What I Learned from a Month of HRV Tracking
Since I last wrote about meditation (or, more aptly, my guide for meditation for people who hate meditating), I’ve changed up my routine a bit: instead of using an app like Headspace, I swapped to an HRV app so I could monitor the space between heartbeats plus general heart rate and some subjective data after 5 minutes of focused breathing. It’s not guided meditation, per se, but it’s been essentially the same. The HRV4Training app I’m using lets you set up to five minutes of breathing, 6 in-and-out breathes per minute (5 seconds in, 5 seconds out). You put your finger over the camera and it monitors that way.
It’s actually similar to my meditation apps I’ve tried in that it tells you to breathe-in-breathe-out for five minutes straight. (You can also watch the metronome on the screen if you’re more visual.)
I love it because a) it gives me that five minutes of meditating while providing me with practical knowledge, b) it keeps track of my full history so I can see at a glance roughly how my health and stress levels are, and c) it’s fantastic for giving me a general idea of if I actually feel crappy in the morning or if I’m just feeling ‘blah.’ It also holds me accountable, since skipping a day would be a bummer because I’d lose some trend information.
OK, so what I’ve found out from my HRV in the past month:
My Mood is Predictable
I’ve noticed that when the number is looooow, my fight-or-flight response is more likely to be ticked over pretty much anything. I’m sitting at a computer writing this with a pounding heart because I had to clarify something—nothing bad!—in an email. On a day my HRV is normal, I can breeze through email to Inbox 0 like it’s my job. On a day like I had last weekend with some projects I was working on, not so much. My HRV was depressed, and I noticed I was super twitchy. Stuff that wouldn’t stress me out normally was turning me into a nervous wreck.
Performance is also Predictable
I didn’t believe it at first, but the HRV4Training app gives you advice on training (if you should train that day and if you should do intensity) and I’ve found that it’s usually spot-on. There are plenty of days where I’ve tried to give myself the intensity pass so I could just go for an easy, short ride or run, but the app told me to go ahead and do intensity, so I did it. And never regretted it.
Tracking Any Metric Can Have Benefits
I’ve been cutting back my glass of wine at dinner (swapping for kombucha at least every other night), and this app has been super helpful. The subjective data can be adjusted, and one of the metrics is alcohol consumption. If you did have a drink, a tiny martini glass goes on your chart—so it’s been a goal to keep those glasses to a minimum. And when you have to tell your app if you’ve had no-little-a lot of booze, for me, that makes it easier to skip. (It’s also embarrassing to note that I took a day off when I know I didn’t need one.)
It’s a Nice Morning Wake-Up
Who doesn’t love an excuse to stay in bed for five more minutes, for health purposes? That’s my favorite part: since it’s supposed to be the first thing you do when you get up, it’s a good way to slowly start waking up, skipping the bouncing-out-of-bed-to-be-productive.
It’s Great Metrics for a Coach
While I don’t have a coach at the moment, the HRV4Training app links to my TrainingPeaks, so when/if I ever start with a coach again, there’s a bunch of data that he or she can reference to get a snapshot of what I’ve been doing. I don’t log much training, just the occasional Strava, but now, a coach can see how recovered I am and a basic idea of what my training has been.