Recovery. It’s a concept and series of metrics highly regarded by athletes and fitness trainers like myself.
I often tell my clients to listen to their bodies when it comes to getting proper recovery, but what does that really mean?
Sure, it comes down to eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and stretching, but how do regular people know when all these variables are in just the right place?
This is where the WHOOP comes in.
As a wearable, WHOOP does an awesome job letting you know how much your body recovered after each day’s workout.
Whoop breaks down Recovery using a 0-100% scale with three significant stages:
- Green = Sufficient Recovery. 67% or above. You’re ready to up your training.
- Yellow = Adequate Recovery. 34% – 66%. Your body can adapt to a high training load, but you should do things to improve your recovery score, like lower your strain, sleep more (even naps) or take a day off.
- Red = Low Recovery. 33% or below. Take a day off training or do a low-strain routine. Make some lifestyle changes to improve your recovery score.
I wanted my clients to see the value in recovery, so I decided to test do a 6 month trial of the Whoop and share my results and findings with my clients and with you.
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How does Whoop calculate your recovery?
Whoop calculates your recovery at night while you sleep.
And that’s why it’s so critical to get enough sleep each day!
Specifically, Whoop measures your recovery during your slow-wave sleep—that’s your deep sleep. It’s this deep sleep that allows your body to repair and grow its muscles.
In the last period of deep sleep, Whoop looks at 4 key health metrics and then reports your recovery when you wake up the next morning!
The four critical metrics that determine your recovery are Heart Rate Variability or HRV, Resting Heart Rate or RHR, how many hours of sleep you get, and your respiratory rate.
What is heart rate variability?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the measurement of time between each consecutive heartbeat.
Whoop captures your personalized HRV during your last period of Slow Wave Sleep (deep sleep) each night.
Why is HRV important?
Your HRV indicates the health of your autonomic nervous system—including your vital organs, blood vessels, and sweat, salivary, and digestive glands.
It’s your autonomous nervous system that regulates your critical life functions, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and digestion.
How your HRV and recovery interact
- A trending increase in HRV leads to a stronger recovery and generally means your body functions well under stress, such as exercise.
- And a declining HRV indicates a much slower recovery and points to a body not functioning well under stress from exercise or other physical and emotional stressors.
Trends on my HRV following exercise
After monitoring my HRV from the past 3 weeks and journaling how my body felt each day during my workout, I notice that my best workouts were on days where my HRV was on trending on the higher end of the scale.
What is a resting heart rate?
Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is the number of heartbeats per minute when you are completely at rest.
Whoop monitors your RHR during your last period of slow-wave sleep—that’s when your body is in its most restful state of the day.
How your RHR and recovery interact
- A lower RHR or decreasing RHR indicates a strong heart, better physical fitness, and improved recovery.
- A higher RHR or increasing RHR indicates a weaker heart, worsening fitness, and more difficult recovery.
- Long-term high RHR correlates to an increased rate of death (source)
Trends on my RHR
For this past week, my RHR has been higher than usual, which resulted in just an “ok” workout by my standards.
When I added some daily meditation, my resting heart rate decreased by almost 3%!
On the days when my RHR was noticeably lower, my workout and recovery were up to my usual expectation.
Why does sleep matter to recovery?
Your body recovers best when you get restful sleep.
When your body and brain are at rest, your body can use all that energy to restore your bones and muscles, increase growth hormone production, and increase blood flow to the parts of your body most in need of repair.
Trends on my sleep
Unfortunately, I find it really difficult actually to get that good night of restful sleep. It’s an issue I’ve tackled for years.
As a certified personal trainer, I work early mornings through the late night. And that makes it a tough task to sleep the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night.
For the most part, I get about 6 to 7 hours of sleep each weekday night, giving me about 45% recovery.
On the weekends, I usually get more sleep, and my recovery runs between 80% to 90%.
Plus, I can get a good high-strained workout that I can’t usually do on weekdays.
Why does respiration rate matter to recovery?
Your respiratory rate is the number of breaths you take per minute (rpm). A normal respiratory rate for an adult is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.
Whoop calculates your average respiratory rate over the course of your entire sleep.
When healthy, your sleeping respiratory rate does not fluctuate much.
If you notice your respiratory rate quickly changing, it’s often the first indication that something is going on.
Trends on my respiratory rate
I usually fluctuate between 13-14 rpm.
But then there were some wildfires close to my community, and upon waking up, I could see the result of the bad air quality!
Luckily, I knew the fires were impacting my breathing. But if you see your rpm suddenly change without an explanation, please contact your healthcare provider.
Is your recovery percentage low and slipping into a red recovery score?
First off, there will always be days when you have low recovery scores—it’s normal. Accept that.
If you see that your recovery is consistently trending low, then pay closer attention each morning to WHOOP’s recovery report and look for trends.
See if you can improve upon things—like sleeping a little more each night or taking short napes, permitting yourself to take a day or two off for full rest (no workouts,) and taking measures to keep your stress level low.
If you see low recovery scores over many days, reduce your strain!
When you continue training hard when your recovery is low, you get even lower recovery scores!
Instead, allow your body to recover and train another day.
Listen to your body
Don’t compare your recovery score to others—it’s not a game or competition!
And don’t overdo it.
Remember, it is not healthy or helpful to workout every moment you can—your body depends on rest to grown, build, and stay healthy.
So if you need to skip a workout day, do it. Think of your routine as flexible, not set in stone.
Ask yourself probing questions.
- Did I eat a lot of processed foods or sugary foods yesterday?
- We know these types of food negatively impact performance and recovery.
- How much water did I drink?
- Staying hydrated matters! The more water (liquid) in your system, the easier it is for blood to be circulated and the ability for oxygen and nutrients to be brought to your body.
- Was I drinking alcohol? And if so, how much?
- Alcohol in moderation may help, but excessive consumption inhibits our bodies.
- Did I take medications, cannabis, or other drugs (including recreational)
- Drugs change our body and its responses, so these can affect recovery.
- How was my workout? Did I remember to stretch?
My low recovery days
In my weeks of using Whoop, I noticed more than a few days where my recovery score was sub-par.
So I ran through my list of questions to see where I could make adjustments.
As mentioned, I don’t get enough sleep most days–but if I can inch that up every night or take a quick nap, that will help a lot in my recovery!
I also noticed that on a particular Saturday when I consumed alcohol, the next day’s workouts and recovery scores were pretty substandard.
I also take cannabis edibles before bed. And I am pretty confident that this gives me deeper sleep.
But I also eat dinner close to my bedtime, so I know this affects my recovery since much of my sleep is spent in the digestion stage instead of a restorative process.
I may need to find another means of taking cannabis or change my mealtime to see if that changes my recovery score.
Did I get an adequate amount of proteins, carbs, and fats with my meals?
As a personal trainer, I understand the value of good and healthy eating.
When we train, we make small tears in our muscles, so it’s important to have the right amounts of macronutrients in our diet.
For the past 7 years, I have tracked my meals to optimize them for performance and recovery.
So I am fairly confident that my eating is not the problem.
How did my workout go?
I can always tell how my body is prepared for a workout of about half an hour beforehand.
If I feel largely unmotivated, I know it won’t be a high-intensity type of day and that I should go at a slower-paced workout.
Did I stretch?
I learn the importance of this as I get older!
It’s kind of like getting maintenance for a car. You have to properly maintain your body’s limberness if you want to perform at its peak.
I find my best high-intensity workouts are when I do long stretches before and after my workouts.
How much caffeine did I consume?
I personally drink large amounts of caffeine throughout the day, impacting my sleep and contributing to my lower recovery days.
How are my relationships today with friends and family? Did I have any time for myself?
I find it hard to have time for myself throughout the week, which is why I rely on the weekends to check in with friends and family or relax and let the batteries recharge.
Working hard is important, but we all need to enjoy our labor’s fruits and have fun too!
Your recovery depends on your whole body-mind, physicality, and spirit.
Knowing that any one of these variables can impact your recovery helps you identify the things you can improve.
Pick things that are the easiest for you to change and build from there. Your recovery score should trend upward.
And remember that what’s easy for one person is hard for another—there is no golden rule.
At the end of the day, achieving and then maintaining a good recovery score boils down to proper nutrition, getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and stretching your body before and after workouts.
As both a certified personal trainer and an athlete, I like that the Whoop collects my personalized recovery data.
That data then helps me identify changes and tweaks I need to maximize performance.
Seeing the data that I should vary my workouts and include rest days does require some getting used to.
As someone who used to push myself to the max, the Whoop helps me listen to my body!