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July 27, 2021

Podcast 133: HRV Insights from Doctors, Athletes & Experts

This episode features HRV insights from various guests of the WHOOP Podcast, including doctors, world-class athletes, and other experts.

By Will Ahmed

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One of the best metrics to determine your physical fitness and your body’s readiness to perform is heart rate variability (HRV).

We’re bringing you some of our top WHOOP Podcast conversations on HRV to date, including insights from renowned researcher Dr. Daniel Plews, our own Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo, and yes, even Steve-O.

This episode covers everything you need to know about HRV, what it signals about your body, and what you can do to optimize it.

 

HRV Compilation Podcast Quotes and Highlights

2:17 – Basics of Heart Rate Variability. WHOOP VP of Performance Kristen Holmes and VP of Data Science and Research Emily Capodilupo detailed everything you need to understand about HRV in Episode 29.

5:42 – Factors That Decrease or Increase HRV. Kristen and Emily detail the many factors that play a role in your daily heart rate variability, such as activity level, stress, fatigue, illness, alcohol, and hydration. “It’s like one of the most sensitive metrics that there are,” Emily says. “It’s very powerful, but also a little bit tricky because it’s not a very specific metric.”

9:34 – What’s a Good HRV? “I hate that question,” Emily says. “Heart rate variability is just how this autonomic nervous system happens to be manifesting in your heart rate,” Emily says, adding that HRV is a highly personalized metric. “If you’re older, your HRV is probably lower. We see slightly lower HRVs in females than in age-matched males. There’s a million exceptions there, but globally, that is a trend that’s been observed. We do see things like higher HRV with endurance athletes than strength-based athletes, but we discourage as much as possible athletes from looking over at their neighbor’s WHOOP and comparing HRVs to each other.”

12:54 – HRV and Biological Age. Dr. Bob Arnot joined us in Episode 87 and shared how monitoring his HRV has helped him turn back the clock. Dr. Bob, at the age of 72, is competing with athletes in their 20s. “With WHOOP, using HRV as a marker, you can bring your biological age down, bit by bit. … I bought the WHOOP and lo and behold I was red every day for weeks and weeks and weeks. I completely changed my training and I had an HRV of 18-20, which was like my age, 72, I actually got it up to 130. I was the equivalent of my 7-year-old.”

16:16 – Understanding HRV Patterns. In Episode 108, Dr. Daniel Plews, a world-renowned heart rate variability researcher explained why looking at your HRV over time is a valuable way to understand your fitness. “I don’t think that a one-day [HRV] measure is the way forward. I think you need to look at rolling averages. That’s always something I’ve been more of a fan of to give a better idea of what’s happening. … I’ve always thought it’s not the silver bullet and one single metric that you should look at. You need a variety of metrics to really know whether you’re going to change training or not.”

18:06 – Training Based on HRV. Dr. Plews breaks down the difference between block periodization training and HRV-based training, and why he thinks planning your workouts based on your heart rate variability is a way to train smarter, not harder.

22:37 – Searching for an Edge. Four-time major golf champion Rory McIlroy explained why he tracks HRV in Episode 68. “Once I started to learn a little bit more about sympathetic and parasympathetic, the central nervous system, HRV, what that all means, I started wearing WHOOP because I just wanted to know more about my body and myself and how I recover. I just wanted to optimize what I do. In this day and age in golf, with the technology that’s out there, everyone is closer together. The difference between the No. 1 ranked player in the world and the No. 100 is actually pretty small. For me, I want to do everything I possibly can to get an advantage. For me, WHOOP is one of those things that can give me an advantage.”

24:36 – How WHOOP Tracks Your HRV. Our CEO Will Ahmed and world champion surfer John John Florence (Episode 119) discussed HRV in depth, and Will explained why WHOOP focuses on your HRV during slow wave (deep) sleep and why that’s a lens into your recovery. “Slow wave sleep is when your body produces about 95% of its human growth hormone. So we’re able to look at your heart rate variability during this period of time where your body’s repairing itself, and that makes it a very good predictor of your next day readiness.”

29:38 – Mindfulness, Meditation, and HRV. Jackass star Steve-O, from Episode 106, believe it or not, has a high HRV (160) and a low resting heart rate (45). He explained why mindfulness and meditation is the key to keeping his HRV high. “I believe – and I know a lot of people think, ‘What a kook,’ – but I genuinely believe that by the virtue of a disciplined, spiritual practice of meditation twice a day that you actually get plugged into something where the universe conspires in your favor,” Steve-O says. “We’re all interconnected no matter what. I just think it plugs you in. It’s a big deal. It’s a real life hack.”

32:23 – Singing and HRV. Kernel CEO Bryan Johnson says he sings before bed to increase his HRV. “I find that when I sing before I go to bed, my HRV improves. Last night, I was singing with a group of friends for 30 minutes and my HRV improved by 17%. … That’s the fun of having measurement. I get to try something new every day and I get to fine tune myself every single day. WHOOP has allowed me to improve myself at a speed I’ve never been able to do before.”

 

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised $400 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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