For almost three years now I have measured my heart rate variability to get feedback on the recovery status of my body. Even though I am convinced of the system used, the Vitalmonitor, I have always been interested in how other systems compare – and whether a free app might be enough. That’s why I have used five HRV systems (Vitalmonitor, EliteHRV, HRV4Training, Polar and Emfit QS) in parallel over the past eight weeks and compared them.
For me, HRV measurement is part of my regular morning routine. And that’s exactly how it should be: in order to benefit from the results, it should be obtained under as similar conditions as possible. So always at the same time of day and under the same circumstances.
In my case that means: right after my morning toilet session, sitting on the toilet seat ;) It is recommended to do the measurement sitting with a leaning back, but leaning forward is just as relieving for me. And as long as the setup is the same for each measurement, the results remain comparable.
Sequence of Measurements
For a good comparability of the systems, they should ideally record the same beats of the heart at the same time. However, this is technically not possible because three systems need an app for measurement and two of them need to be in the foreground during the measurement.
This results in two successive measurements: EliteHRV and Vital Monitor first ( for three minutes), followed by HRV4Training (three minutes) and the Polar Orthostatic Test (three minutes sitting, three minutes standing). Right, that is almost a quarter of an hour every morning. ;)
Recording the Results
To have the results all in one place and to be able to compare them, I created a spreadsheet and fed it daily. I recorded, of course, the determined heart rate variability of the individual systems, as well as the (resting) heart rate and, if necessary, also the system-specific “recovery value”. Mathematically, I have added an HRV trend over the last seven days.
Since it is particularly interesting how training and HRV are related, I have also entered my training load in TSS (Training Stress Score) in the spreadsheet and indicated whether it was a basic training, a pace or threshold run, intervals or a race.
In addition, I recorded my own feeling: did I feel good in the morning, rather medium or even sick? I added special events as a note. In addition, the hours of sleep of the previous night are recorded, as they have a significant influence on the result.
I transferred the resulting data series into a diagram, but this quickly became confusing. Therefore I used conditional formatting in the table to make certain data more visible.
HRV Green and red cells represent a strong positive or negative deviation of the current HRV value. For this to happen, the value must deviate by at least seven counts from the previous value and at the same time seven counts from the current 7-day average.
A high heart rate variability indicates a good recovery of the body and is therefore marked green, the red fields represent correspondingly very low HRV values.
Heart Rate and “Recovery Value” The heart rate cells are colored blue. The darker the cell, the lower the heart rate – in each case related to a dataset. The same applies to the “recovery value”: the darker the yellow color of the cell, the better is the value it contains – except that in this case higher figures are desirable.
Sleep Duration The hours of sleep are coloured according to a traffic light system: deep green corresponds to the highest number of hours, deep red to the lowest.
Derivation of the Training Recommendations In order to be able to compare the systems more easily, I have extracted from the respective data series what I derive from them as training recommendations. This has become a table in its own right… Here “3” (red) stands for “no training”, “2” for “easy training” and “1” (green) for “intensive training”.
The spreadsheet has gradually grown in size and has become less and less presentable. But for reference I do show it here in its completeness. Please don’t be overwhelmed: my findings will be presented in smaller pieces afterwards.
I must admit that I had hoped for a much more homogeneous picture. The flood of data and partly contradictory statements of the systems are already confusing. Because I have had the longest experience with the Vitalmonitor and it is the only system that allows error checking via the visibility of the (real) ECG, I have used it as a reference system. This does not mean that all measurements are error-free or that the Vitalmonitor is always right. But I simply trust the system to have extremely few measurements (less than 1%) that I can’t comprehend at all and that don’t match the body sensation etc.
Significance of Individual Measurements To me, it has become clear very quickly in recent weeks that actually every measurement is an individual case and that results cannot be reproduced. Two measurements with the same system directly after each other lead to a different result. In the same way, the measurements taken simultaneously in my test are much more related to each other (Vital Monitor and EliteHRV or HRV4Training and Polar Orthostatic Test) than the two measurement sets are to each other.
It was quite evident that looking at the first measurements could lead to “stress”, which had a direct (negative) effect on the second measurement. Also, suddenly appearing stressful thoughts can clearly influence the result – and thus also the measurement sets. Not to mention the stress of the sometimes non-functioning technology before the measurement could even be started…
In short: every single result is just that and should not be used unreflected for important training decisions. Only a trend over several days has real significance.
So a single bad value in the morning does not necessarily mean that you have to question the hard training run for the day – if you feel good otherwise. If not, it’s always better to take this advice seriously.
Events During the Test Period
I have usable measurements for all systems from mid May 2018. At this time I had just completed my annual allergy phase (birch pollen) and could resume training again to the full extent. The beginning of the summer heat at the end of May was unfortunately followed by a phase of illness with inexplicable dizziness. But till the holiday in the middle of June I felt fit again. A cold from the air conditioning on the return flight followed, so that it’s only since beginning of July that I feel fit again – which you can see quite well in the HRV trends.
The Vital Monitor (detailed test report here) from the company Pulse7 is a special chest strap with real ECG measurement technology. With the corresponding app, a morning measurement as well as a status measurement (before and after training units) can be started. The measurement period is preset to three minutes and includes 70 seconds with guided breathing.
Data Collected After each measurement, the Vitalmonitor provides seven results: the regeneration of the body (scale 0-120%; exhausted, recovered, supercompensation), the maximum training recommendation for endurance (training ranges pause, REG, GA1, GA2, EB, INT), the maximum training load force (light to hard), the stress level, resting pulse, BioAge and of course heart rate variability.
In addition, further data can be manually recorded, such as sleep duration, sleep quality, well-being, workload and training intensity. This gives you a complete picture of the daily status.
Reliability You can rely on the Vitalmonitor. One battery charge lasts for many weeks and indicates in time if it’s time to charge. I have never had measurement interruptions or problems with the app. The only reason for a missing measurement is when I am on the road and have forgotten to bring the belt. ;)
The Vitalmonitor is also the only system where you can check the quality of the measurement yourself. A real ECG runs along with it, which even makes a shifted fit of the chest strap detectable. Incorrect measurements are therefore virtually impossible.
Significance A great advantage of the system is the explicit recommendation of the maximum training load after the measurement. You do not have to interpret any numbers yourself, but get a result that can be implemented immediately. Of course, you could still delve deeper into the results – if that is desired.
Conclusion It is not without reason that the Vitalmonitor is my reference system. With almost 400 Euro it is very expensive, but the investment is worth it. It convinces with its high reliability and explicit, directly implementable training recommendations.
I used the EliteHRV app on my Android phone. It can be installed for free, but needs a compatible chest strap for the measurement. Recommended is the Polar H7 – I used a Polar H10 for my measurements. But I have also used Suunto and Wahoo straps without any problems.
Data Collected EliteHRV outputs a large number of HRV parameters in its measurement protocol, which are certainly helpful for detailed analysis by a specialist. I can hardly do anything with it… However, there is also an easy-to-read traffic light system that displays “Morning Readiness”. It is based on the influence of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system on the measured HRV. The scale starts and ends at “0”, while the middle position of the pointer is rated “10”.
Reliability During my tests, there were connection failures from time to time, which led to unusable measurements. However, this only happened when I could only run the app in the background because the Vitalmonitor app was in the foreground. If you use EliteHRV in the foreground, it is very reliable.
The only thing that can be a bit tricky is setting up the Bluetooth connection with the chest strap. According to the manufacturer’s recommendation, the belt should not(!) be connected to the Android system, but only in the app. But even with this setup, EliteHRV reported from time to time that the chest strap was currently occupied by another device.
Significance The app is not about training guidance, so the apparent ideal state “10” is not necessarily the desired result. Because in the end it only means that today’s HRV does not deviate from the HRV trend. In my experience, 1-4 means “no training”, 5-10 means “easy training” and only from 11 on a harder load is indicated.
A comparison with the Vitalmonitor shows that the two systems agree in about 60% of the measurements and have not contradicted each other once. However, it is noticeable that EliteHRV only rarely shows a “bad result”.
Conclusion EliteHRV is the only system that led to (almost) identical training recommendations during my test period – always compared to the Vitalmonitor. In case of doubt, I would probably rely on its results just as much. For a free app this is a very good result!
HRV4Training is available as an app for Android and iOS and costs about 10 Euros. It has become known for its ability to measure HRV by your finger palm. So no additional equipment is needed, because the measurement can be done via the mobile phone camera – with compatible devices. However, a Bluetooth chest strap can also be used.
Data Collected In addition to the HRV value (rMSSD) and heart rate, the measurement also determines the “recovery points” for the day. This metric is intended to express the recovery state of the body.
In addition, the app has specialized in establishing correlations between HRV and (mostly manually) recorded events. For example, what influence does sleep have on HRV? Or the training load?
Reliability HRV4Training often gave me incorrect measurements because the app itself detected too much delay in the measurement – although during the measurement process everything looked as usual to me. This makes it the front-runner for faulty measurements…
Significance The “Morning Readiness” for me was actually always between 7.7 and 8.1 – a strangely low spread. No wonder, if the HRV also always stays very close to the average value. I can almost always predict the result: “55”. Accordingly, HRV4Training most often contradicts the Vitalmonitor (about 19% of the measurements) and least often agrees with it (only on one third of the measurement days).
Conclusion HRV4Training is useless to me – at least when using optical measurement. The judgement may change when measuring with a chest strap, but I have not tested this. With the called price and the unique selling proposition of the optical measurement, I am quite disappointed with the result.
The orthostatic test is a function of the Polar V800. The heart rate and HRV are measured at rest (lying down) and immediately afterwards while standing. The maximum heart rate that occurs after changing position is also recorded. To compare the results with the other systems, I did the first part of the measurement while sitting.
Data Collected No more than the 5 data points described above are stored during the test. On the Polar platform, however, these results are at least graphically well documented.
Reliability In terms of reliability, the Polar Test is on par with the Vitalmonitor. It only failed once – because I did not have the watch with me… ;) As far as incorrect measurements are concerned, the BlackBox principle applies: you have no idea how the result was obtained. On the other hand, Polar is the forefather of mobile HR measurement and the Polar H7 belt is probably not recommended for HRV measurement without reason.
Significance Polar does not provide any support in interpreting the data obtained. In fact, only the HF data can be read from the watch. For HRV you have to open the web portal “Flow”. Since the results of the two positions can differ significantly, a support would be quite useful here. Unfortunately, the recently published book about exactly this test (“The Secrets of Individualized Training: The Orthostatic Test in Endurance Sports” by Laura and Kuno Hottenrott *) is not very helpful either, since even here the subject of interpretation is only touched upon.
In return, the HRV values and the resulting training recommendations have always been very close to the Vitalmonitor. In half of the cases the two systems agree and only on 5% of the measurement days the rest measurement contradicts the reference system.
Conclusion If you already own a V800 (or Vantage V) with chest strap, you do not need to look any further for a reliable HRV measurement. However, you will be left quite alone in the interpretation of the data. There is no directly applicable recommendation.
Admittedly, the Emfit system is rather exotic in this comparative test and not at all intended for the same purposes. Its highly sensitive measuring strip is laid out under the mattress in bed and collects its data exclusively during sleep. I was nevertheless interested to see if they are halfway comparable with the other systems.
Data Collected Emfit is actually about sleep quality, so most of the metrics are also about this topic. But it also measures heart rate and HRV – in the evening, in the morning and on average. I have decided on the values for the respective morning.
Reliability The Emfit system is not really mobile, so the measurement depends on whether I sleep in my own bed. Logically there is a break in the measurement during holidays and on some (travel) weekends. Apart from that, however, you can rely on the data collected.
Significance Emfit does not care about the evaluation or interpretation of the data. There is no more than the bare figures and you have to make your own conclusions. If you do that, you are rather in the middle of the field compared to the Vitalmonitor and the other systems…
Conclusion As almost expected, the Emfit QS does not seem to be suitable to deduce a training recommendation for the day. Long-term HRV trends can be identified and compared, but the nightly HRV and HR values seem to speak a different language than those in the morning.
Whew… still at it – or just got in?! ;) After more than two months of daily measuring mania, I had enough of the time-consuming morning routine – nevertheless, I still put on the Vitalmonitor and take my measurement. Because:
Heart Rate Variability an be an important guide
Even if my body feeling would be correct on eight out of ten days: a neutral control measurement can give further certainty about the level of training load. Nevertheless, I often decide against their recommendation because, for example, today is the only day for interval training. However, if HRV recommends a rest day, I will handle the training unit with care.
The morning measurement is worth its weight in gold, especially for the detection and early curbing of infections! But also long-term trends can provide helpful information about how useful and processable an intensive training phase is.
Choosing the right system is critical
Only two of the six daily measurement series were really useful for training guidance: the Vitalmonitor and EliteHRV. Both systems not only provide bare figures, but also a simplified metric that can be put into practice. With EliteHRV you have to learn to read the “Morning Readiness”, but then it is as concrete as the training recommendations of the Vitalmonitor.
Double check if you’re tying yourself up…
However, before you decide on a system and feed it with numbers over weeks and months, you should check other points. For example, can the data be exported and taken to another system? The Vitalmonitor only allows the export of individual measurement days and makes this path considerably more difficult, while EliteHRV also allows the backup of all data.
Another question is also where else to use the data – keyword: synchronization with other platforms. Here too, EliteHRV has its nose in front of the Vitalmonitor, because a sync is possible (after paid activation) e.g. with Strava or TrainingPeaks. The Vitalmonitor does not offer this possibility.
My Opinion: just do it!
I have not regretted starting the daily HRV measurement and can only recommend it to every runner. EliteHRV offers an uncomplicated, good and free introduction. You don’t need more than this app, a compatible chest strap and the morning routine.
The Vitalmonitor is certainly ahead in terms of technology, reliability and the quality of its results, but the advantage over EliteHRV for the “normal runner” is certainly not worth 400 euros.
This is where Thomas Pier writes about running and (much more than just the necessary) equipment. I don't run particularly fast or far. But I like to share my experiences as an ambitious recreational runner, curious early-adopter and as my own trainer.
I am happy about every digital contacting - but even more so about every kilometer run together.