Competitive athletes should not only practice their sport to improve performance; perhaps they should also practice heart rate variability (HRV). Studies have shown that learning to increase heart rate variability through biofeedback can improve sport performance and help athletes cope with the stress of competition. A link to download the original study is included in this report.
A case study in the Spring 2011 issue of the journalBiofeedback details the heart rate variability biofeedback training of a collegiate golfer. The study examined psychological and physiological measures as well as sport performance.
At the beginning and end of the 10-week study, the golfer completed psychological questionnaires, and researchers recorded muscle tension, respiration, and heart rate, and assessed her sport performance using virtual reality golf. The resonance frequency of the golfer’s cardiovascular system was determined. In weekly sessions, she learned to breathe slowly, but not too deeply, to meet that frequency, and was given instructions for transferring her breathing skills to competitive sport.
By the end of the study, these efforts showed positive results. Prior to the study, the golfer’s score on 18 holes of virtual reality golf was 46 strokes, while after the study she reduced her score to 30 strokes. Her putting, driving distance, and birdie and par scores also improved. Psychologically, the golfer reported reductions in six of 11 areas of stress.
As with learning to compete in a sport, heart rate variability biofeedback needs extended time and practice to achieve the best results. In this study, the golfer achieved the correct rate of breathing only after four weeks of training.
Increased heart rate variability indicates a flexible autonomic nervous system that is responsive to both internal and external stimuli, and related to fast reaction times and adaptability. Previous studies with wrestlers, baseball players, and Latin and Ballroom dancers where heart rate variability biofeedback was applied have consistently showed improved performance.
Material adapted from Allen Press Publishing Services.
Download / Reference
Lagos et al. Virtual Reality–Assisted Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback as a Strategy to Improve Golf Performance: A Case Study, Biofeedback, Volume 39, Issue 1, Spring 2011.