We’ve been measuring our HRV (heart rate variability) using the ithlete app and chest strap for over a year now and as a result, we have a better understanding of how to stay healthier than ever before.


ithlete app screens


We were first introduced to ithlete and the concept of HRV measurement during a casual conversation with a respected strength and conditioning coach.  He observed that the greatest challenge for any athlete was to balance training and rest, whilst staying healthy and injury free, and he suggested we tried using ithlete.


His comments were particularly pertinent because our tester was suffering from a really bad cold at the time, something that she accepted was part and parcel of juggling the demands of work, cycling and life in general.  She thought she was pretty good at listening to her body, but nevertheless she would still suffer from two or three bad colds each year.


Incredibly, since using ithlete to measure HRV and following the advice it gives relating to whether you can train hard, slightly easier or not at all, our tester got ill only once and that was when she chose to ignore the ithlete advice, because she was in the middle of major track cycling championship meeting that lasted a full week.  Potentially, without this competition she would not have suffered any illness for a whole year, something that had seemed quite impossible before.


HRV is a measure of the time gaps between your heart beats, these vary as you breathe in and out and the greater the variability, and therefore the higher the HRV number, the better.  We looked at the research that showed a high HRV is evidence of good health and a high level of fitness in more detail here


It is, in fact, such a critical measure of health that HRV is used to predict the 24 hour survival rate of heart attack patients (the original research is here) and one that elite athletes have been using for some time.  Until now, the main issue has been the cost of equipment to accurately measure and then interpret the information and that is where ithlete has really broken new ground.


Using ithlete, the process of measurement is incredibly simple and takes about two minutes from start to finish.  We won’t kid you, there have been times especially in the early days, when it seemed like a bit of an inconvenience.  If you have your work shirt all tucked in and have to un-tuck everything to put a heart rate monitor strap on, when you a running late and trying to get out of the door, then you might find yourself asking “why am I doing this?”  There is however talk of a finger sensor being made available and that would take all the hassle out of it.


Like all things, it quickly becomes a habit and once you understand the benefits, it ceases to be a mild irritation and develops into something of a fascination.


It is important to take the measurement at the same time each day, first thing in the morning is recommended.  So we get up, feed the cat (don’t worry if you don’t have a cat, it is not essential!) and move about a bit first.  Any variable external factors need to be kept to a minimum though, so we take the measurement before we eat or drink anything and caffeine is especifically to be avoided.


In the early days we used a heart rate monitor chest strap (most are compatible) with the ithlete ECG receiver plugged into our iPhone, more recently we have been using the Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate monitor  – both worked well for us, but we prefer the simplicity of the Bluetooth strap, especially as we had a habit of inadvertently hiding the receiver!


So, you put on the chest strap, plug in the receiver – if you are using the Bluetooth chest strap you do not need a receiver – load the app and wait for the start button at the bottom of the screen to turn green.  It takes about 30 seconds from the moment you load the app for the button to turn green and during this time it reads your heart rate and waits for it to become stable.


Press the green button to start HRV measurement, at which time the app shows a pair of lungs and instructs you to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as the lungs expand and contract. 


ithlete explained 


After 50 seconds, you can see your HRV measurement at the top of the screen, with three colour coded boxes next to it; your daily change, weekly change and monthly change.  These are the colours that tell you how you should train and it is a simple traffic light system:


Green is very good and suggests you have recovered well and are ready to train hard – no excuses, hit it hard if that is what is in your plan!


White is a number close to your baseline and you can work out as normal


Amber is when you get an HRV number below your baseline and it is recommended that you do only light (aerobic) exercise or active recovery


Red predictably says stop!  In this case, rest knowing that your body really needs it.  Rest and recovery is as vital a part of getting fit as training hard, so enjoy the rest that is prescribed by ithlete in the knowledge that it is exactly what you need to get fitter and stay healthy


Remember that with HRV the higher the number the better.  When we first started measuring HRV, suffering man-flu and generally feeling very sorry for ourselves, we saw measurements in the 50’s.  Now, we expect mid to high 80’s, but of course it is a very individual measurement.


To interpret your HRV numbers you need first to establish a base line, which is ideally a week of measurement done during a light training period.  Once this has been done, you can rely on ithlete to help you decide whether to train hard, or enjoy some well-earned rest and recovery – you’ve obviously earned it and you can be sure that you are doing what is right for your body. 


It is the ultimate personalisation of a training plan, taking into account the effect of not just your training load, but also work stress, quality of sleep and all the other pressures of life that take their toll on our energy levels.


Don’t think that ithlete is an easy out though, we have actually trained harder and longer using this system in preference to the “one size fits all” approach of training three weeks hard and one week easy.  We have however been totally committed to following the advice from ithlete and that means resting when the numbers dictate it.  It felt like a leap of faith in the early days – we have never been good at the resting/adaptation part of the plan – but we have seen the light and now we are believers!


The facts speak for themselves and we have enjoyed significantly better health whilst training and holding down a demanding work schedule, and have been able to improve personal bests.  What’s not to like about that?


ithlete app: £6.99

Receiver: £34.99

Bluetooth smart heart rate monitor: £49.99 (NB you do not need a receiver if you use this)



Performance: 10/10

Value for money: 10/10


Tested by Jan Birkmyre


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