HRV is an Effective Tool to Guide Everyday Endurance Athletes

Monitoring endurance training load with HRV is becoming an effective tool to build optimal fitness for everyday athletes

Instead of using a traditional three-week on, one-week off training plan, we can use heart-rate variability (HRV) to determine what to do for training that day.

I use the HRV4Training app first thing in the morning to get a daily “training readiness” score.

And this score, along with my periodized training plan, has been really successful in helping me build fitness over the past year.

I’m getting several clients on this program so I’m writing this post to help them understand the process.

And while apps like HRV4Training and Whoop are not infallible, they provide a great tool for monitoring how we are adapting to our training.

How does training with HRV work?

Training with HRV requires a little more work, flexibility, and planning.

In the past, we’ve had a relatively set schedule of three weeks of training, one week of rest.

During the rest week, we do testing to see how well we adapted to that block of training.

Training with HRV is different.

We start with creating a baseline of data on the app.

At the same time, we create a periodization plan based on our goal adventures and events.

The periodization is based on what metabolic systems we need to train in order to be successful in the event.

Coupled together, training with HRV and specific periodized training blocks make for a powerful combination.

Which metrics do I use while training with HRV?

There are several different HRV and heart rate metrics to look at in HRV4Training, similar to Whoop or Oura

The first is the daily score, another is the Coefficient of Variability, and the third is resting heart rate.

All of these provide trends that I can use to determine first, how my body is currently handling stress and training load, and second, how well I’ve tolerated and adapted to past training stress.

What’s great about this process is that the app doesn’t just measure training stress, it measures life stress as well.

I don’t need to understand the algorithms or most of the math behind the different parts of heart rate variability and all the things the app measures.

Green means go, yellow means volume, red means rest

The app gives me a green, yellow, or red daily score that reflects how I’m doing with stress — both life and training.

If it’s green, I’m good to go with intensity and/or big volume in training.

If it’s yellow, I limit intensity but can still do volume that is manageable.

A couple of days in a row of yellow, though, is a warning sign.

If it’s red, I’m taking a recovery day.

I skip the traditional scheduled rest week unless training with HRV shows a lot of yellow and red.

If I’m adapting to or handling my training well, my HRV score should be relatively stable.

Additionally, HRV often responds immediately to a really hard workout.

So monitoring the HRV can give me a sense of how much rest I need after a hard effort.

Long-term trends show how well you adapt to training blocks

The Coefficient of Variability measures how much variability there is in my heart rate over time. If I’m handling stress well, my CV should decrease with the opposite also holding true.

So during a training block, usually three weeks, I can see if I’m handling the stress and adapting to the increased demands.

Between HRV and CV, I get a pretty good sense of how well the training is going — if I’m doing too much or too little.

The CV provides one more piece of data to give you a sense of progress.

Kevin’s using training with HRV for gravel racing

I’ll use my client Kevin as an example of how using HRV to guide our training will work.

Kevin has done some long-distance gravel racing but has had some challenges with COVID, changing jobs, and life stress over the past two years.

He has a potentially massive aerobic engine for being in his 50s, so our goal is to develop the engine to be as efficient as possible.

We’ll start with a block of threshold intervals to see how he responds.

Our weekly schedule in training with HRV is this: two days of threshold intervals, two days of strength training, two days of yoga for mobility, and one long day of endurance riding.

If we have more days, we’ll do more endurance riding.

Specifics of using HRV for training

To start the example week in our training based on HRV, if Kevin has a green light on Monday, he’ll do an interval session.

If he’s green on Tuesday, he can do another interval session or an endurance session with tempo or sweet spot intervals.

If he’s yellow on Tuesday, he’ll do an endurance session and a strength training session.

If he’s red on Tuesday, he’ll do a recovery ride, a day off, and add a yoga session.

Each day, he’ll continue this process:

Green means go; yellow means limit the intensity and do volume that keeps overall training stress lower, as well as strength day; red means recovery, day off, and/or yoga.

Issues and caveats for Kevin’s training with HRV

One of the best reasons for having a coach is someone to address these things.

As Kevin’s coach, I will stay on top of his daily work.

HRV4Training and Whoop both have links to Training Peaks, so I’m able to see daily scores.

But Kevin will have to make some decisions on his own for training with HRV unless he wants me to text him his daily workouts!

One other issue is the timing of the long ride.

Since most of us have the weekends to do the long three to five-hour ride, we need to have some flexibility in scheduling.

So, for example, if Kevin comes up green on Friday, and he can do his long ride on Saturday, we’ll hold off on intensity and do a moderate day instead.

I also need to stay on top of his CV and HRV throughout the week to monitor how he’s responding in general to the training.

If I see several yellow and/or red days in a row, I know we’re going too hard and we need to back off Kevin’s overall training stress.

How we’ll use training with HRV for half-Ironman triathlon

My client Eileen is also using HRV to guide her training for a half-Ironman, although it’s more of a challenge since there are three sports to juggle in the schedule.

Plus Eileen has several workout group commitments during the week that keep her schedule more fixed.

Our training has been focusing on long days and short hard days, with an extra day for swimming and sometimes an extra day for running.

Eileen is training for a half-Ironman, so the volume of training is critical.

So we’ll set up the same kind of program: If Eileen’s HRV score is green, she’ll do the intensity work for the sport scheduled that day.

If her score is yellow, she’ll do the long volume day.

Eileen’s schedule is a little more traditional, given the demands. Yet we still adjust her training on a daily basis with her HRV score.

HRV is just one metric

There’s a lot of research that suggests this kind of individualized HRV training works better than the traditional three weeks on, one week off.

HRV and CV monitoring is just one tool, and we can’t rely entirely on a single metric to guide our training.

Marco Altini has done a huge amount of research into this topic and founded HRV4Training. If you want to know more about how it works, read his material.

Curious about training with HRV?

My purpose with Simple Endurance Coaching is to help everyday endurance athletes achieve their goals with more strength, endurance, and mobility.

If you liked this article, please share it with others.

Sign up on the website to get a free copy of my e-booklet, “The Simple and Mostly Complete Guide to Strength Training for Everyday Endurance Athletes.”

You can also opt in to receive my weekly blog post about what works in endurance sports.

Contact me or sign up for Virtual Coffee so we can discuss your goals, ask questions, and talk about making your endurance training more effective, fun, and Simple.

Paul Warloski is a:

  • USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer

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