What is it? This is a heart rate variability program you install on your smartphone or tablet that syncs to a heart rate monitor strap (the same kind of gizmo you wear at the gym hooked up to a treadmill or heart rate monitor watch).
What does it do? The monitor reads the rate and variability of your heart beat which indicates whether your body is signaling the need to rest and recover or is in a rested state ready for action. The central nervous system more evenly controls your heart rate when you are in a parasympathetic state, in need of rest and recovery. When stress is lower the body is ready to handle any individual stressor (a sympathetic state) the heart beat rhythm varies slightly to handle the different stressors thrown at it. The higher the variability, the more functional and ready the system is to train.
Basically, this sucker lets you know how stressed you are and if you should go train or put your jammies on and crawl into bed. As you perform and recover, the program will let you know if your HRV is high/green (meaning you are in a sympathetic/ performance mode and ready to train hard) or if the variability is low (meaning you are in a parasympathetic/recovery mode and need to either take it easy(yellow) or rest completely(red)). I can personally attest to the accuracy here. Several times the day before coming down with a mild cold my HRV TANKED and I knew to back things down before I ended up out of commission. As a result, what could have been a week of misery turned into a day or two of taking it easy each time, and I was able to avoid feeling like total crap. That right there is worth its weight in gold to me!
Ithlete also allows you to make notes on your quality of sleep and additional comments that are helpful in creating and maintaining an ongoing training program that maximizes performance and overall well-being.
Why you should care: While it is certainly possible to monitor training by feelings of recovery/soreness and overall energy and mood, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees during workout and recovery, especially in the midst of all of life’s other obligations. Lack of sleep, work stress, illness, inflammation, poor diet choices, overtraining/ache/injury and adrenal fatigue all play a part in the training schedule. Getting a sneak peak at your central nervous system allows you to make the most of your training days while avoiding some of the very issues that hold you back (e.g. weight loss stalls, nagging injuries, sleepless nights).
You don’t have to be a professional athlete or have a goal to get shredded or ‘70s big in order to benefit from the HRV monitor. Because it measures physiological stress, it’s a great way to monitor how your body is coping with your current lifestyle. Proper training, dietary choices, hydration, sleep and mental stress affect the central nervous system’s ability to respond and recover to stressors. Chronic stress and high cortisol have been linked to everything from weight gain, muscle wasting, depression and fatigue to cancer. If your HRV continues to be low or declines and you don’t give yourself a chance to recover (both mentally and physically) you will most likely find that your overall health is declining.
It’s cost is hard to beat as well. The program will set you back $10 and the supporting equipment runs $50-60. That may seem like a steep price to pay to figure out if you’re stressed or not, but it’s a fraction of the cost of its main competitor, the Bioforce HRV which currently costs about $200.
Downsides: In my opinion, these are very limited. It does take a while for the monitor to sync and register a steady heart rate before you can begin, and I find it necessary to take several readings each morning to make sure my baseline is reading correctly (though that’s more of a personal OCD problem than a programming error). If it’s not in your nature to take a little quiet time first thing in the morning before you’ve had your coffee this will take some getting used to. And if you have multiple people using it, the process can take a good 5-10 minutes.
Some people argue that because the HRV can monitor physiological/mental stress as well as physical training stress that it may not be an accurate indicator of training readiness, but I think this is a matter of viewpoint. Stress is stress. Some stressors are hormetic (adaptive/healthy) but chronic stress and fatigue, be it from an overly aggressive training program, ongoing health issues, worry and other life stressors and obligations, or a combination of all of these, adds up and floods the body with cortisol, raises inflammation throughout the body and depletes energy. The HRV measurement is only as valuable as you choose to apply it. If your number is in the red (or even yellow) it does NOT mean business as usual without an added workout. In my mind this is a flag to slow down, relieve stress of all kinds, get extra sleep and hydrate, and actively RECOVER because that is what the body is signaling that it needs.
What you need to get started:
- Downloaded Ithlete program for android or apple: http://myithlete.com/home.php
- Heart rate monitor/receiver: If you have a regular heart rate monitor, you will need to purchase the Ithlete ECG receiver (available on the website above) which will read the frequency of the monitor. If you don’t already have a monitor strap, I highly recommend getting a heart rate monitor that is Bluetooth capable that automatically syncs with the program. I personally use the Polar H7 and find that it works great, and feel that it will be much more useful in the future than purchasing the Ithlete receiver/converter.
Have you used a HRV monitor for training? Tell us about your experience!
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