It’s really easy for us to understand how important it is to work hard to achieve our goals, whether it’s for sport or work. We seem to understand that it’s ok to kick back from work at times so that we can be fresh the next day, but athletes have a hard time understanding how important rest is in terms of sports performance. This is why I encourage all my athletes to track their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) every morning (or at least 3-4x a week).
What is HRV? It is a measurement of the variability between heart beats: The more variable it is the healthier you are.
It is the measurement of the Central Nervous System, which compares the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The more balanced you are between these two, the stronger your body will be come race day (or that important presentation at work).
Your SNS represents the stress part of your life. Your work, family life, athletic life, and general relationships. IT ALL ADDS UP!
Your PNS represents your rest and digest part of life. That time where you take time to sleep, meditate, nap, eat, etc. IT ALL ADDS UP!
If you are dominant in one area of your life it is going to affect EVERYTHING in your life. If the SNS is dominant it will mean your sleep quality will be lacking, your energy levels will be low, your power/speed output will be diminished, and your ability to deal with stressful people in your life will be difficult for you to manage. It’s also a great indicator of heart health, and general health.
If you are dominant in your PNS, then chances are you are smoking too much weed. Or not doing your workouts, or not going to work. But this generally isn’t a problem for 99% of the people that I know.
Either way, you need to keep track of your HRV because it’s a HUGE indicator as to what your current health status is on a day to day basis. If you are always in the red (SNS dominant) then chances are you are doing damage to your heart and body.
I love tracking HRV because it truly allows me as a coach to see how the training effects (and ‘normal’ life stresses) are affecting the athletes body, how much harder can I push them, or how much I have to back off. It’s also a great tool for that athlete because if they wake up feeling like a slug, and their HRV is in the red, then it’s the sign that they need to take a day off no matter what their training schedule says. In fact if the athlete contacts me, I will tell them to take the day off….no doubt in my mind. If they wake up feeling like a slug and the HRV is in the green…..well, they’ve just lost that excuse to take the day off.
Most of my athletes are slaves to their schedule, and I truly admire this, but at the end of the day they have to be in tune to their body and what their body needs. Performing a workout while your HRV is in the tank only exposes you to more downtime in the future. Maybe it’s your body fighting off an infection? If you don’t take that day off you may actually end up sick for days, and then be forced to take several key days off.
For athletes to gain speed/power/strength there has to be a balance between the stress and the rest portion of their lives. If you miss the rest, then you are going to miss the growth that your body would achieve. More work does not necessarily mean better results (athlete dependent). Whereas a bit of rest can be the difference between performing at peak versus the struggle-fest at your upcoming event.
Take the 3 minutes out of each morning either before you get out of bed or while your sipping your coffee to take your HRV. Your body will thank you!