Joe Bauer is a fitness and weight loss expert with over 13 years of experience as a CrossFit coach and personal trainer. Joe’s known as AllAroundJoe on his blog. He was able to make some very interesting discoveries using
SweetBeatLife’s HRV for Training feature. Read below for his blog post and a link to the full podcast.
“When it comes to CrossFit it’s easy to get addicted. You start to see improvements, it’s fun, you see more improvements, you’re looking amazing, you see more improvements, you’re getting competitive, you see more improvements, you push even harder, you start to feel like crap.
You cannot figure out why you feel like crap. You’ve been eating great. Mostly Paleo, lots of calories.
You workout all the time. Sometimes up to 2 hours a day. You drink tons of water. You take all of the recommend supplements for muscle growth and recovery.
In order to start feeling better for your workouts you take pre-workout supplements loaded with caffeine, or drink coffee. It works for a little while, and you crush workouts.
What you don’t realized is that you are fatiguing your insides. You hormones are drowning.
Finally you hit a wall. You can’t sleep (or you can’t stay awake). Your energy levels just don’t feel right unless you’re jacked with caffeine.
And finally you’re workouts start to suffer. You can’t hit the numbers that you used to hit, and when you tell your body to push… it literally shuts down, and you can hardly move.
When you ask your coach they probably say to take some time off, and eat more.
You take a week off, and when you get back to CrossFit you feel better. Well, you feel better for a few days or weeks. It really depends on how many times you’ve gone through the overreaching cycle.
The problem is that every time you train you don’t fully recover.
Eventually your hormones can’t keep up. And in my case it was my adrenal glands.
These are the glands that are located on top of your kidneys, and produce that hormones that are responsible for your fight or flight (sympathetic), and rest & relax (parasympathetic) nervous systems.
In my case the fight or flight system became fatigued, causing all of the above symptoms.
The initial feeling of fatigue is what lead me to the Ben Greenfield podcast, and the SweetBeatLife iPhone app.
The SweetBeatLife app measures your Heart Rate Variability (HRV), and the power of your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
The coolest things is that the HRV can tell you how recovered your body is, and if it’s ready for another CrossFit workout. It will literally tell you to have an easy workout day, or even take the day off. It does this when you simply open the app and take your heart rate for 3 minutes in the morning.
The SweetBeatLife app is so beneficial that I’ve asked ALL of our competitive athletes at StoneWay CrossFit to start using it daily. If the app says to take the day off there’s no arguing.
We all want to get better, and we get better during rest from hard training.
I’ve always told people to listen to their bodies, but the real truth is that we can listen, but without tools like the SweetBeatLife app we have no idea what our bodies are saying.
In this episode you learn about CrossFit and overtraining, plus…
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The new SweetBeatLife “stats” screen, more widely referred to as the “geek” screen, shows all the metrics used in the algorithm calculations. These are the metrics explained in order from top left to bottom right:
Low Frequency (LF) – The low frequency metric shows the real-time power level of your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system in raw form.
High Frequency (LF) – The high frequency metric shows the real-time power level of your parasympathetic (rest and recover) nervous system in raw form.
LF/HF – Stress is associated with a high LF with respect to HF, or a high LF/HF ratio. By selecting the settings wheel in the top right corner, you can choose your “Stress Sensitivity Level”.
TIP: If you find that your stress level is always in the blue or the red, then you most likely need to change your “Stress Sensitivity Level”. If you are always in the blue, this means you need to base your stress level on a smaller ratio (high sensitivity level). Challenge yourself by moving up a level or two. If you are in the red, then you might need a higher ratio (lower sensitivity level). A good indication that your stress management techniques have worked is when you need to change your sensitivity level to a higher sensitivity level.
Root Mean Square of Successive Differences (rMSSD) – In other words, the square root of the mean of the sum of the squares of the successive differences between adjacent RR Intervals. I swear that’s in English. I suggest checking out our library and reading our HRV Measurements slides (slide 15) to thoroughly understand the different domains. The important thing to remember is thatrMSSD is a time domain standard and is just one of the several parameters that measure heart rate variability.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – HRV is the variation in the time interval between one heartbeat and the next. If only it were that simple; read our HRV backgrounder to learn more. In SweetBeatLife, HRV is a real-time scaled version (between 1-100) of rMSSD and represents the state of the autonomic nervous system and its ability to respond/react and recover from internal and external stressors. These stressors include orthostatic (standing and sitting), environmental and psychological.
TIP: The HRV for Training function of SweetBeatLife uses a special algorithm to customize your reference line and manage your training.
Heart Rate – Heart rate is the speed of the heartbeat, more specifically in this case, it is a real-time measure of your beats per minute.
*Respiration – Breathing correctly is an important factor in stress management and HRV for training. This is why we include a breath pacer. There are many different theories on which kind of breathing is best for your health. We use a specific pace meant to balance your nervous system.
TIP: The breath pacer featured on the relax screen within SweetBeatLife is proven to help balance the autonomic nervous system.
RR – On an EKG the heart rate is measured using the R wave to R wave interval (RR Interval). The RR metric is shown in real-time and quite necessary for the measurement of HRV.
TIP: Only heart rate monitors that are Bluetooth low energy (BTLE) and record RR Intervals can be used with SweetBeatLife for accuracy purposes. Pulse oximeters (watches, finger sensors, etc.) measure heart rate by pulse detection, which is not accurate enough for HRV. Please visit our compatibility chart for help and visit our health sensors page to purchase one.
*Steps – Another metric that may be familiar to you if you have ever used a fitness tracker. Your steps can be imported and tracker through your other wearables: Fitbit & Withings.
Jono, also known as Lifestyle Magnet, is one of our SweetBeat users. He is a real quantified selfer! Read below to see how he has used his data to maximize his snowboarding experience.
“In this video I want to show how I have been experimenting with HRV and Snowboarding. It is the beginning of the season and the muscles are not quite in shape yet. But, the excitement to be on the snow is at an all time high, as in MAJOR stoke! Using an app called Alpine Replay and the SweetBeat HRV app I was able to determine where I was on the slope in relation to what my HRV was doing. When I first looked at the session chart of my snowboarding session and noticed the up-and-down lines for my HRV, I immediately assumed that the bottom of each of the bumps was what corresponded with the bottom of each run. To me it made sense: the body is engaged physically as you descend the mountain and then you recover sitting on the chairlift on your way back up again. Your mood is also elevated as you go up on the lift in anticipation of the next run. However on closer inspection I notice that my HRV continues to get less, or go lower after the run is over. It only starts going up sometime on the chair lift ride back up to the top of the mountain. During the preparation time right before the run as I am adjusting my bindings, my HRV starts to drop and continues to drop throughout the run. What will be interesting will be to see if the speed of recovery changes as the season progresses and I get more in shape.”
This is an excerpt taken from the article mentioned above by Ben Greenfield, in which he has used SweetBeat to monitor his training and recovery. He goes over a little bit of background information about heart rate and heart rate variability. Followed up by some very interesting graphs from his personal sessions.
First, I’m going to explain HRV to you, and then I’ll tell you the best way to track your HRV.
The origin of your heartbeat is located in what is called a “node” of your heart, in this case, something called the sino-atrial (SA) node. In your SA node, cells in your heart continuously generate an electrical impulse that spreads throughout your entire heart muscle and causes a contraction (Levy).
Generally, your SA node will generate a certain number of these electrical impulses per minute, which is how many times your heart will beat per minute. Below is a graphic of how your SA node initiates the electrical impulse that causes a contraction to propagate from through the Right Atrium (RA) and Right Ventricle (RV) to the Left Atrium (LA) and Left Ventricle (LV) of your heart.
So where does HRV fit into this equation?
Here’s how: Your SA node activity, heart rate and rhythm are largely under the control of your autonomic nervous system, which is split into two branches, your “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and your “fight and flight” sympathetic nervous system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-and-digest”) influences heart rate via the release of a compound called acetylcholine by your vagus nerve, which can inhibit activation of SA node activity and decrease heart rate variability.
In contrast, your sympathetic nervous system (“fight-and-flight”) influences heart rate by release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, and generally increases activation of the SA node and increases heart rate variability.
If you’re well rested, haven’t been training excessively and aren’t in a state of over-reaching, your parasympathetic nervous system interacts cooperatively with your sympathetic nervous system to produce responses in your heart rate variability to respiration, temperature, blood pressure, stress, etc (Perini). And as a result, you tend to have really nice, consistent and high HRV values, which are typically measured on a 0-100 scale. The higher the HRV, the better your score.
But if you’re not well rested (over-reached or under-recovered), the normally healthy beat-to-beat variation in your heart rhythm begins to diminish. While normal variability would indicate sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system balance, and a proper regulation of your heartbeat by your nervous system, it can certainly be a serious issue if you see abnormal variability – such as consistently low HRV values (e.g. below 60) or HRV values that tend to jump around a lot from day-to-day (70 one day, 90 another day, 60 the next day, etc.).
In other words, these issues would indicate that the delicate see-saw balance of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system no longer works.
In a strength or speed athlete, or someone who is overdoing things from an intensity standpoint, you typically see more sympathetic nervous system overtraining, and a highly variable HRV (a heart rate variability number that bounces around from day to day).
In contrast, in endurance athletes or people who are overdoing things with too much long, slow, chronic cardio, you typically see more parasympathetic nervous system overtraining, and a consistently low HRV value (Mourot).
In my own case, as I’ve neared the finish of my build to any big triathlon, I’ve noticed consistently low HRV scores – indicating I am nearing an overreached status and my parasympathetic, aerobically trained nervous system is getting “overcooked”. And in the off-season, when I do more weight training and high intensity cardio or sprint sports, I’ve noticed more of the highly variable HRV issues. In either case case, recovery of a taxed nervous system can be fixed by training less, decreasing volume, or decreasing intensity – supercompensation, right?
But wait – we’re not done yet! HRV can get even more complex than simply a 0-100 number.
For example, when using an HRV tracking tool, you can also track your nervous system’s LF (low frequency) and HF (high frequency) power levels. This is important to track for a couple of reasons:
-Higher power in LF and HF represents greater flexibility and a very robust nervous system.
-Sedentary people have numbers in the low 100’s (100-300) or even lower, fit and active people are around 900 – 1800 and so on as fitness and health improve.
Tracking LF and HF together can really illustrate the balance in your nervous system. In general, you want the two to be relatively close. When they are not, it may indicate that the body is in deeply rested state with too much parasympathetic nervous system activation (HF is high) or in a stressed state with too much sympathetic nervous system activation (LF is high). Confused as I was when I first learned about this stuff? Then listen to this podcast interview I did with a heart rate variability testing company called Sweetbeat. It will really elucidate this whole frequency thing for you.
So how the heck do you test HRV?
When it comes to self quantification, there are a ton of devices out there for tracking HRV (and hours of sleep, heart rate, pulse oximetry, perspiration, respiration, calories burnt, steps taken, distance traveled and more).
For example, there is one popular device called the “emWave2″, which seems like it is the ost popular heart rate variability tracking device among biohackers. The emWave2 is a biofeedback device that trains you to change your heart rhythm pattern to facilitate a state of coherence and enter “the zone.”
Basically, when you use the emWave2 a few minutes a day, it can teach you how to transform feelings of anger, anxiety or frustration into peace and clarity. It actually comes with software that you run on your computer which teaches you how to do this. But the emWave2 is kinda big, and you certainly can’t place it discreetly in your pocket or take it with you on a run – although they have just developed a phone app called “Inner Balance” that can allow for a bit more portability and ease-of-use, albeit with less biofeedback potential.
Then there are devices such as the Tinke. A small, colored square with two round sensors, the Tinke, made by a company called Zensorium, is designed to measure heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level, and heart rate variability over time. Every time you measure, it gives you your “Zen” score and your “Vita” score, and you can simply use a measurement like this every morning to see how ready your body is for the rigors of training.
All you need to do is attach the Tinke to your iPhone, and then place your thumb over the sensors so the Tinke can measure cardiorespiratory levels. Tinke captures blood volume changes from the fingertip using optical sensing and signal processing. It takes about sixty seconds to measure all the parameters you need, from you stress level to your breathing and more.
You can use the Tinke anytime, anywhere, and it’s designed primarily to encourage deep breathing exercises in order to promote relaxation and alleviate stress levels. While it’s not a medical device, it can assist in stress relief and recovery when you combine it with regular deep breathing exercises, and I’ll admit that as a self-proclaimed biohacker I am addicted to playing with my Tinke every morning (which almost sounds a bit perverted to say).
Then there are simple apps that simply use the lens of your phone camera to check your heart rate or heart rate variability, or even teach you how to breathe properly. The Azumio Stress Check App is a perfect example of that. It’s not incredibly accurate, but it’s inexpensive and a good way to start.
Of course, there are also wearable body monitoring units you can clip to your body throughout the day, such as the Jawbone UP and FitBit, which measure sleep, movement and calories, but won’t measure heart rate, pulse oximetry, or heart rate variability – so I don’t consider these to be ideal recovery monitoring devices per se. Finally, there are wristwatch-like units that are getting fancier, such as the new MyBasis watch, which is a multi-sensor device that continuously measures motion, perspiration, and skin temperature, as well as heart rate patterns throughout the day and night – but once again, this device doesn’t measure things like heart rate variability and pulse oximetry (although there is a similar device under development called a MyBoBo which may offer these measurements).
And while I’ve experimented with a variety of heart rate chest strap style measurement tools, include the Bioforce and Omegawave, my top recommendation for measuring your heart rate variability is the SweetBeat system, and this is what I personally use every day to track HRV. I like the SweetBeat because it’s easy-to-use, intuitive, allows you to track your heart rate variability in real time (such as when you’re out on a run or working at your office) and is also something you can use with meals to test food sensitivities by tracking heart rate response to foods.