Cardiac variability is a topic that has captured the attention of athletes and coaches alike. This measure, which reflects fluctuations in the time interval between heartbeats, offers a unique window into understanding our cardiovascular health and athletic performance. In recent years, interest in cardiac variability has grown exponentially, not only in sports but also in general health.
Definition and rationale for cardiac variability
Heart rate variability, also known as HRV (Heart Rate Variability), is the phenomenon whereby the time interval between consecutive heartbeats varies. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which regulates bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion and breathing. Greater variability indicates a more adaptive nervous system and is generally associated with better cardiovascular health and greater resilience.
How is it measured?
Measuring heart rate variability requires the use of specialised devices, such as heart rate monitors and mobile apps. These devices record heartbeats and calculate HRV using various mathematical methods. These measurements can be taken at rest or during exercise, providing valuable information on how the body responds to stress and training.
Heart rate variability is a key indicator in sports training. It allows coaches and athletes to monitor the body’s response to training and adjust workload to optimise performance. A high HRV usually indicates a good state of recovery and the ability to take on heavy training loads, while a low HRV can be a sign of fatigue or overtraining.
A 2019 study by Alejandro Javaloyes, Jose Manuel Sarabia, Robert Patrick Lamberts and Manuel Moya-Ramon, entitled “Training Prescription Guided by Heart-Rate Variability in Cycling” and published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, provides evidence on the importance of cardiac variability in sports training.
In this study, 17 well-trained cyclists were divided into two groups: one guided by heart rate variability (HRV) and one with traditional periodisation. After eight weeks of training, the HRV-guided group showed significant improvements in performance, including a 5.1% increase in peak power and a 7.3% increase in a 40-minute time trial. These results underline the effectiveness of personalising training regimes based on HRV, in contrast to the traditional periodisation group who showed no significant improvements.
Relationship between cardiac variability and general health
Beyond the sporting arena, heart rate variability is an important indicator of general health. Research has shown that low HRV is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and can be an early indicator of health problems. Therefore, maintaining a good heart rate variability is essential not only for athletes, but for anyone interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Methods to improve cardiac variability
Improving cardiac variability is possible through a variety of strategies. These include a balanced diet, adequate hydration, regular and varied training, stress reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga, and quality sleep. Each of these aspects contributes to improving the adaptability of the nervous system and thus HRV.
Rest and recovery are key aspects of improving cardiac variability. The body needs time to recover from the stresses of training and daily life. A balanced approach that includes adequate rest and quality sleep can significantly improve HRV and therefore sports performance and overall health.
Cardiac variability has practical applications in a wide range of sports. In endurance sports such as cycling and running, it can help to optimise training plans and avoid overtraining. In team sports, it can be useful for managing training load and player recovery. Even in sports that require high precision and control, such as archery or golf, maintaining a good HRV can improve concentration and performance.
In addition, there are a variety of tools and technologies available for monitoring cardiac variability. These range from wearable devices and smart watches to mobile apps and professional analysis systems. These tools allow individuals and sports professionals to monitor and analyse HRV on a continuous basis, providing valuable data for training and health decision-making.