When it comes to eliciting change in our bodies or lifestyles, stress is the name of the game. Stress in itself isn’t good or bad, but rather context dependent. You truly have to take stock into what is going on in your life when looking at an execise program’s efficacy for youself. When we exercise we are creating a stress response which in turn helps our bodies adapt and improve. Too much or too little stress can hinder this growth you may be seeking.
One of the many metrics you can use to monitor this is Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is the measure of variability between heart beats for a specific amount of time (in ms). Put simply, a higher HRV is usually indicative of a more parasympathetic (recovered) state and a lower HRV is more sympathetic (stressed). It’s important to note that we don’t really have any guidelines yet on what one should or should not be so comparing yourself to others isn’t the best method to gauge at first. What’s important is to trend your own metrics and look at the changes from there to utilize this powerful metric.
Today I got to utilize my HRV data from the Oura ring (@ouraring) and directly apply it to my training. The past two Tuesday’s I tried particularly stressful workout and wanted to see just how it would affect myself. For this workout I did a fasted high volume deadlift only workout: 10x15, 2 min rest between sets. As you can see in the photo (1st photo below), my sleep data from last week showed a steep decline in HRV whereas this week the drop was much lower (2nd photo below).
What did this tell me? Well, it showed that last week’s workout was particularly stressful on my system at the time and the next day I felt it. So Wednesday I took it easy from the weights and did a Pilates mat workout along with some mobility work. In the past I may had ignored the subtle signals my body sent me and pushed through (and oftentimes would get injured or wonder why more areas ached). This week the drop off in HRV was much less and told me my body had adapted to the workout (I could feel this because the workout was much easier the second time around). That told me I was good to go today and was able to continue pushing it with my programming.
One additional thought to all of this. Last week I did have the very early signs of a cold that never manifested to anything. Research has shown that a drop in HRV can occur before illness so this may have been the reasoning behind the drop. Regardless, it told me to dial it back the next day and not bring further stress to my system. Had I ignored that I may have overtaxed myself and gotten sick 🤒.
My go to methods to anecdotally improve HRV and recovery:
Controlled recovery periods (aka naps) on particularly heavy training days
Daily sunlight exposure paired with barefoot walking
Move frequently throughout the day
Evening self-tissue work via #Hypervolt or foam roller
Decompress in the evening before bed via lying longitudinally on a long foam roller
Avoid late night screens with stressful/exciting shows or video games