Heart Rate Variability-Guided Training for Enhancing Cardiac-Vagal Modulation, Aerobic Fitness, and Endurance Performance: A Methodological Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis

Author: Agustín Manresa-Rocamora1,2, José Manuel Sarabia1,2, Alejandro Javaloyes1, Andrew A Flatt3, Manuel Moya-Ramón1,2
Affiliation: <sup>1</sup> Sports Research Centre, Department of Sport Sciences, Miguel Hernández University of Elche, 03202 Elche, Spain. <sup>2</sup> Institute for Health and Biomedical Research (ISABIAL Foundation), Miguel Hernandez University, 03550 Alicante, Spain. <sup>3</sup> Department of Health Sciences and Kinesiology, Georgia Southern University (Armstrong Campus), Savannah, GA 31419, USA.
Conference/Journal: Int J Environ Res Public Health
Date published: 2021 Sep 29
Other: Volume ID: 18 , Issue ID: 19 , Pages: 10299 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3390/ijerph181910299. , Word Count: 257

This systematic review with meta-analysis was conducted to establish whether heart rate variability (HRV)-guided training enhances cardiac-vagal modulation, aerobic fitness, or endurance performance to a greater extent than predefined training while accounting for methodological factors.

We searched Web of Science Core Collection, Pubmed, and Embase databases up to October 2020. A random-effects model of standardized mean difference (SMD) was estimated for each outcome measure. Chi-square and the I2 index were used to evaluate the degree of homogeneity.

Accounting for methodological factors, HRV-guided training was superior for enhancing vagal-related HRV indices (SMD+ = 0.50 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.09, 0.91)), but not resting HR (SMD+ = 0.04 (95% CI = -0.34, 0.43)). Consistently small but non-significant (p > 0.05) SMDs in favor of HRV-guided training were observed for enhancing maximal aerobic capacity (SMD+ = 0.20 (95% CI = -0.07, 0.47)), aerobic capacity at second ventilatory threshold (SMD+ = 0.26 (95% CI = -0.05, 0.57)), and endurance performance (SMD+ = 0.20 (95% CI = -0.09, 0.48)), versus predefined training. No heterogeneity was found for any of the analyzed aerobic fitness and endurance performance outcomes.

Best methodological practices pertaining to HRV index selection, recording position, and approaches for establishing baseline reference values and daily changes (i.e., fixed or rolling HRV averages) require further study. HRV-guided training may be more effective than predefined training for maintaining and improving vagal-mediated HRV, with less likelihood of negative responses. However, if HRV-guided training is superior to predefined training for producing group-level improvements in fitness and performance, current data suggest it is only by a small margin.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system; cardiorespiratory fitness; heart rate recovery; parasympathetic activity; resting heart rate.

PMID: 34639599 PMCID: PMC8507742 DOI: 10.3390/ijerph181910299