Training Session Based on Heart Rate Variability

So a few months ago while I was reading up on what people meant by polarised training, I came across an article which described an algorithm for selecting workouts based on heart rate variability (HRV).

Searching the forum, there was also a thread about it in March:

TL;DR - don’t try it and stick to the SYSTM plans. If you are honest with yourself about how you feel then HRV doesn’t add value.

Since all my events had been cancelled due to COVID, I was looking for something to keep me motivated and decided to give the format a try. I actually had two attempts as it as the first one was cut short after three weeks by the never-ending cycle of lockdowns in Melbourne. After three weeks of sulking and not much riding, I got back in to it and did an eight week block.

The first go around I used SUF sessions for the high intensity days and inspiration rides or rides to work on the low intensity days. In the second block since I was desperate to get outside, I converted my old 5000m running plan to cycling. High intensity days consisted of two hours riding and easy days was 90 minutes at or just below my VT1. The plan had a really hard threshold type session every 10 or so days and the rest of the hard sessions were really about maintaining other areas of fitness (e.g. tempo, MAP, AC, NM).

Things I learnt from this:

  1. It is impractical for anyone with a normal weekly routine. The algorithm will schedule your rides without care for the weather, day of the week, or what your friends are doing. Even if you do this with other people, you won’t have hard days at the same time so can’t train with anyone pretty much at all. It worked for me during lockdown because we weren’t allowed to go anywhere, see anyone, and everyday was basically the same as the last.

  2. The 1-minute HRV test with the phone camera (HRV4T) was accurate enough. Sure there is some variability, but over the course of the whole block it seemed to be good enough to make decisions.

  3. Just because I felt fine in the morning does not mean I will be fine by the evening when I get to ride. A stressful day at work can make sessions very hard.

  4. The algorithm scheduled way more hard sessions than I would ever do. There was a four-week period where I had a total of 16 hard sessions including 20 consecutive days of riding. Back-to-back hard sessions are reasonably common.

  5. The first five weeks drove me to the point I felt over-trained even though I had done a lot more total riding per week in past training blocks (11 hours vs. 16 hours). Even with a very light two-weeks after this, I still felt awful in the final week. My sprints got worse and worse every ride until I was struggling to hit 75% of my previous 5-sec max.

  6. I finished with FF and improved in all four metrics. The gains were fairly modest especially given how difficult the plan was to follow. I was still below my all time best efforts but since those were set when I was riding 45% more per week it isn’t really a fair comparison.

After completing the plan, I read a bit more about using HRV to guide training and it seems to be a fairly new area. The general feeling I get is that it won’t be any worse than a traditional plan.

Personally, I will keep using HRV to keep me honest with how well I am coping with training but use the SYSTM plans as the base since I know they are effective.

I use a process similar to the one listed in the article below if I ever have a day where a hard session is scheduled for a day where I have a low HRV score. For instance, on Thursday I had Nine Hammers on the plan and had low HRV. I started the session and did the warm-up , felt fine and continued to complete it. If I had felt bad after the warm-up or if the efforts felt much harder than they should then I would have canned it for the day.


Every time I do a recovery week at the end of a plan, my HRV plunges and stress levels shoot up.I have had an easy week, leaving a my HRV at 22 yesterday, with a 91% stress, today it has dropped to 18 with a stress of 96%. It is not that I am doing anything much during the day , but doing very little seems to be the opposite of recovery

@alchurch I get the same thing. I learnt from this experience that during a recovery week, I recover better with one session with a bit of stimulus after four days (something like recharger or cadence builds not nine hammers). While I was still exhausted after the two weeks of light sessions, I felt better in the last week than I would have expected.

Last summer, I did a four month block with very high mileage and from that I also learnt that keeping overall volume up but intensity down makes me feel a lot more recovered. On those longer weekend rides I kept the power down so no tempo efforts up climbs or chasing my mates. Just plug away at an easy level but for longer than 1 hour.

Putting those two together, a perfect recovery week for me would be to move the session that matches the strength day back to Wednesday or Thursday and keep the long Sunday ride but watch the intensity.