Heart rate variability-guided training in professional runners: Effects on performance and vagal modulation

Physiol Behav. 2022 Feb 1;244:113654. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2021.113654. Epub 2021 Nov 20.


Purpose: To analyze the training structure following a heart rate variability (HRV) -guided training or traditional training protocol, determining their effects on the cardiovascular performance of professional endurance runners, and describing the vagal modulation interaction.

Methods: This was an 8-week cluster-randomized controlled trial. Twelve professional endurance runners were randomly assigned to an HRV-guided training group (HRV-G; n = 6) or a traditional training group (TRAD-G; n = 6). The training methodology followed by the HRV-G was determined by their daily HRV scores. Training intensities were recorded daily. HRV4Training was used to register the rMSSD every morning and during a 60-second period. Cardiovascular outcomes were obtained through an incremental treadmill test. The primary outcome was the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).

Results: Total training volume was significantly higher in TRAD-G, but moderate intensity training was significantly higher in HRV-G (X ± SDDif=1.98 ± 0.1%; P = 0.006; d = 1.22) and low intensity training in TRAD-G (X ± SDDif=2.03 ± 0.74%; P = 0.004; d = 1.36). The maximal velocity increased significantly in HRV-G (P = 0.027, d = 0.66), while the respiratory exchange ratio increased in TRAD-G (P = 0.017, d = 1). There was a small effect on the LnRMSSD increment (P = 0.365, d = 0.4) in HRV-G. There were statistical inter-group differences in the ∆maximal heart rate when ∆LnrMSSD was considered as a covariable (F = 7.58; P = 0.025; d = 0.487). There were significant and indirect correlations of LnRMSSDTEST with VO2max (r =-0.656, P = 0.02), ∆LnrMSSD with ∆VO2max (r = -0.606, P = 0.037), and ∆LnrMSSDCV with ∆VENT (r = -0.790, P = 0.002).

Conclusions: higher HRV scores suggest better cardiovascular adaptations due to higher training intensities, favoring HRV as a measure to optimize individualized training in professional runners.

Keywords: Endurance; Professional; VO(2)max; Ventilatory threshold; rMSSD.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Exercise Test*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance* / physiology
  • Vagus Nerve