One Tool That Can Predict Overtraining, Injury, and Sickness

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Its a common practice to test your heart rate to get a hint if your overtrained. A higher than normal heart rate can suggest you are overtrained but isn't a reliable source. A more overlooked piece of data is heart rate variability or HRV. HRV is the amount of time between heart beats and directly results from the health of your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). 

Why test HRV

From your HRV score you can get a lot of information. You can predict:

  • Ability to cope with with physical, mental and emotional stress. 
  • What days to train hard and what days to take easy or even take off.
  • Your V02 max (a measurement that quantifies your cardio ability) 
  • How rested your body is 

With overtraining being incredibly common in athletes, knowing when and how hard to train is an essential part of improving performance as quickly as possible. 

How to test

There are a couple ways to test your HRV. One is to use a chest strap heart rate monitor that pairs with an app that you will test every morning. If you don't have or want to get a chest strap heart rate monitor you can use an app called HRV4Training ($15.00). This app uses your camera to take you pulse from your finger tip. Its been shown to be as accurate as a chest strap with most phones. 

Guide to testing

When testing HRV there are some rules you have to follow to get the best results. Make sure to test when you wake up, in a sitting position and test everyday. The HRV4Training app and most HRV apps make the results easy to interpret by giving you a score on how ready your body is to deal with stress. It also gives you your baseline HRV score, which breaks down roughly to the following guide, but can differ because of age and genetics.

90 or more
Typical with an endurance athlete like a marathon runner.

80-90
Typical with an MMA fighter or a soccer player

70-80
Typical with a strength/power athlete like a power lifter or field event athlete. 

60-70
Lower end of a strength/power athlete 

60 and under
Person who likely doesn't train and considered a poor score

After testing for a few days you can get an accurate reading of your baseline score. Once you have that you can tell when your body is overly stressed, physically or mentally, if your score is below baseline. If you find yourself overtrained besides the obvious and taking a day off to rest, study’s have shown that meditation or yoga can help improve your score as well as cold exposure (cold shower/bath or cryotherapy).

To learn more in depth about the science of HRV and how people are successfully applying in their lives, see this blog post or podcast.