When you think about heart rate, you might be thinking about someone doing cardio – treadmills and beeps.
In reality, there’s a lot to heart rate that you might have missed. There are important overlaps between heart rate and performance in strength training that mean a better rate can improve strength.
Read on, because today we’ll be taking you through the two biggest ways that heart rate and heart rate variability impact strength training!
Heart Rate and Variability: Why it Matters
What do you already know about heart rate?
You probably know that an elevated heart rate is a risk for heart attack, stroke, and other common causes of death. You might even be working on your endurance exercise to keep your heart healthy and make sure that everything from sexual health to mental health are up to scratch.
Lowering your resting heart rate decreases the strain you’re putting on the love muscle, helping you to live a longer and healthier life.
How Strength Training Helps Your Heart
Strength training isn’t often discussed for the benefits to the heart, or the other way around – how the heart can benefit strength.
It’s a two-way system. Resistance-trained people are healthier and have a better tolerance for blood pressure without the negative effects.
The heart undergoes some serious stress during strength training but its only short-term. Additionally, your arteries become more flexible and reduce your risk of clogs, clots, and other serious conditions.
HRV: Benefits for Strength and Muscle Gains
The key benefit we’re going to discuss today is how the variability of your heart rate – the range it can go through – is key to strength training.
You’ll mainly notice this between sets. The ability to get back to resting heart rate between sets is key to improving your recovery – a key factor in keeping your performance up over long workouts.
This is the kind of recovery and performance that many people ignore, since it doesn’t increase your maximum performance right now. However, it helps you accumulate more volume over time which is a direct cause of building strength and muscle mass.
Heart Rate and Psychological Factors
You’ll also want to control your heart rate through psychological methods too.
This is one of the ways that your choice of music when training can make a big difference.
Psychological arousal is all about how hyped up you are – controlling this is a key way to adjust how heavy weights feel and help push yourself.
However, for the recovery we mentioned above its equally important to bring psychological arousal – and your heart rate – down after intense training.
Again, music can be a great choice here, and the music that you use to hype-up between sets isn’t appropriate continuously. Too much psychological arousal, or a chronically elevated heart rate, are bad for both training and health.
That’s why it’s good to find the right tempo playlist for pre and post workout and of course for the workout itself.
Learning to switch on and off when you need to is a great way to develop yourself as an athlete and bring about the best results with the most sustainable, healthy methods.
Post-Training Recovery: How the Heart Supports Muscles
Heart rate and arousability aren’t just about when you’re in the gym, however.
What you’ll find is that intense exercise will keep you in an elevated state of anxiety for a while after finishing. This keeps your heart rate up and places additional stress on your heart if you don’t balance it out.
This is clear from the relation we see between other forms of stress and the risk of heart problems. Any chronic increase in anxiety and heart rate can negatively effect your health, so it’s a significant matter.
Balancing your stress levels out after a training session is one of the ways you can reduce the chronic loading of your heart. This also helps with your exercise recovery and the development of strength.
Improving your return to a resting, restorative heart rate and psychological state can improve your session-to-session progress. Heart rate and relaxation methods – from low-BPM music to meditation to yoga – can all aid in this balancing act.
The Big Lesson
The benefits of proper heart rate and anxiety management for training is a huge deal.
If you’re planning on pushing yourself to new personal bests – and recovering so that you can keep doing it – you need to consider the physical and psychological impacts.
Fortunately, you can manage these changes in both the short and long-term. Developing good habits and being aware of how and handling the stress levels is easy with practice and the right tools.
How to Implement and Improve HRV for Strength Training
How do you improve your heart rate – and variability – without losing all your strength?
This is a question we hear a lot, since a lot of strength enthusiasts see endurance and strength as exact opposites.
Obviously, if you’re doing ultra-marathons you’ll struggle to keep the meat on your body – it’s easy to lose muscle. However, endurance and cardio training don’t have to be long-haul, and you can use them to improve your strength performance.
To start with, you actually need to track your heart rate.
You can’t set and achieve goals if you can’t measure the changes. This is why you probably want a heart rate monitor – so you can see if you’re getting better!
You won’t need to use this for all your sets and we recommend avoiding it for top-sets. Use it for warm ups and some of the lighter weights to see how you respond. Make a quick note of them and compare from session to session.
A weekly average is probably your best bet, since everything from sleep to stress can change your heart rate.
How Should You Train Your Heart for Strength Training?
There are a lot of myths around HIIT – like the idea that it’s “better” than normal cardio, or that it burns more calories – but neither of those matter.
The important part is that HIIT allows you to focus on high-power, intense exercise. This assists with your heart rate variability while also helping you focus on explosive strength.
This is also specific to the kind of heart rate improvements you need: the ability to produce huge efforts and then recover quickly.
How to Build a Great HIIT Session for Strength
The kind of HIIT we’re talking about here comes in many forms. HIIT isn’t a single type of exercise, just a way of structuring different types of training. You’ll find there are some great choices for building other athletic characteristics (such as power, coordination, and speed):
- Sprint intervals
- Med ball/wall ball throws
- Lunges and single-leg work
- Jumps, hops, etc.
- Core exercises
- Rotational and single-leg work
If you combine these types of exercises into high-intensity circuits (using things like Tabata), you can make big differences in a way that helps your strength training, rather than harming it.
This is also great since it helps you cover muscle groups you might not focus on in training and can help prevent injury.
Effort Equals Results: Give Your Cardio Some Love
As with the rest of your training, you should be putting some thought into how you improve your heart rate for strength training.
Too much work in long-haul endurance can lead to slow-twitch adaptation. This can be a problem for strength, so you should aim to implement these lessons in your own training.
Heart rate isn’t the most glamorous way to improve in strength training – it’s not a good as a big bench press or huge squat – but you’ll be setting yourself up for those changes with a healthier, stronger heart.
Closing Remarks and Final Thoughts
Cardiovascular health and training don’t have to compete with your strength training.
Aside from the health benefits, these kinds of changes to your heart rate and efficiency can support better recovery and handling more volume.
Controlling and improving your heart rate are the two factors you need to consider and work on. Controlling your heart rate comes with psychological methods – from music to active relaxation – while improving it for the long-term is all about training smart.
Use these tips to add some high-quality, explosive HIIT to your training. You’ll find that your strength goes up, you cover some of the most under-rated areas of training, and you have the best chance for overall progress!