In a previous article we’ve discussed how heart rate variability (HRV) can measure your recovery. We mainly looked at the effect of a workout on HRV. In general we concluded that a hard workout lowers your HRV and recovery increases HRV. But training stress is not the only thing that has an impact on your HRV.
Two weeks ago I noticed my HRV dropped without a physical reason. I did not train a lot, I was not injured, I did not drink any alcohol and my sleep was pretty ok. There was one thing though: my mental energy was low.
We all experience a bad week every now and then, and I experienced it two weeks ago. Even though I did not enjoy the feeling, it was a unique way of testing whether mental or psychological stress has an effect on HRV. As you can imagine, it is quite easy to test the effect of physical training stress on HRV: just go out and do a couple of hard training sessions. But there is no enjoyable recipe for experiencing low mental energy.
I found it quite interesting that my HRV was in sync with how I felt mentally. Research however already showed this correlation long ago. This study for instance shows healthy controls (n=62) have a significant higher HRV when comparing to depressive patients (n=65). It also shows that a 2 week intervention that successfully decreases depression severity (at least partly), also significantly increases HRV. Another study shows similar low heart rate variability in individuals suffering from burnout.
I find it a useful thing that HRV is affected by both physical and mental stress. In both cases your trainability is decreased, and you should adjust your training plan. It does emphasize the importance of keeping track of not only your HRV, but also the context. If you don’t track things like sleep quality, mental energy and training stress, you will not know what causes your HRV to increase or decrease. I personally use HRV4training to do so. It is an easy to use app that combines the HRV smartphone camera measurement with a short list of contextual questions to answer.
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Founder of Molab, Human Movement Scientist and Freelance Content Marketer.