[Transcript] – The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Using Heart Rate Variability Testing to Track Your Stress and Nervous System Health

Affiliate Disclosure


Podcast from:  https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/using-heart-rate-variability-testing-to-track-your-stress/

[00:00] About Ronda Collier

[02:30] The Power Frequency Graph

[11:45] Relation Between High Frequency & Low Frequency

[18:57] Consistency in Optimizing Heart Rate Variability Scores

[26:00] End of the Podcast

Ben:  Hey, folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and I'm here once again with someone who's been on the podcast before.  You guys got a lot of awesome information from her last time she was on this thing called heart rate variability testing.  Her name is Ronda Collier, and she's with Sweet Water Help which is the developer of the SweetBeat Heart Rate variability application which is one of the applications that I personally use to continuously monitor my stress levels and the health of my nervous system and my heart rate variability.  And of course, since Ronda has been on before, in the show notes for this particular podcast, I'll put a link to the other interview that we did.  If you're listening in and you need to play catch-up, if you have no clue what heart rate variability is and this is a head scratcher for you, the whole idea behind HRV, go back and listen to that podcast episode because we're not going to rehash that stuff.  It's already out there so go back and listen to it, but today, we're going to delve into heart rate variability 201.  We're going to delve into some of the back-end stuff that you can have access to when you're using this app or when you're tracking your heart rate variability, stuff that goes above and beyond that zero-to-one hundred score that you can get when you're measuring your HRV.  So we're going to dig into that, we're going to tell you how you can also access your results online and how maybe if you're an athlete you might feel to share those with a coach that you're working with or something like that and just give you some cool information here as far as HRV goes.  So Ronda, thanks for coming on the call today.

Ronda:  Hey, thanks, Ben, for having me.

Ben:  So let's go ahead and just delve right in.  I've actually got my iPhone here 'cause I want to make sure I had it pulled up in front of me, and you guys have made some changes to the SweetBeat heart rate variability app, and specifically, one of the things that you have now is the ability to be able to look at what you call power frequency graphs.  Now can you explain what a power frequency graph is?

Ronda:  Well there are several measures of heart rate variability, one of the measures is time domain which is basically what that HRV number is that you see in the app.  Time domain or really like a standard deviation, it's really basic statistics.  And there's another measure of heart rate variability that is called frequency domain, and you can think of that as frequency of musical notes, frequencies that come from your cell phone.  It's really an electrical engineering signal processing of the heart rate signal.  And so it turns out that the sympathetic or fight or flight branch of your nervous system has what we call a low frequency component of heart rate variability and the parasympathetic or rest of repair branch of the nervous system has what we call a high frequency component.

Ben:  Got it, and to me, and I don't know about you, but it doesn't seem intuitive.  It seems the sympathetic fight or flight nervous system would be like the high, and the parasympathetic would be the low, but it's just the opposite, right?

Ronda:  Well yeah, actually it's because the sympathetic nervous system, the things that cause fight or fight, respond in your nervous system slower than the rest of repair aspects of your nervous system.  So if you get scared, your nervous system responds, and actually if you think of a frequency wave, the frequencies slower than when you lie down and rest when things come faster, so really opposite to intuition.

Ben:  Yeah it is, but it's interesting and it makes sense.  So when you're looking at something like a power frequency graph, would that be similar to the kind of graph where recently, as I think a lot of our listeners know, I tested my heart rate variability when I was leading up to this recent triathlon that I did, and then I looked at my scores both before and after these back-to-back triathlons, and I'll put a link to the show notes for that particular episode here when I release this.  But in that, we showed some of the high frequency and some of the low frequency numbers, some of the sympathetic nervous system and some of the parasympathetic nervous system feedback, and you were kind enough to do an analysis on those and go over them.  Now are the graphs that I have in that blog post, where it's just a dot graph of low frequency versus high frequency, is that a power frequency graph or does a power frequency graph look different than something like that?

Ronda:  No, that's the same graph that you're now seeing in the SweetBeat app.  The power frequency grab shows your average low frequency power and high frequency power during each session.   I think we should back up really and talk about what the power levels need.

Ben:  Yeah, I'd like to do it, for sure.

Ronda:  So basically heart rate variability is a measure, as we've talked about before, of the flexibility of the nervous system.  And when you over-train, your nervous system becomes fatigued and become less flexible and also the best to repair aspect of the nervous system gets fatigued, and so you don't recover.  So the power frequency graph is a different measure of the flexibility of your nervous system.  So for example, your average Joe or your average fitness enthusiast may have a power frequency of around an LS of 800 and 1,000.  And once again for your listeners, don't take these numbers as objectives.  The nervous system is completely dynamic system, and so the numbers I'm giving are for example only.  So that shows a reasonably flexible nervous system.   There's around 800 to 1,000 milliseconds squared of power in the nervous system on both branches.  People who are really sick might have power levels of 50 in the LS and 30 in the HF.  So that's a 10 X difference just for someone who's sick and a fitness enthusiast.  And that’s really not a lot of power if you will in the nervous system to do what it's supposed to do which is regulate your organs, respond and recover to psychological and physical stressors.

Ben:  Right, because strength of your parasympathetic nervous system would show that you're really able to repair and recover really well, right?

Ronda:  That's right, and strength is a great word to use.  It's just strength of your nervous system.  Especially some of your followers, Ben, that have contacted us and looked at their information have numbers in the thousands.  So some of your listeners have LF and HF around the 3,000 plus the minus, and then others have LS and HS, anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000.  So these are nervous systems that just have a lot of strengths, I love that term, and ability to respond, recover to life and all the training that they're doing.

Ben:  Gotcha, so when we're looking at these power frequency graphs, as the folks who are listening in maybe have their SweetBeat phone apps and everything out, and they're graphing this kind of stuff.  If I want to look at a power frequency graph and I'm measuring my heart rate variability using this app, where in the app do I go as I'm taking the measurement or after I take the measurement to see the power frequency part, what the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system is doing rather than just the heart rate variability number?

Ronda:  So you would go into summary, and then go to the chart section.  So up in the left hand corner, there's a chart button.

Ben:  Got it.

Ronda:  And there's all kinds of graphs and summaries.  And once again, when you go into the chart session of the summaries, you're going to see a running average for all the sessions you've run.  So the power chart you'll see there will be the average LF and the average HF power for each session that you've run.  So if you get over fatigued, you may see your power level suddenly drop, and for a while, if you were to do some sort of a burnout situation.  So it's a really good indicator beyond just HRV.

Ben:  So would both of them drop or would just that high frequency parasympathetic nervous system score drop?

Ronda:  If you were systemically fatigued, you could see them both drop.  You could go from an average, let's just say a reasonable number of unhealthy, really fit guy of 3,000, and if you started dropping down into the 1,000 on both of them, that would be an indication of really some deep systemic fatigue.  Now if you only saw the HF drop, then that would be an indication of chronic stress building up.  So you get the difference?

Ben:  Got it, okay, and that would be just like chronic stress from life, from exercise, from whatever.

Ronda:  That's right mental stress, emotional stress, too much partying.  I think I mentioned if you drink too much, your LF can drop tremendously.  I mean, your HF can drop tremendously.

Ben:  Okay, got it, and if you saw the LF, the sympathetic nervous system either drop or go way up, is that something that you would see?  And if so, would there be a reasoning behind that?

Ronda:  Yeah, so if it drops, if it was really high relative to HF and it dropped, that means you're really coming into balance, but you're doing something in your life that's causing your stress to reduce.  ‘Cause the goal is to have the LF and the HF approximately be at the same, within the ballpark, within several hundred of each other.  And even having HF way out of balance could be an indication of some sort of illness, maybe a thyroid illness where you're fatigued in different way, in a tired way where you don't have the get up and go that the sympathetic fight or flight that gives you.

Ben:  Right, and let's say your thyroid is out of balance and you were trying to correlate the nervous system with that.  You said if you noticed that the HF was out of balance, you might see that.  Now when you say out of balance, do you mean that high frequency number drops really low or that it just starts to change a lot compared to the low frequency?  What do you mean when you say out of balance?

Ronda:  Yeah that's right.  If HF is always a lot higher than LF, meaning the parasympathetic nervous system is always way higher than the sympathetic nervous system, that's not good either, and that can be an indication of some non-exercise or stress-related fatigue.  The folks at noon just start getting tired and can't keep their eyes open and get some consistent deep fatigue.

Ben:  Right, okay that makes sense.  This is all super helpful because I get a lot of questions about this frequency issue, and I think this is really starting to clear things up.  Now when someone is keeping track of all of these variables, let's say that they want to share them.  Now I know that you have the ability to go tweet or Facebook, straight from the app, your numbers, but let's say somebody wants to share these with their coach or with their physician or with someone else who wants to see their heart rate variability numbers.  Can you explain how the online component of this feeds in?

Ronda:  Right, so I'm going to do it right now so I can walk right through it.  So what you do is go to our website at beathealthy.com, and then in the upper right hand corner, you'll see something called my SweetBeat.  That will take you to a log-in page that allows you to log-in, using the account information that you created in the app.  And what we have there is really pretty useful, it's a calendar view of your HRV sessions.  And especially if you're using them for stress measurement, you'll see your different stress levels color coded in the calendar, and so what it does is let you see where you're red a lot of and where you're green and blue a lot, in terms of what times of day and what days of the week your stress levels are higher.  Also if you're using it for exercise or heart rate variability, the same information is there as well, but it really is this great calendar view, and so what you can do is then go on to any session that shows up in your calendar view and click on it, and that will open up a session summary.  It just gives the date, your tag, your location, average stress, average HRV and so on.

Ben:  Yeah, it's interesting, by the way, because I notice that this shows you to select and only show days you've had higher stress levels.  I'm looking at mine right now and it's consistent.  It's kind of weird.  Thursdays are a high stress level day for me, isn't that interesting?

Ronda:  It is interesting, and that's why we put it in that calendar form because visual graphics are easy for the eye to take in and really start being able to see what's going on.

Ben:  Yeah, so how do you share the stuff if you have a coach or something?

Ronda:  Right now, you would click on the session that you want to share, and then the session summary will open up, and at the bottom there is something called notify, and if you select notify, it allows you to enter in an e-mail address and a message.

Ben:  Perfect.

Ronda:  So then you just click notify, and that will send an e-mail to your coach.

Ben:  Or if you want to, you could just like give your coach your e-mail address and your password, and they can just sign into your account and view this stuff, too, if they wanted to.

Ronda:  Absolutely, you could give your coach your log-in information, so if you're sharing it, we usually don't mind, but you can share into physical sessions that way.

Ben:  Gotcha, okay neat.  So that's power frequency, that's how to log-in online and check stuff out, is there anything else that I haven't asked or that is new to the app that we need to mention to folks?

Ronda:  Well I think one, while we're on the subject of the online sessions, once that session summaries open, you can click on the link to the session chart, and that shows a running in-session measure of your LF and HF power.  So I want to make a distinction between what you see in the app in terms of when we go to summary and charts.  That's an average per session.  What we can also see is the average within the session, and so let's say you were measuring your stress while you were driving, and at some point during the session, your stress went up and you realize that was when suddenly a truck pulled in front of you.  You would know that trucks pulling in front of you stress you out, and it's kind of a lame example, but it really does give you a running LF and HF numbers to see what's going on during the hour that you're wearing it while you're at your desk, it's probably a better way to describe it.  Certain people walk in your office, and so on, that's very interesting.  That's also in the app as well as online.

Ben:  Right, it's the mother-in-law spike, right?

Ronda:  It is, yeah definitely.

Ben:  So one thing I want to make sure, of course, I never like to just talk about numbers and stuff 'cause I'm an action guy.  I'm a big fan of teaching people what to do, so let's say that we see spikes.  We see places where we are stressed out or we just tend to see, for example, a consistently low high frequency score, a consistently low activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and things of that nature. When it comes to biofeedback, neurofeedback, little fixes, stuff like that, you guys, I would imagine, are at the point with SweetBeat to where you're start to get feedback from people about what works and what doesn't and what kind of stress control methods that they've been using?  Are you seeing consistency in terms of specific methods, foods, supplements, anything like that that people are doing that really helps them optimize their HRV scores?

Ronda:  Right, well as you know, I'm also a fan of Heart Math, and so we've had some customers that have gotten some real improvement through both coherence training and other deep breathing exercises.  Because they are concerned that their HF is always low and their LF is always high, and so they're in chronic stress.  And so I got to say that for the general situation of the LF-HF that we're talking about is the deep breathing exercise, and for those who are really chronically stressed, we've been recommending coherence training.

Ben:  Right, and I know that could fill an entire book, and actually, I think Heart Math actually has a book on their website about how to do that stuff.  Actually I have it on my bookshelf somewhere.

Ronda:  And I don't have it handy, but one of our customers suddenly started seeing huge improvements and had read a book on deep breathing.  It was an athletic book, and I can send you that, Ben, for your blog.

Ben:  Well it might be the book that I've already been recommending quite a bit on my podcast.  That one's called “Body, Mind and Sport”?

Ronda:  Yeah, I think that's it, that's right.

Ben:  Yeah, it's by John Douillard who runs the Life Spa down in Boulder, Colorado.  And yeah, you did my heart rate variability analysis going into wild flower, and you noted on that report, and I'll link to that in the show notes for people who are listening in about from January until recently, how my heart rate variability numbers have been consistently dropping, even though because I have a strong nervous system, I'm an athlete or whatever.  My high frequency and low frequency numbers have been pretty high, but my high frequency has been dropping consistently.  Well one of the things that I did, I actually bought that book by John Douillard.  I've done some cortisol, I'm doing a lot more yoga, deep breathing stuff like that.  I'm 100% in agreement with you, just like looking up my own HRV scores that that has made the biggest difference.  Because I pop pills, I take supplements, I do Chinese herbs, whatever.  Nothing has held a candle to the breathing exercises.

Ronda:  Yes, I just found it, and that is the book and the author, and one of our other customers saw a tremendous improvement very quickly, the deep breathing.  So that really is our top recommendation from Sweetwater from our experience, but I do want to comment on your mother-in-law spike because a lot of chronic stress is caused by constant and nonstop mother-in-law spikes.  It turns out that daily stressors like that are build up to a lifetime to create heart disease and hypertension, and so was what some of our users with Sweetbeat have learned are what are the mother-in-law spikes.  Because they happen all the time and throughout our lives, you stop noticing them.  What this does is bring mindfulness to what's causing you to go into fight or flight, and then you can actually start making changes, doing the things that cause you to be more relaxed and not doing the things that cause you to go into fight or flight.  We've had an excellent results from folks using mindfulness of daily activities.

Ben:  Yeah, and I will be sure in the show notes to link to the Heart Math Institute.  They train people, there are some stuff they definitely charge for, but there's a bunch of really good free information on that site, too, about how to do stuff like those coherence techniques that you talk about, and again, this is stuff that we could fill a whole podcast so we won't really get into it too much, but go check out the link.  I'll put it in there to the Heart Math Institute for sure and check out some of their stuff.  Really, really good website for learning how to fix your nervous system with self-biofeedback and stuff like that, so it's cool stuff.

And by the way we did just coined a new term, mother-in-law spike.  We'll have to trademark that for sure.  Yeah, create the mother-in-law spike.  Awesome, well actually at the time that we're recording this Ronda, I'm just going to push this out to our phone app, the Ben Greenfield Fitness phone app right away, so that people can start to listen into this.  If you are listening in on the phone app, go to the iTunes app store, grab the SweetBeat app.  I don't even remember, does it cost anything?

Ronda:  Yeah, it's 4.99.

Ben:  Yeah, which is like nothing for what you get from it, so four dollars and ninety-nine cents.  You get the SweetBeat app.  I'll put a link to that, I don't have a financial affiliation or anything like that with SweetBeat.  I just think this is a darn cool way to track your nervous system and take care of your body, so I highly recommend you check it out.  Cool, Ronda, this was really useful.

Ronda:  I'm glad it was.  Yeah, we've had a lot of questions on the power frequency stuff and I'm glad we had an opportunity to speak about it with your podcast.

Ben:  Awesome, well thanks for coming on the call, and folks if you have more questions, leave them in the show notes, and also of course, Sweetwater has great customer support, so you can head to their website, too.  By the way, you said beathealthy.com, the website I'm familiar with for you guys is sweetwaterhrv.com.  Is Beat Healthy the same thing?

Ronda:  Both of them go to the same place.

Ben:  Okay, that's what I thought.  Alright, Beat Healthy is easier to remember.  Okay, cool, I'll put a link to that in there, and thanks for coming on the call today, Ronda.  I appreciate thank you.

Ronda:  Hey, thank you, Ben.


In this BenGreenfieldFitness Phone App insider interview with Ronda Collier, the mastermind behind the SweetBeat heart rate variability testing phone app, we delve into how to use heart rate variability to track your nervous system…

…and even though I've definitely covered heart rate variability (HRV) in previous podcast episodes and articles on this website, this interview gets into some of the more advanced stuff, and the really practical ways to get the most out of your HRV testing so that you can truly know the exact status and health of your nervous system.

If you find yourself confused by some of the terms and science behind HRV training, or you want to really maximize your ability to track your stress, your recovery and your nervous system, then this episode is for you.

Topics that Ronda and I discuss include:

-What is a heart rate variability power frequency graph?

-What is a low frequency domain, what is a high frequency domain, and how do these relate to the health and function of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system?

-How to know if your body is rested and recovered, and how to know if you have been exposed to too much lifestyle, emotional or exercise stress.

-The ins and outs of using the online dashboard at the BeatHealthy website to track your HRV, share information with a coach and interpret your charts and stress trends.

-And much more!

You'll need the free BenGreenfieldFitness phone app to access this interview.

During the discussion, we reference using heart rate cohesion training from the Heart Math Institute, and also the breathing techniques in the book Body, Mind & Sport Book by John Douillard. We also reference Ronda's personal analysis of my own nervous system damage, which I report in this blog post on back-to-back triathlons.

So how do you begin tracking HRV? For SweetBeat HRV monitoring you need: SweetBeat phone appchest strap, and Wahoo ant+ adapter


If you have a wireless HR monitor like the Polar H7 all you need is the SweetBeat phone app, without any special adapter.

Finally, if you want more resources on HRV testing, check out the podcast episode “What Is Best Way To Track Your Heart Rate Variability” and my article “Everything You Need To Know About Heart Rate Variability Testing”.






Ask Ben a Podcast Question

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *