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Heart rate variability for maximum strength gains

heart rate

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?

HIIT is the best way to do this.

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!

Joe Bailey

Joe Bailey

Joe Bailey is the Wizard of Lightbulb Moments at GetSongBpm. He’s recently developed a heart rate calculator to help people find their target heart rate simply by tapping their screen. When he’s not behind his own screen he’s in front of the crowds in the UK running 5km and 10km events and cross-training regularly.

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Top fitness tips to succeed this year.

Top fitness tips to succeed this year

It’s the second week of the new year and I think it’s time to offer some of the best fitness tips to succeed this year. According to statistics some have already abandoned. Do not throw in the towel so soon because this is a long distance race.

Set your goals

Many people skip this part and unfortunately, it is key. First of all, reflect on what you want to accomplish and why you want to do it. Paint a clear picture of your objectives and of what drives you. Write out three or four sentences with what your goals are for the year. Keep the language simple and avoid words like “hope,” “maybe,” and “try.” Instead, use words like “will” and “must.”
Read out loud these two sentences and feel the difference:
A: “I hope to lose 30 pounds and maybe workout 4 times per week.”
B: “I will lose 30 pounds and I must train 4 times per week.”
The second statement is much more assertive and is a more powerful message. 
Your goals should be realistic but it doesn´t mean you shouldn´t be ambitious. W. Clement Stone wisely said:
Top fitness tips to succeed this year

And Bruce Lee reminds us:

Best fitness tips
Consider shifting your mindset from goal orientation to path orientation. You are on a journey to get fit. You set your goals but you still have to walk the path. Enjoy your journey and refer to your objectives often to remind why you started in the first place.

Log your workouts

There are a number of reasons why logging your workouts could be beneficial.
Progression. This is the number one reason to keep a training log. Two huge and common mistakes I see in the gym are those who increase their training volume in huge jumps, likely resulting in injury or burnout, and those who stay stagnant at the exact same weights/sets/repetitions for months and months, and wonder why they aren’t seeing any progress. The principle of progression, one of the seven main principles of exercise, states that overload of exercise should occur in gradual progression rather than in major bursts. Keeping track of your workouts will allow you to analyze your progression, as well as ensure that consistent, yet gradual gains are being made.

Motivation. Similar to keeping a food journal, logging your workouts will help motivate you to continue with your training plan. Knowing that must put in a workout before you can record reps or instead leave the page blank, can be enough incentive. Further, physically seeing the weight add up on paper is motivation to continue making progress with your training.

Keep you accountable. Training logs distinguish wishful thinking from reality. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you had a great (or horrible) workout, but by writing down what you did, how you feltgoals achieved, etc. this will tell the real story. Training logs keep you accountable for what you’re doing on a daily basis.

Build confidence. Athletes often take a critical view of themselves, always looking for areas that need improvement. Keeping a log of daily success forces you to recognize your progress and success, and this leads to and builds confidence.

Trial and error. After a particularly successful training cycle in the gym where you made gains, or perhaps a training cycle you struggled through. Having access to particular statistics and notes on your training will aid in building future training plans. Keeping a detailed training log enables you to better find the factors in a good or poor performance. For exampleyou may find your performance flattens when you get less than six hours of sleep, or that after a stressful day at work you struggle with your motivation. You can scrutinize what you have done to look for trends or patterns, so you can make any needed changes.

Training diary

The training log is your own personal history of your training and performances. It can, and should, be used to see what works and what doesn’t for you in training to meet specific performance goals. Most athletes and individuals use training logs to keep track of the basics such as the number of repetitions and weight lifted. Limiting your training log to this basic information is only scratching the surface of the potential of what a training log can really provide.
While each athlete should structure a training log to meet their needs, a good training log might include:

  • The facts of the workout such as the number of reps, weight, miles laps, weather, the time of the workout, etc.
  • Goals for the workout and the extent to which each goal was achieved.
  • How you felt, physically.
  • How you felt, mentally.
  • Hours of sleep the night before.
  • The diet the day before, especially the last meal before the workout.
  • What you need to work on in the future based on today’s results.
  • success from the training session, i.e. what you did well or accomplished.
  • These lessons learned or reminders that can be applied to competition.

There is no single training log template that will meet the needs of all athletes. There are e-versions, pre-populated version, the good old notebook. The point, no matter what type of journal/log you useyou need to take the time to develop a training log in a format that you’ll use and will work for you. Your journal should be unique to you. Your thoughts, your workouts, your ideas are going into there. It should fit YOU.

Practice patience and celebrate small successes

Take your workouts week by week or even day by day. Look at Day 1 and focus only on what you have to do that day. Tomorrow you should only be focusing on Day 2. Keep your mind from wandering and letting the overwhelming future lead you astray. So focus on today.
Many people give up on their resolutions within the first seven days because they don’t see the results they want and grow discouraged. 
I think it’s because they don´t notice the small signs of success, the small wins. If you’ve never trained before and followed through for two weeks, that should be recognized. Also, huge results take time. It’s about keeping track of small wins. You may not lose those 10 pounds quickly, but if you lost 2 pounds, then you’re 20 percent closer than you were before, and you are on the right path. That’s great! 
Appreciate the small improvements you’re making, because without them, the big improvements won’t happen. As long as you look forward, figure out how to overcome the obstacles and commit to being the best you can possibly be. Each day you finish, you get one step closer. 
Fitness tips

Get yourself help

What Kris Gethin, The Rock and J-Lo have in common? They all have trainers (actually, Gethin has three.) 
Recently, the Rock posted a photo of himself in “movie-shoot-ready” shape, explaining that it took 18 weeks of extremely disciplined diet and exercise (he travels a lot so will often be found working out at 2:30 AM somewhere).
Also notice in his caption: He has an entire TEAM of people devoted to supporting him.
It’s the Rock’s FULL TIME JOB to be in shape. People pay him money (a lot of money) to be jacked, and then an army of other professionals is along for the ride to make sure he does it.
Regular people often think that:
 
  • this is a realistic outcome for an average person.
  • that they could a pro fit level eating and exercising into a normal life.
  • that they need to do everything themselves, and
  • that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t do everything themselves.
It doesn´t work that way. This is not a normal life or outcome.
No knock on the Rock, but do you think he (or anyone else) would stay on such a strict diet and training schedule if he wasn´t getting paid to be jacked? If he didn’t have a team helping him?
He has kids and a wife. What if he was just a regular dude with a commute and and high-stress job with long hours, and had to mow his own lawn?
 
Don’t know where to start? Just want someone to tell you what to do? There will be plenty of moments with self-doubt, and having the right people in your corner can mean the difference between success and another year of looking back, wishing that you’d achieved your goals. You don´t have to do this alone. Having a trainer will help you stay motivated, hold you accountable, and give your best day in and day out.

Follow these simple tips and make this year your best EVER!