Heart rate variability (HRV), which is regulated by your autonomic nervous system, is very useful for evaluating physical fitness and your body’s readiness to perform. Measured in milliseconds (ms), HRV is literally the difference in time between beats of your heart.
If heart rate variability is something you’re not already familiar with, check out our Ultimate Guide to HRV to better understand what it is and why it’s so meaningful.
Broadly speaking, higher HRV is usually an indication of better fitness. However, one of the most important things to realize with heart rate variability is that it is an extremely individualized metric that often differs significantly from one person to another. It can also fluctuate considerably on a day-to-day basis (and throughout the day).
If your goal is to determine what is a normal or “healthy” HRV for you, there are many factors that come into play. Age, gender, lifestyle, fitness level, genetics, and even your environment all have an effect on your heart rate variability.
In general, HRV tends to decrease with age, and males have slightly higher HRV on average than females. Athletes usually have greater heart rate variability than non-athletes, but this is not always the case. There are plenty of people out there who are in outstanding shape but have HRV that’s below the norm.
Across everyone on WHOOP, the average heart rate variability for men is 65, and for women it’s 62. Elaborating on that, a frequently posed question is “What is the normal range for HRV?”
Below is a chart displaying the middle 50% of all HRV values for male and female WHOOP members between the ages of 20 and 65:
You can see above that the normal HRV range clearly declines for both men and women as they get older. For example, the middle half of 25-year-old males fall roughly from 50-100, while 45-year-olds are around 35-60. Females of the same ages see a similar dip, from about 45-90 to 30-55.
It’s worth noting that a small percentage of the WHOOP population skews the averages upwards to some degree. There are people (often elite athletes) who have extraordinarily high heart rate variability that’s much greater than what is typical. But, the opposite is not the case. The lowest HRV numbers we see are not that far below the standard.
Take a look at the distribution of all heart rate variability scores for males:
While there are some who average 160 and above (and occasionally even break 200), nobody really lands much below 15 or so. This chart shows that the most common HRV for men is right around 40.
The same is true for females as well:
As demonstrated by the graphic above, the most frequent HRV score for women is 37.
Since HRV varies widely from person to person, rather than compare yourself to others it makes much more sense to follow your own trends over time.
As you make efforts to improve your overall health and fitness, you’ll likely see a corresponding increase in your heart rate variability. Conversely, a downward trend may be a sign of overtraining or other unhealthy behaviors (bad nutrition, poor sleep, etc).
WHOOP tracks your HRV during your deepest period of sleep every night in order to provide you with a consistent and accurate understanding of what your baseline is. Each morning, WHOOP uses heart rate variability (along with sleep, resting heart rate and respiratory rate) to calculate your recovery–how ready your body is to perform that day.
The WHOOP app also gives you actionable insights based on your daily HRV scores, as well weekly trend views. Additionally, WHOOP members receive Monthly Performance Assessments featuring detailed long-term analysis of their heart rate variability.
What is a Good HRV? It Varies for Everyone
10 Ways to Improve Your Heart Rate Variability
How to Use Heart Rate Variability to Guide Your Training
Podcast No. 29: Answering All Your Questions About HRV