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How To Use HRV

How to Measure Hear Rate Variability (HRV):


There are many ways to measure HRV. We will talk about some of the more popular methods. If there is something you would like to see included, please shoot us an email and we will consider it for the site.


Many doctors offices have excellent equipment for collecting HRV data, these include professional equipment such as electrocardiograph machines (ECG) that are expensive and not so easy to use. There are also things like the Neuropulse from Chiropractic Leadership Alliance (CLA), that are expensive, but much easier and convenient to use. If you have a doctor who collects HRV data, give them a high five! However, this site and this section are more focused on the simple, practical, everyday solutions for HRV. 


A smartphone application paired with a HRV device is the preferred way to gain daily HRV readings. Please refer to the “Products & Reviews” page for a list and review of most of the HRV apps and devices available. 


Once you have a HRV app and device take a reading using the following instructions or download this PDF on how to take a HRV reading provided by Optimal HRV: 


The Act of Measuring HRV:


Regardless the app or device used to measure HRV there are some basic guidelines to follow for taking the measurements.  Consistency in every way possible means everything for HRV. 

  1. Time of day. ​​​

    1. The most ideal time to measure HRV is first thing in the morning. Just after waking, use the restroom if needed, go to your chosen HRV measuring spot with your reader and phone. ​

    2. ​Do not check social media, email, messages or anything else as this may alter your reading. ​

  2. Body position.

    1. Laying down in a face up (supine) position has been said to be more a measure of cardiovascular fitness. 

    2. Sitting has been said to be more a measure of overall health/stress load.  The angle of the chair matters, so use the same chair and same posture each time.

    3. Standing  or moving brings in too many variables and is difficult to get consistency. 

  3. Connect your device and take a reading

    1. Open your phone based HRV app, connect your HRV device and take a reading (most are 3-5 minutes)​

A few notes on taking readings:

  1. Consistency.

    1. Similar times each day is a must as you will be under similar stress loads at those times each day, the most predictable time is first thing out of bed. This does not mean you have to wake up at 6 AM on weekends, but whenever you get out of bed on the weekend, make checking HRV the first thin that happens. 

    2. HRV should be taken EVERY DAY!  If weekends are skipped then additional sleep and recovery may not be factored into the average score.  Similarly, if late nights and alcohol happen on the weekend or other stressors then lack of recovery and reduction in HRV may be difficult to understand with skipped readings.

      1. Equally, trends may be missed.  For example, every week Thursday & Friday scores are very low in comparison to the remainder of the week.  That can hinder HRV based health planning.  Such as loading the front of the week with stressful tasks when the body is capable of performing and have lighter ends to the week when the body is less capable of taking on the stress and may lead to poor performance, illness or injury.

  2. Establish a baseline:

    1. A baseline must be established to determine if your HRV and therefore health is getting better or worse.  

    2. ​In general, 4-7 days of measurements can be used as a baseline.  

    3. The baseline should continuously update with new readings, this will begin to show trends. 

  3. Acute Variables.  Anything that is a large stressor on your body will have an effect on your HRV.  Your body has to adapt to the variable and that is a strain on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Depending on the type, duration and amount of the stressor your HRV will either plummet or skyrocket. I will explain why in the “Interpretation” section.

  4. Emergencies/Accidents:  Any type of emergency or accident that you are involved in or even witness will show an acute change in your HRV.  For example; If this happened today, you will see an immediate change in your HRV, depending on severity of the emergency and several other factors, this change may drag on for days where your HRV is way off baseline. If you were injured, you may see your HRV changed for months depending on how major the injuries were. 

  5. Exercise:  HRV can be taken immediately before and after an exercise session to see the impact an exercise session had on your autonomic nervous system. Watching the time it takes HRV to recover to baseline or pre-exercise range will indicate fitness level and strain of the workout session. This can be used to guide the intensity, type, duration and rest time of workouts.

  6. Illness:  When sick, still take your HRV.  You will notice it has changed. That is because your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is dealing with the stress of being sick (ANS is up-regulating your immune system and all the defense strategies that go along with that such as; raising your temperature, increasing mucous, coughing and so on) and that is taxing your reserve, hence the change in HRV.  As you recover from your illness your HRV will return to your baseline. Sometimes a paradoxical effect may be seen too, where HRV shoots way high during illness as your body ramps up to fight off illness.  The drop will eventually come, and you will feel exhausted as your body defends itself. 




Interpretation of HRV Measurements:


First and foremost; YOUR HRV IS YOURS!


Comparing your HRV to your friends is not a fair judge of if your "doing well or not".  We all have several different factors affecting us daily.  HRV is a measure of how YOU and YOUR body are dealing with YOUR stressors.  There are of course population norms that you can aim to always be above; because, who wants to be average??


Simple HRV Interpretation:


If you want to make this very simple you can look at HRV as follows:


HRV reading higher than your baseline = good.  HRV reading lower than your baseline = bad.  


This does not account for several factors and may be misleading.


If you want to get into the data, please read below and learn the things you may be missing and not considering with that simple interpretation.  




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