Review: iThlete App Review…(Bringing HRV Into the Mix)

Review: iThlete App Review…(Bringing HRV Into the Mix)

Athletes at the highest levels have access to the latest technology as they strive for peak performance.  They and their coaches are monitoring multiple stimuli, both external and internal, to determine what training loads achieve the perfect balance between improvement and recovery.  As we all know without adequate recovery you’re not going to be able to train effectively and your chances of injury increase.  Recent innovations and products have opened the door so that even recreational athletes can utilize products that just a few years ago were cost prohibitive to all but well-funded athletic programs.

Heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring can be used to quantify your baseline level of fitness, track you daily recovery, develop a personal strategy for peaking, and identify trends from changes in your training regimen.  HRV based program have been developed for professional athletes of all sports, including the UFC, and may represent the next step in individualized training programs.


Your heart beats at a different rate based on your breathing patterns.  Your heart rate (HR) may be 60 beats per minute (BPM) however that doesn’t necessarily equate to metronome-like pattern of 1 beat every second.  Sometimes you’ll have more or less time between each beat.  Typically HR speeds up with your inhale and slows down as you exhale.  The difference between these two rates is your heart-rate variability (HRV).  Higher HRV scores are associated with athletes that are better conditioned and changes in HRV can be used to assess an individual’s recovery from previous training.Joel Jamison has been using this technology as part of his BioForce HRV program to train a wide range of athletes including UFC fighters such as Demetrious Johnson and Tim Boetsch.
“Providing a glimpse into an individual’s autonomic nervous system profile, heart rate variability measurements accurately pinpoint an athlete’s location on the fatigue-recovery-supercompensation curve.”  Joel Jamieson, full article is HERE

I’ve used the iThlete HRV app (available at iTunes and Google Play) for the last 3 months.  Every morning when I wake up I take my reading while seated.  After the reading is taken I also input some notes on the previous days training and a quality of sleep score.  Taking the reading is straightforward and takes just a minute.

ithlete start screen                  ithlete comments

The app then compares my HRV to the previous day, week and month.  Based on this data I’m given a color coded score that’s indicative of how recovered I am from my previous training and how I should adjust today’s training to match that level of recovery.

ithlete screen

ithlete graph

I’m not going to get into the specifics of how to use HRV for training but I do want to share what I was able to learn by using this app so that you have a practical understanding of what you can get from it.

  • My morning heart rate (HR) is between 46 and 56 bpm (avg ~52).  My HRV can fluctuate significantly (± 8) with the same resting heart rate. My HRV when fully recovered (no training for 2+ days) is ~105.  While training with my regular schedule I’m right around 85.
  • My current training schedule allows me to recover completely most of the time.  The two biggest non-training factors for me are sleep and pain.
  • When I add something unexpected (impromptu hour long rolling session or a 5k) it takes me up to 3 days to recover.  During this time I roll like crap and tend to have extra aches and pains.
  • Weight training affects my HRV score at ~36 hours after the session.
  • HRV is a highly individualized score.  The actual score isn’t nearly as important as the changes that you see in relation to your training and other environmental factors.

You’re able to download this data via email, Dropbox and/or a direct download to your iThlete account.  This is really nice for anyone with a working knowledge of spreadsheets.  The account option was  recently expanded so that a central user (coach) can collect and analyze data from a group of athletes.  The athletes use the App like normal and the data is automatically synced to an online dashboard that can be accessed by the coach from any computer with an internet connection.  The collection of data is truly painless and takes all the pressure off the athlete.  In addition, the athlete’s data is automatically charted.  These charts include all the data points collected including the comments entered.

ithlete team app

For more details on the system please check out iThlete’s blog here.

Wrapping It Up:
The HRV app is very easy to use and at $10 it’s not going to break the bank (even if you have to buy the HR strap or adapter you’re still under the price of a new gi).  I’ve used it every day for the last 3 months and feel that the information I’ve learned about how my body reacts to training is invaluable.  Now that I’ve established a baseline I’m able to quantify how my body reacts to changes in my training, such as added strength training and/or conditioning work.  The data is also helpful to determine the best way for me to peak for a competition.

The team app allows the athlete to focus on his/her training.  After they’re set up with an account, which takes about 5 minutes, they’re done.  The only responsibility he/she has it to take a reading in the morning and train.  This also takes the data collection responsibility off the coach so that he/she can focus on the athlete’s training.  If you only have a few highly motivated athletes (and a good knowledge of Excel) you may not need this app but if you have a full team it could prove very useful.

HRV monitoring is an exciting new avenue for monitoring your training.  Now that the cost has come down significantly it is available to anyone.  If you already have a SmartPhone and/or iOS device you’ll be able to add the necessary equipment for less than a $100 (less than the cost of most gis).  What you’ll get is individualized feedback on your own recovery and how your body is responding to the training that you’re currently undergoing.  With enough data points you’ll be able to determine the best way for you to peak for a competition, adjust your training to decrease the chance for injuries and maximize your workload to get the greatest positive effect on your training.  These apps and programs are available at iThlete (website, Facebook and Twitter) and I’d also encourage you to check out these articles:  Sally Arsenault from Breaking Muscle, HRV Roundtable, and Andrew Flatt’s blog.

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