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The Elite HRV app makes analyzing your heart rate variability easy. For example, your morning readiness score helps you quickly decide how to approach your recovery and stress load for the day.

This is powerful stuff, but, if you’re ready to go a little deeper (beyond the morning readiness score) we’ve put together a 3-step process to help you make sense of your HRV.  This is the process that our friend Greg Elliott, co-instructor of The Foundations of HRV, uses in his private practice to help individuals optimize their health and fitness.

Whether you’re brand new to HRV or you’ve been tracking for a while, this process can help you deeper understand how you respond to stress and how your habits and lifestyle are truly affecting your health.  These steps apply equally to athletes who are using HRV as a training tool and for individuals who are trying to improve their health and wellness.

This process is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician if you are concerned about a medical condition.

Step 1: Establish your normal range

If you’re just getting started with HRV, the first thing you need to do is establish your normal range. You do this by taking a morning HRV reading for at least 7 days in a row. We refer to this as your normal range, because it’s normal for your HRV score to fluctuate from day to day as you are exposed to varying levels of stress. However, the amount of variation in your normal range can indicate if your health and wellness routines are working for you.

To illustrate this point, let’s say you measure your HRV for 7 days and get the following scores:

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
46 54 57 56 44 43 52

In this seven-day period, HRV fluctuated between a low of 43 and high of 57, a range of 14 points.

Use this rule of thumb to interpret your normal range:

  • If your normal range varies less than 5 points, your scores are pretty consistent.
  • If your normal range varies more than 10 points, this may indicate that your health routines and habits have been inconsistent.

Calculating your normal range is valuable for two reasons:

  1. Large swings in your HRV mean that your body is working hard to maintain your homeostatic balance, leaving you more susceptible to illness, fatigue and overwhelm.
  2. Large swings in your HRV make it much harder to establish a cause and effect relationship between your lifestyle changes and your HRV.

If your normal range is greater than 10 points, we recommend that you first focus on creating more consistency in your current health and wellness routines (like sleep, diet, exercise and mental health) before trying to alter these routines in a significant way.

As you work toward more consistent routines, your HRV scores should have less daily variation, and your normal range should narrow.  Once your normal range is within 5 points, you will be in a good place to start testing targeted variables that will hopefully increase your HRV.

We offer this guidance based on empirical evidence from Greg Elliott’s extensive experience coaching more than 500 individuals over the last eight years, plus other HRV experts in our network.

Step 2: Look at your 7-day HRV average

Next, compare your 7-day HRV average to other users. You can find the population comparison chart within the Elite HRV app and filter for others of your age and gender.  Or, you can learn more here in our article on Normative HRV Scores by Age and Gender.

This data is based on hundreds of thousands of Elite HRV users across the globe.  If you are managing a health condition please know that it is normal for your HRV to be less than these reported values.

If your HRV right now appears low, don’t feel bad, you’re just beginning the process of improvement, which leads us right into the 3rd step.

Step 3: Look at your 3-month trend

Now it’s time to settle into the routine of monitoring your HRV as you make targeted lifestyle changes.  Where has your HRV score gone over the last 3 months? 6 months? Last year? There is a lot you can get out of your daily HRV score, but the true value of measuring your HRV daily is the long term trend of the score.

As you work toward finding a healthy balance in your health and fitness routines you’ll likely begin to see your HRV scores trend upward.   Looking at these trends over 3-6 months, and even longer, tells you the true direction of your changes.  This truth is easily lost in day to day readings.

To illustrate this point, here’s an example from another domain: the stock market, more specifically, the 45-year historical trend of the NASDAQ.  There are clear trends year over year, despite lots of ups and downs over shorter time scales.

45-year Nasdaq historical chart

Managing stress day to day is a great start, but looking over a longer period assures you that you are not just surviving, but thriving.

Important message for athletes:

When going into a heavier training block you will experience a dip in HRV and more variance in your normal range.  If this is a direct result of training and not external factors (poor sleep, diet, emotional stress), this is actually a positive adaptation!  However, it should not last for weeks on end.

On the other hand, if you enter into a heavier training block and do not see a dip in HRV and more variance in your normal range, this suggests that your training load isn’t enough to produce a positive adaptation.

Prior to entering into a heavier training block we recommend revisiting your normal range and the guidance in step 1.

We’ll unpack this topic further in future articles.  Until then, we wish you good health.

Interested in learning more about the science behind HRV and how monitoring it can help improve your health and performance? Get access to the “Foundations of Heart Rate Variability” course!

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