HRV) is referring to in the broadest sense is the measurement of the variability of timing between each heartbeat. Assessing ones overall heart rate has been fairly mainstream for years, but this differs in that it is, again, not just the measurement of how many times your heart beats in a minute, but the differences in the amount of time between each individual heart beat. The significance of this measurement is that it provides an objective indication as to how stressed, or not, your body is. If over training - training when your body is stressed – can be prevented, then you are much less likely to suffer injuries and are assured that you are getting the most out of every workout.
Ideally, there would be significant variability between each heartbeat. This may seem counterintuitive, but increased variability is much more desirable than a heart beat that follows a very regular pattern like a metronome. The reason for this is that higher heart rate variability indicates that the body is in a calm and relaxed state – not stressed, not overly tired, not overworked. Low heart rate variability, or a metronomic pattern, indicates a more stressed, “turned on,” almost flight or fight state of being. This is significant because the more time we spend in a calm and relaxed state, and the conversely, the less time we spend in a fight or flight state, the healthier we are. Pushing yourself to work out when your body is stressed can be like taking one step forward, but two steps back.
The application of this information is critical if you are trying to be as efficient as possible with your workouts. Push yourself hard when your HRV indicates low levels of stress, and take time for recovery or breath work on days that your body is stressed. Even though you are technically skipping a scheduled workout, your body will make more positive gains by resting then by pushing through another run or bike ride.