The Ultimate Guide to Heart Rate Variability (HRV): Part 4

Common misconceptions

Part 4: Common misconceptions

All you need to know to make effective use of the technology and data is already covered in the previous parts of this guide. However, there are a few misconceptions that keep popping up, and it can be beneficial to try to clarify a few points.

  • Misconception 1: Phones or watches are less accurate than straps in measuring HRV. Follow up, misconception 1b: Watches are all accurate in measuring HRV
  • Misconception 2: Measuring during the night is better because you are unconscious
  • Misconception 3: Measuring before working out is more informative on my readiness than measuring in the morning
  • Misconception 4: HRV is the same as resting heart rate
  • Misconception 5: HRV should improve over time
  • Misconception 6: I cannot benefit from measuring HRV if I do not care about training
  • Misconception 7: HRV is less useful than subjective data to capture how an athlete responds to training
  • Misconception 8: HRV is not useful if I do strength training

Misconception 1: Phones or watches are less accurate than straps in measuring HRV

This one has been debunked a million times already, but there is a lot of confusion due to how inconsistent different devices are, even when seemingly using the same technology. There can be good reasons to use a chest strap (see the end of this section), but accuracy is typically not one (also note that not all chest straps are equal, you need to get a good one that has been validated, such as the Polar H7 or H10). Finally, when using a chest strap, depending on the artifact correction method used, you might get less accurate results than using a phone camera.

Follow up, misconception 1b: Watches are all accurate in measuring HRV

From what I have just explained above, you might then derive that all watches or optical devices can measure HRV accurately since the PPG peaks match the ECG RR intervals. I can’t blame anyone, after pushing so much to make it clear that PPG can be used for HRV measurement, now I get weekly emails asking about how to use this or that watch for HRV analysis. Well, more often than not, you can’t use it.

Misconception 2: measuring during the night is better because you are unconscious

I have covered night measurements in part one and in more detail in this blog post, mentioning how they are the only reliable alternative to morning measurements.

Misconception 3: Measuring before working out is more informative on my readiness than measuring in the morning

As covered in part one, the morning routine and full night measurements are the only reliable ways to measure HRV in the context of understanding baseline physiological stress in response to training and lifestyle stressors.

Misconception 4: HRV is the same as resting heart rate

Let’s start with physiology. Heart rate modulation (the actual differences between consecutive beats) is driven by your autonomic nervous system in terms of (para)sympathetic activity. In particular, parasympathetic activity (the part of your system that takes care of recovery, also called rest and digest) is something that we can capture using heart rate variability as it acts really quickly (in the order of milliseconds) on heart modulation (as well as another 80–90% of all processes in the body).

Full text here.

Misconception 5: HRV should improve over time

Let’s say that yes, you can improve your HRV over time, but this is not how I would recommend making use of the data.

Misconception 6: I cannot benefit from measuring HRV if I do not care about training

Needless to say, training is hardly the only stressor in anyone’s life, no matter if you are a professional athlete or just went for your first run yesterday or if you cannot care less about training. There’s work, family, expectations, etc. — we need to deal with a lot more than just training, and it all affects us physiologically

The period in which I was injured is color-coded in the first plot

Misconception 7: HRV is less useful than subjective data to capture how an athlete responds to training

This misconception is mostly deriving from a paper that a few years back stated that subjective metrics are better than objective ones in monitoring athlete training response.

Misconception 8: HRV is not useful if I do strength training

Let’s start with some general considerations. A typical question we get a lot is the following: “does it make sense to use HRV if I do this or that sport”?

  1. High inter-individual variability exists in how individuals respond to a given program.
  2. The performance outcome of a training program is not solely dependent on the X’s and O’s of training (i.e., sets, reps, volume, intensity, work:rest, frequency, etc.) but also largely on non-training related factors that directly affect recovery and adaptation.”
  • The training stimulus is significantly greater than the individual typically experiences
  • The training stimulus is novel or different from what the individual is accustomed
  • Training is otherwise normal, but non-training related stressors are affecting recovery

Last few words

We live in a time where it takes only 10 USD and 1 minute in the morning to measure physiological data.

New to HRV4Training?

--

--

Founder HRV4Training.com, Data Science @ouraring Lecturer @VUamsterdam. PhD in Machine Learning, 2x MSc: Sport Science, Computer Science Engineering. Runner

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Marco Altini

Founder HRV4Training.com, Data Science @ouraring Lecturer @VUamsterdam. PhD in Machine Learning, 2x MSc: Sport Science, Computer Science Engineering. Runner