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
As. noted in our hands-on review, Whoop is not just a fitness tracker; it’s a tool that emphasizes the importance of self-care, highlighting the need for adequate sleep and recovery. 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.
Whoop is a a holistic platform that encourages you to experiment with lifestyle changes. By using its journal feature, you can explore the effects of various factors like diet (vegetarian or otherwise), alcohol, caffeine, and supplements on your well-being. These small but significant adjustments can dramatically improve your quality of life.
It’s a misconception to view WHOOP as a device solely for elite athletes. While it might not cater to the occasional exerciser, it’s incredibly beneficial for those who are serious about their training regimen. If you’re someone who consistently pushes their limits, WHOOP offers a new perspective. It doesn’t hold you back from challenging yourself; instead, it equips you to do so more effectively.
WHOOP operates on a subscription model where the hardware is provided at no cost, but users choose from various subscription plans. The monthly cost varies, typically falling around $20, $25, or $30, depending on the membership tier you select.
RingConn is emerging as a strong contender in the smart ring segment. Its sleek design ensures it blends seamlessly into everyday life, while its straightforward setup appeals to a broad user base.
The RingConn app is rich in data, which may initially seem daunting to some users. However, its depth of insights is impressive, enhanced by compatibility with platforms like Apple Health and Google Fit.
As noted in our hands-on review, for those interested in recovery data, RingConn excels. Its accuracy in tracking resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep patterns is commendable, showing strong parallels with established names like Whoop. Although there’s room for improvement in exercise heart rate tracking, the company’s commitment to continuous updates and community engagement is promising for future enhancements.
In comparison to its main rival, the Oura Ring, RingConn stands out. It offers a compelling mix of features and performance at a more accessible price point, without the burden of a monthly subscription.
As RingConn evolves with ongoing updates, it’s exciting to think about its future potential. For those seeking a discreet wearable alternative that focuses on recovery metrics, RingConn is a noteworthy option.
Currently, the device is available for $279 on the manufacturer’s website, with a special holiday promotion. Until November 24th, it’s available at a $50 discount, and using the code BFD50EC113 at checkout provides an additional $10 off until November 30th.
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.
Polar has recently introduced HRV readings in its Ignite, Vantage and Pacer series. These are GPS fitness watches that are marketed as versatile training toola for a variety of sports and activities. What’s most unique about them that they have 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 of Ignite we found all of this works pretty well and adds a new dimension to your training and recovery.
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 or above, Inspire 3 or one of its smartwatches. 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 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 such as skin temperature variation.
With the Forerunner 255 and 955, Garmin has introduced something called HRV Status. Previously, Garmin watches had the ability to take HRV measurements, 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.
These watches also have 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.
The Forerunners are no longer the only Garmin watches with the ability to capture HRV. Any of the recent Fenix devices, Epix, Venu and other high-end devices also have this ability.
If you are after a sports watch, you won’t go wrong with a Garmin. Their have an excellent range of devices that spit out a wealth of health and fitness stats, as well as a boat-load of performance metrics.
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 watchOS 4.
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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