Training of heart rate variability (HRV) is a wonder weapon in sports coaching. Medical scientists recognize HRV, the variation in the time distance between heart beats, as a most reliable indicator of overall human health. In general, HRV signifies how efficiently the autonomic nervous system deals with stress—the higher your HRV, the better.
HRV is crucial for every athlete because it measures his recovery progress. If HRV is low, one should consider taking a deload or even a day off in order to achieve optimal results in the long run.
Every professional or hobby athlete can conveniently identify his HRV using his smartphone. It only requires a heart rate sensor and a free app (I recommend Elite HRV). In just 2 minutes can you ascertain and assess your HRV to find out your current physiological condition and whether your body is sufficiently recovered. (Personally, I’ve learned that HRV measurements tend to show me exactly what my instincts tell me when I’m mindful about my bodily state. You don’t have to rely on your smartphone to know how you feel. Still, you can use it to assure yourself of your instincts and sharpen them.)
Whoever wants to not only measure his recovery but also accelerate the recovery process might want to give HRV biofeedback training a try. Such training improves heart coherence through breathing exercises, thereby optimizing the athlete’s physiological state as well as his performance. Biofeedback training requires a special device, which usually costs over $6,000 for therapeutic use. For personal use, however, an inexpensive biofeedback device like emWave2 certainly suffices to effectively manage stress and maximize performance.
Yes, HRV biofeedback training can actually enhance sports performance, not just alleviate stress. In particular, the following improvements are most notable:
- control of performance anxiety before and during competition
- elevated endurance due to a more economical energy balance
- enhanced attention and stronger focus
- reversal of negative psychological momentum
- quicker transition of the mind into “the zone” of optimal performance
- relief of muscle tension (typically in combination with electromyographic biofeedback)
An outstanding, scientifically sound resource on applications of biofeedback for performance enhancement is Brain and Body in Sport and Exercise by Boris Blumenstein and colleagues.
Have you ever measured or even purposefully trained your HRV? Tell me about your experience in the comments!