Recently, Garmin introduced a new feature in their latest watches – Garmin HRV Status.
This metrics tracks your heart rate variability, compares it to historical data, and gives you some insights into whether or not your body is balanced and recovering well. In the Forerunner line, this feature launched with the Garmin Forerunner 255. In the Fenix line, it’s available on the Fenix 6 and later.
So what is heart rate variability, and what does Garmin HRV status actually mean? Let me break it down for you.
What Is Heart Rate Variability
First, let’s start with a little physiology.
You’re familiar with the idea of a heart rate. This is how many times your heart beats per minute. It’s one of the many things your Garmin watch can track for you.
Heart rate variability is a related metric. But instead of counting how many times your heart beats in a certain time period, heart rate variability tracks the amount of time between those heart beats – and how much that varies. It’s tracked in milliseconds.
If the time between your heart beats is consistent, that means your heart rate variability is low. On the other hand, if the amount of time between each beat is a little bit different each time, this means your heart rate variability is high.
As a general rule, when your heart rate is lower and when your body is comfortable, your heart rate variability should be high. When your pulse quickens – because you’re exercising, you’re sick, or you’re stressed – that variability will be reduced.
You can read more about heart rate variability here, but this is the short version: high heart rate variability tends to mean that a body is in balance while low heart rate variability can be a sign that something is out of balance.
How Does Garmin Measure Heart Rate Variability?
Your Garmin watch measures your heart rate, and it also measures your heart rate variability. You can see this data represented in a number of ways. These measurements will always be based on when you are asleep.
You can find these graphs on your watch as well as on Garmin Connect. If you go to “Daily Summary” in the Garmin Connect menu, you’ll see HRV status near the top. There’s also a report option that shows you some historical data.
The Four Views Into Garmin HRV Status
First, you can see a graph of your heart rate variability from the previous night. This graph will show you instantaneous readings of heart rate variability, taken throughout the night. You should see the value go up and down, and you should expect a lot of noise. At the top of the screen, you’ll see a single value for your average heart rate variability for that night.
Second, you can see a graph of your heart rate variability over the last seven days. On this graph, your Garmin will plot your average HRV for each night over the last week. There will be a single number at the top – the average – and you’ll see that number plotted as a horizontal line across the graph.
Third, you can see a graph of your 7-day average heart rate variability over the last 4 weeks. This graph should look more smooth than the others, because it isn’t plotting single overnight values. It’s taking those 7 day averages, from each day, and plotting them. You’ll also see a green band in the middle of the graph, which represents your “normal” or baseline level.
Finally, there’s a screen that summarizes your heart rate variability with a heart rate variability status. It will show you your current 7-day average, your heart rate variability from the previous night, what your baseline values are, and where your 7-day average sits relative to your baseline.
What Do the Heart Rate Variability Statuses Mean?
As a single summary, the one thing you should look at is your heart rate variability status. This will give you an idea of what your heart rate variability is in the context of where it should be.
This value can be one of four things – Balanced, Unbalanced, Low, or Poor.
When you see that your Garmin HRV status is “Balanced,” everything is normal. This means that your 7-day average falls within your own baseline range, and that baseline is within a normal range. Over time, your Garmin will adjust this baseline as it continues to collect more data.
If your status is “Unbalanced,” this means that it is slightly outside the range of your baseline. It could be higher or lower. Either one is a sign that something may be wrong. Although higher heart rate variabilities tend to be better, an abnormally high HRV value can be a sign of overtraining. If it’s too low, this can be a sign of under-recovery, illness, or some other form of stress.
If your status is “Low,” then it is much lower than your personal baseline. When you get to this level and stay there, it is a sign that something is wrong. It could be a temporary thing – like an illness – or it could be a sign that you need to focus more on recovery and sleep.
Finally, if your status is “Poor,” that means that your baseline itself is lower than it should be. As a general rule, heart rate variability baselines vary from person to person, and there’s no “perfect” target. But there are general ranges that indicate good health, and if your baseline is far below that range it’s a sign that something is far out of whack.
How Is Heart Rate Variability Different From Stress and Body Battery?
Even before Garmin HRV status was a thing, Garmin watches tracked heart rate variability and used it to inform other metrics.
In particular, the stress score on your Garmin watch is informed by short term measurements of heart rate variability. This, in term, influences whether you’re Body Battery goes up or down at any given moment. You can read more about Garmin Body Battery here.
The difference here is that your stress score is focused on a moment in time – is your heart rate variability depressed in this moment? Heart rate variability status, on the other hand, looks at long term trends.
It’s perfectly normal for your heart rate variability to drop and your stress to increase in the hours following a workout. And the lingering effects of a hard effort (or a hard night drinking) may be reflected in your Body Battery the following day. But even a hard race like a marathon shouldn’t be enough, by itself, to knock your Garmin HRV status out of whack.
What Does HRV Status Look Like in Practice?
As an example, here’s a snapshot of my own heart rate variability status over the past 4 weeks (taken from the report in Garmin Connect).
The gray area in the middle is the baseline zone. This is my second month wearing the watch, and it takes a few weeks for it to establish your initial baseline. Notice that in the early part of the period, the baseline is much thinner and lower. Over time, it got more accurate.
The dotted gray line is the overnight heart rate variability status values. Notice that they go up and down, and there’s quite a bit of daily variation. My values were a bit higher at the beginning of the period (going into the previous week) because I was just coming back from vacation. You can then kind of track when I got back into heavy training, and the values drop a little bit (but not too low). In the later portion, the values go up in the week leading up to the race – evidence of a taper and better rest.
The night in which it drops really low – 59 – was the night after my marathon. But it starts to bounce back the very next day.
The green dots represent the 7-day average and the status. Throughout most of this period, it’s balanced. Even in the days following my marathon, the green line is relatively stable. It was unbalanced for a few days at the beginning, but this was probably because the watch was still learning the appropriate baseline.
So Is HRV Status a Useful Metric?
Stress and Body Battery are two of my favorite metrics on my Garmin, because they help me gauge how recovered I am. I’ve come to see HRV Status as another useful metric in the same vein – and I really like how it’s just a quick snapshot.
The overnight HRV value can be similar to Body Battery. But the real value in HRV Status is looking at the 7-day average to smooth out daily variations and to then evaluate that against your own baseline. It won’t bounce around a lot, and you won’t necessarily see the fatigue from a hard session or a race. But if you notice that 7-day average getting out of whack, it’s a sign that something is very wrong.
That being said, your mileage may vary. Some people don’t get reliable readings from their Body Battery and stress scores, and I’m sure some people will have trouble getting reliable HRV status readings as well. It’s worked very well for me, and I’m happy with it – but that may not be your experience.
Speaking of which, I’d love to hear your experience with heart rate variability on you Garmin. Leave a comment below, and let us know how it works for you!