When Being Sympathetic is a Very Bad Idea: HRV Training

Kind, caring, considerate, supportive…I am actually talking about NONE of these things today.

Most people in the fitness community (or anyone looking to become fit) know they must train hard to achieve certain adaptations. But how hard? How often? And when does it become too much? It’s hard to know when to push hard in your training program, and when to back off. Your body is an amazing machine that can tell you… if you are willing to listen. There are also ways to access specific information from your body to make the most of your time and your training.

It’s important to know what’s going on with your body and how to train appropriately based off your body’s feedback. Athlete monitoring is HUGE in the sports world, and while you may be thinking “that’s not me,” it IS possible to apply what the top professionals are doing with the best athletes to get the most out of your own training.

HRV Training: Heart Rate Variability…

Heart Rate Variability allows you to dial in exactly what is going on with your body on a daily basis and helps guide your training process over the long term as well. Maximum gains are made during good recovery. If you remain in a sympathetic state, you are unable to make those #gainz.

But what exactly is HRV? Glad you asked…

Simply put, heart rate variability is the measure of variance between heart beats (R-R Interval) measured over a specific duration of time.

When you are looking at an electrocardiogram (ECG, which is the same as EKG), it’s the spike of your heart beat that is the QRS wave. HRV measures the variance of your R-R Interval:


As opposed to your average heart rate which measures a person’s heart beats per minute, heart rate variability is able to measure more precisely how the body responds to stress.

The time between your heart beats is not the same (hence, variability). Measuring this time between R-R intervals is an indication of the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Nervous system? Huh? What does that have to do with anything? Great question…

When you train, you are stressing your physiological systems (and there are a lot of them). HRV focuses on the Nervous System, and more specifically, your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is made up of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems.

Simply put…

  • Sympathetic = Fight or flight.
  • Parasympathetic = Rest and digest.

The ANS regulates functions of the internal organs such as the heart, stomach and intestines.  The functions of the ANS are involuntary and reflexive (like the beating of your heart). The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are constantly in flux to help balance and regulate our day to day activity and stress levels. They are trying to keep you at “status quo.”


In general, STRESS (either real stress from training, or perceived stress from life in general), can cause these systems to become out of balance. When one system becomes overly taxed, it becomes VERY difficult not only for your body to gain any type of adaptations from training, but also for it to continue to recover on a consistent basis.

HRV is a tool that can pinpoint this imbalance and allow you to train hard when all systems are a GO, and back off when you may be feeling more stress. It’s also a look into more than just your training program since your body’s response to stress goes way beyond the physical implications. Lifestyle, sleep, nutrition, alcohol consumption, all play a role in how your body interprets “stress.”

What’s great about this tools, is that you do NOT need a background in physiology to use it, just your phone! It’s simple, manageable, and efficient but does require you to use it on a consistent basis.

This is a screen shot of a few of the home pages for the HRV app I use for myself and for women’s college soccer team:











It gives simple feedback on your daily status and can also help label trends over time, which is why it’s KEY to use every day.

For more info about the App check out:



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