European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 112, Issue 11, pp 3729–3741 | Cite as

Heart rate variability in elite triathletes, is variation in variability the key to effective training? A case comparison

  • Daniel J. Plews
  • Paul B. Laursen
  • Andrew E. Kilding
  • Martin Buchheit
Original Article


Measures of an athlete’s heart rate variability (HRV) have shown potential to be of use in the prescription of training. However, little data exists on elite athletes who are regularly exposed to high training loads. This case study monitored daily HRV in two elite triathletes (one male: 22 year, \( \dot{V}\)O2max 72.5 ml kg min−1; one female: 20 year, \( \dot{V}\)O2max 68.2 ml kg min−1) training 23 ± 2 h per week, over a 77-day period. During this period, one athlete performed poorly in a key triathlon event, was diagnosed as non-functionally over-reached (NFOR) and subsequently reactivated the dormant virus herpes zoster (shingles). The 7-day rolling average of the log-transformed square root of the mean sum of the squared differences between R–R intervals (Ln rMSSD), declined towards the day of triathlon event (slope = −0.17 ms/week; r 2 = −0.88) in the NFOR athlete, remaining stable in the control (slope = 0.01 ms/week; r 2 = 0.12). Furthermore, in the NFOR athlete, coefficient of variation of HRV (CV of Ln rMSSD 7-day rolling average) revealed large linear reductions towards NFOR (i.e., linear regression of HRV variables versus day number towards NFOR: −0.65%/week and r 2 = −0.48), while these variables remained stable for the control athlete (slope = 0.04%/week). These data suggest that trends in both absolute HRV values and day-to-day variations may be useful measurements indicative of the progression towards mal-adaptation or non-functional over-reaching.


Over-training Monitoring Cardiac parasympathetic function Elite triathletes 


Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interest in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel J. Plews
    • 1
    • 2
  • Paul B. Laursen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrew E. Kilding
    • 2
  • Martin Buchheit
    • 3
  1. 1.High Performance Sport New Zealand, Millennium Institute of Sport and HealthMairangi BayNew Zealand
  2. 2.Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ), Auckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Physiology Unit, Sport Science DepartmentAspire, Academy of Sports ExcellenceDohaQatar

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