Exercise needs to be balanced with rest. An often neglected part of a training program, recovery is essential as it allows the body to adapt to the stresses and repair itself.
What is HRV?
Recovery is done by a combination of sleep and time not spent training. It is at this time that heart rate and blood pressure are normalized, your body’s energy is restored and your muscles strengthen and grow. Sleep is a particularly important part of the equation, as it serves to maintain your physical health and support healthy brain function.
One of the best ways to track recovery is by monitoring your heart rate variability (HRV). Not many people know that a heart does not beat with a steady rhythm. The intervals vary from one heartbeat to the next. HRV measures this variation in the time interval between heartbeats.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but unlike your resting heart rate, you should be aiming for a high HRV. This is because a healthy HRV should not beat at a perfect tempo. A low HRV indicates less resilience. This happens when you are training hard, under stress, not sleeping enough or are ill. The trick is knowing your baseline HRV and then following how these values change from day to day.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Better recovery starts by knowing what’s happening inside your body. While this industry is still in its infancy, there are already a few wearables that offer advanced recovery metrics. In this article, we provide our pick of such devices.
Devices that track your HRV
The Ōura ring is wrought out of titanium and is water-resistant to 150 meters. The ring has a seamless, non-allergenic inner molding and comes in Silver, Black and Stealth options.
Although it does track physical activity during the day, most of the interesting stuff happens during sleep. The 3D accelerometer and optical heart rate sensor capture information on individual sleep stages (Deep, REM, Light), and periods of wakefulness.
For overnight recovery you’ll get info on heart rate, pulse amplitude, HRV and respiration rate. There’s also something called a ‘Readiness Score’. This is displayed as a percentage, and tells you whether you need to adjust the intensity and duration of your day’s activities.
Now on its fourth generation, Whoop Strap is the recovery wearable many professional athletes opt for. Core to the system is a wristband that measures your vitals stats non-stop more than 100 times per second.
The physiological markers are used to asses an athletes readiness to perform each day. The thing also offers detailed guidance on how much sleep and rest is needed to recover, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and more.
In addition to a daily recovery score, there’s also something called a Strain Coach. This is a real-time measure of cardiovascular exertion that is tracked on a 0-21 scale. It works both for individual workouts and your entire day. You’ll also get a daily goal based on your recovery metrics.
Since 2018 the wearable has been made available to the general public. Previously the only option was to purchase the wristband, but Whoop now offers a $30 monthly membership that includes Whoop Strap 4 for free.
Biostrap is not your typical fitness band. This is not something you are going to buy if you after the usual steps, distance and activity tracking. But it is something that will help you optimize recovery by tracking your HRV values during sleep.
As noted in our review, this is one of only a handful of wearables that provides you with access to raw HRV data, in addition to SpO2, breathing rate and more. And it does it will clinical grade accuracy. You are able to see how individual variables effect your daily health and readiness for action.
You’ll get detailed insights into how ready you are for action, how well you’ve slept and how your HRV is changing over time. You can chart all this on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There’s also a very useful section in the app that show how you compare against others.
Readers living in the United States can check out Biostrap on the teamhqs website. We have secured 10% off for them. At checkout just make sure to type the code “Aff10Off”. Those in other countries can pick up the device from the Biostrap website.
Polar Ignite is a GPS fitness watch is marketed as a versatile training tool for a variety of sports and activities. What’s most unique about it that it has advanced sleep analysis, overnight recovery insights and personalized and adaptive training guidance. These take sleep parameters, heart rate measurements and recovery into account to offer deep insights into the state of your body.
As part of this you get something Polar calls Nightly Recharge which fluctuates between -10 and +10. This quantifies how quickly your autonomic nervous system calmed down during the first four hours of your sleep. The info is tied in with your daily activity stats to let you know whether to take a days rest or train as usual. In our review we found all of this works pretty well and adds a new dimension to your training and recovery.
A firmware update has also made this functionality available on Vantage V and M sports watches. Pricier then Ignite, Polar says the watches are the most advanced in its history.
There are several VIITA Watches in the collection, some of which offer a very premium design. The functionality, though, is where it gets more interesting. Apart from the basics which come on any half-decent sports watch including GPS, Race HRV has stress and regeneration monitoring 24/7 based on heart rate variability.
The latest iteration is called VIITA Race HRV. In addition to recovery metrics it automatically calculates water demand based on vital signs. This is done by combining data of the micro-movement sensor, pulse, heart rate variability, Regeneration status, Stress progression, movement patterns and sleep time and quality.
Yes, your Fitbit can track HRV, too. As long as you own a Charge 3, Charge 4, Inspire HR, Inspire 2, Ionic, a device from the Versa range or Sense. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’ll need a Premium monthly subscription to access the readings. It’s all part of the new health dashboard.
The subscription runs at $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. You’ll get access to raw HRV data which is excellent. The info is coming from your wrist so it will not be chest band quality, but it should give a good overview of your stress. The Premium monthly subscription gives you access to some other data. Most interestingly, for Ionic, Versa range and Sense this includes skin temperature variation.
With the Forerunner 255 and 955, Garmin has introduced something called HRV Status. The recent crop of Garmin watches has had the ability to take HRV measurements in the past, but only on-demand. The difference now is that these types of measurements are taken while you sleep. In the morning you get your average value for the night, and this is compared to your seven day HRV average and your long-term average. The latter takes about three weeks to establish.
At the time of writing, these are the only two Garmin watches with this ability. The 955 also has something called the Training Readiness Score. This takes into account your HRV, training status and load, sleep, stress and more to spit out a value between zero and 100. It quantifies your level of preparedness to face a hard day of training.
We are expecting the Fenix 7 range, Epix 2 and Forerunner 945 to also get these features via a firmware update soon. In fact, all Garmin watches with the Gen 4 heart rate sensor are expected to get the functionality.
The Forerunner 255 is a popular runners watch, while the 955 is a more feature-packed version of the same. Both are excellent devices that spit out a wealth of health and fitness stats, as well as a boat-load of performance metrics. You won’t go wrong if you purchase either of them.
Yes, the Apple Watch also has the ability to track HRV. This is done automatically, but you can also trigger a reading manually. The feature was introduced with watchOS4.
A measurement is captured when you first wake up in the morning. Your Apple Watch will monitor your HRV for one minute and then work out an average. It uses its own proprietary algorithm for the calculations.
To view the results, head over to the Health app on your smartphone and the HRV page. You can find it in the Heart subsection. The analysis pretty much ends with charting your readings (by day, week, month or year) and Apple doesn’t currently offer more detailed insights into the results.
A manual HRV reading can also be forced at any time by starting a Breathe session on the device. Once you’ve completed the Breathe session you can view your HRV on your iPhone.
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