If you’re training for a race or athletic event, chances are you have a strict training regimen that you try to follow — e.g., five days on, two days off per week. But your body, and your recovery, varies day by day. Some days you might be exhausted, while others you feel in top shape.

So what should be your guide — your training schedule or your body?

The short answer: Keep a routine, but let your body have a say.

If you want a responsive training plan, start reading your body’s performance capacity directly. Paying attention to your heart rate variability (HRV) with a wearable device like Oura can help you adjust your workouts so that harder training days align with your body’s readiness, not your calendar.

RELATED: What Is the Average HRV of Oura Members?

HRV: A Sign of Your Training Capacity

HRV is the variation, measured in milliseconds, between your heartbeats. It is a strong indicator of your body’s training capacity, as it reflects activity in your autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Put another way, HRV indicates how your ANS is balancing its packed daily to-do list.

On the one hand, your fight-or-flight system is using energy to maximize short-term performance, demanding resources to respond to mental and physical stressors (e.g., daily stress or a workout). On the other hand, your rest-and-digest system needs energy to prioritize long-term survival, demanding resources to maintain homeostasis, repair your body, strengthen muscles, and support your immune system.

You need both to prepare for athletic feats (fight-or-flight) and to recover afterward (rest-and-digest).

HRV reflects that balance as a holistic measure of your total load. The more you demand of yourself daily, the less you have in the tank to train effectively.

Member Story: Oura member and marathon runner Raj K. was able to increase his HRV by 10 points by incorporating low heart rate runs, a sign that his cardiorespiratory system was more efficient during training.

Consider HRV to be your training fuel gauge:

  • If your HRV is lower than your average, energy demands are already high from one branch of your ANS. Maybe your fight-or-flight is engaged from chronic stress, or your rest-and-digest is actively fighting a cold. Pushing now is asking your body to expend resources it might not have, putting you at risk of overtraining and stressing your body beyond what it can handle.
  • If your HRV is higher than your average, you’re ready to get moving. Your ANS is prepared to respond productively to stress—flexibly moving between fight-or-flight action and rest-and-digest recovery. Pushing now allows you to capitalize on your body’s recovery capacity, helping it bounce back from a hard workout.

READ MORE: Use HRV to Manage Stress

Look for These Patterns

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If you’re trying to balance your training and recovery days, it can be difficult to know where the line is until you’ve crossed it. You don’t want to write workout checks your body can’t cash.

By monitoring your HRV, you can clearly see when your body has the bandwidth for intense workouts.

Look for these patterns relative to your baseline:

  • A small drop in HRV is normal as you recover from training, alternating between physical stress and recovery.
  • A large drop in HRV is an early warning sign that you may be overworking your system. A hard training session, especially on top of accumulated fatigue, will lower your HRV.
  • A consistently low HRV, outside of your normal range, is a sign that you’re not allocating enough time to recovery.
Member Tip: When we asked Oura members to share the top ways they have improved their HRV, the most popular answers included breathwork, meditation, consistent exercise, and spending time outdoors in the sun.

RELATED: How to Improve HRV 

How to Incorporate HRV Into Your Athletic Training

If you’re looking for that extra edge, take a closer look at your HRV metrics in your Oura App. Here are some ways to assess how your HRV is affecting your training:

Establish a baseline: HRV values naturally fluctuate. Give yourself at least 2 weeks to establish a clear baseline before you take the numbers at face value.

Know your own numbers: Your values are exactly that — yours. For resting heart rate, there is a target number in the 40s that athletes can all strive for. But HRV is different. There is no gold standard range for HRV; it is highly personal, and there are elite athletes who have high and low ranges.

Use your HRV to define push days: When your HRV is high relative to your baseline, it’s a good indicator you can train hard and are likely to recover quickly. On days when your HRV is low, be purposeful about your recovery, both mental and physical.

Pair your HRV with sleep data: Hard training days signal to your body that deep sleep should be prioritized for tissue repair. Keep an eye on how that impacts more brain-based sleep stages like REM sleep, which are necessary for optimal mental performance as well.

Look long term: Watch for patterns in your HRV throughout the month, and keep in mind that your daily HRV values may fluctuate as your fitness and resilience improves.

All movement counts. Set your goals and track your activity with Oura.
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RELATED: Heart Rate Recovery: Why It Matters and How to Calculate Yours