Heart Rate Variability

I have had a lot of experience in dealing with heart issues since the day I was born.  Since I was very young, I’ve had a heart murmur.  This can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, as there are many various types of murmur.  Some people can even have an irregular heart beat that can be diagnosed, or misdiagnosed as a murmur.

When I went away to Colgate University to play NCAA hockey, the doctor who was doing my physical found the murmur with her stethoscope and immediately sent me for an an ultrasound and echocardiogram.  Both of which came back to say that there wasn’t any issues with me playing hockey at that level.

The doctor did warn me though, that I would have to work at increasing my heart rate variability an VO2 max in order to make up for the irregularity in my heart rhythm, which has an adverse effect on cardiac output.  Output includes the heart rate and the stroke volume.  She couldn’t be exactly sure which was going to be more affected, but she suggested a few things in order to prevent any shortcomings when trying to perform at a high level of collegiate athletics.

I’ve since been to see a few more doctors, especially as I creep up in age, to ensure that my ticker is still in good shape.  My family also has a history of poor heart health, so my genetics are certainly not in my favor.  My grandpa on my dad’s side and my oma on my mom’s side both passed from heart attacks.  My dad, who is seemingly in amazing shape, also had a heart attack at a young age.

The last time I went to visit a cardiologist, which was May, 2018, I was put through a stress test.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is an evaluation that takes place on a treadmill, while the patient is hooked up to multiple heart rate monitors.  It was my job to get my heart rate up to a pace that was challenging and close to full capacity.

For obvious reasons, the process calls for a moderate pace to start, then eventually, through intervals, works up to a pace that is challenging for each different subject.

It took me 15 minutes to work up to a pace that was challenging.

As soon as that pace was reached, I had to lay down on a bed, and the nurse proceeded to do an ultrasound of my heart rate, while watching the rate of recovery, the beats per minute, and the stroke volume.

My heart rate got up to 180 BPM, and in less than a minute was down below 110, then a minute later was almost back to resting HR, which for me is around 70BPM.

At a later appointment, my doctor mentioned that my heart rate variability was very good, and this is a significant indicator of excellent heart health.

Heart Rate Variability 

HRV is a significant marker for function in the autonomic nervous system, and indicator to estimate the degree of resistance toward stress (1).  This of course is very important for athletes who are constantly trying to stress their bodies in order to improve and change.

Here are a couple of charts that breakdown what a good HRV is for both males and females. 

There are many methods that are widely accepted in order to increase heart rate quickly.  We employ a number of these methods at Peak, and try to constantly vary training modalities for our athletes, to continue to put stress on the heart.

Some of these include:

  • High intensity Interval Training
  • Heavy Resistance Training
  • Long Duration, Lower Intensity Cardio
  • Supersets of Exercises

But, remember, HRV is not only how high you can get your heart rate comfortably, but how low your HR can go as well.

Things like fear, anxiety, illness, and injury can all have a negative influence on being able to reduce heart rate.  An individual’s ability to self-regulate and reduce these stresses on the body is determined by how well they train themselves to deal with situations that arise.

People with low HRV have been shown to be those that lack ability to cope with stressful situations, those with PTSD, diabetic, or have other anxiety disorders.  

In order to increase HRV, we must also look at the low end of the spectrum, and understand the methods of reducing heart rate, and improve the parasympathetic nervous system function.

Methods to lower heart rate include:

  • Guided Imagery
  • Muscle Relaxation 
  • Massage
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • HRV Biofeedback

No matter what type of athlete you are, enhancing the health and performance of your heart will not only help you to be a better conditioned athlete, but will also add years and quality to your life.  Try using a heart rate monitor to give you some data to see where you are at currently.



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4835037/