Heart Rate Variability
Without optimal rest and recovery, no athlete can reach their full potential. When an individual is stressed and the sympathetic branch is more dominant, their HRV decreases, with a reduction in time and frequency between each heart beat. In contrast when an individual is relaxed, resting and in a happy mood, the parasympathetic branch is then activated, HRV increases as does the time and frequency between each heart beat. To live, we need both branches of the system, but for athletes to reach their full potential and compete optimally, it is paramount that the sympathetic system is only activated at the correct time. Athletes spend a great amount of time stressing their systems both physically and mentally, but the rest of the time the focus is on recovering optimally in the fastest time possible to ensure best performance in the next session.
Traditionally athletes and coaches have used standard heart rate readings to monitor fitness, whether they are resting or during exercise, with the idea that the distance and frequency between each beat is consistent. In contrast, HRV measures that consistency to show how the two sides of the autonomic nervous system are in balance - or out of balance.
We can use HRV to monitor our quality of sleep and our physical/mental training loads as well as how our bodies respond to nutritional and recovery strategies. In essence we can break down each part of what we call performance. And with the direction of HRV, each aspect can be truly tailored to each individual and ensure that they are heading in the best direction in order to reach their full potential. Without the use of HRV, both athletes and coaches are forced to use traditional training methods because ‘they work’ but in a world of marginal gains, there will always be someone going that extra mile to improve the quality of each performance aspect in order to win. A well balanced athlete who can influence each branch of their autonomic nervous system at the right time will have the edge on their competition.