The subject of today’s podcast is one that I know many of our listeners will be very excited about: Recovery. Our VP of Performance Kristen Holmes and Director of Analytics Emily Capodilupo team up once again to take a deep dive into another of our defining metrics.
Kristen and Emily explain exactly what WHOOP recovery is, how it’s calculated, and why heart rate variability is such a huge factor in determining it. From there they discuss the relationship between strain and recovery and how to use it to optimize your training, as well as external factors that impact your recovery. They also share several tips for what you can do to improve your recovery on a daily basis.
When it comes to recovery, there’s nobody more qualified than Kristen and Emily to help you get the most out of your WHOOP data.
3:13 - Definition of WHOOP Recovery. “It’s a measure of your body’s readiness to respond to a training stimulus,” Emily says, “how ready your body is to take on strain.” Each morning it’s displayed as a percentage from 0-100, either red, yellow or green.
4:23 - An All-Encompassing Metric. What you do when you’re not working out often has a bigger impact on next-day recovery than your strain from the previous day. “It’s also how did you eat, how did you sleep, what kind of stressors are you dealing with, emotional and physical,” Emily explains. “We’re creating this holistic measure of how ready your body is to adapt.”
5:39 - What’s Used to Calculate Recovery? “It’s 3 things. Primarily HRV (heart rate variability), resting heart rate, both taken during sleep, and then sleep performance, a WHOOP score that measures duration sufficiency--of the sleep that you needed, how much did you get?”
UPDATE: Recovery now factors in respiratory rate as well.
6:25 - Why HRV Matters Most. “The algorithm's biggest input is heart rate variability. The information provided by resting heart rate and sleep is most of the time redundant to the information provided by HRV.”
7:51 - Individualized to You. “In the calibration period over your first 4 days where we gray out recovery we’re trying to get an estimate of what your maximum capacity looks like.” HRV is a highly personalized metric that doesn’t compare well to others. “Most people’s average recovery is somewhere in the 60s,” Emily adds. “What really matters is day to day where you are on that scale and trying to move your baselines in the direction of greater fitness.”
12:26 - Validation Study. “In the Major League Baseball study that we did in 2016 with a relatively large data set there was a strong positive correlation between WHOOP recovery and some of the things they track in baseball,” Kristen notes, “like exit-bat velocity and fastball velocity.” Emily adds, “It’s pretty clear from analysis like that that HRV is not all by itself a useful metric, it needs context, and the recovery score provides that context.”
14:59 - Relationship Between Strain and Recovery. Why does a rest day not always improve recovery? “For many of us, there are so many other factors [beyond strain from workouts]. It’s such a small percentage of the day,” Emily says, “something that you do 5% of the day isn't going to be the only thing that reflects in a metric that is a summary of the whole day. … If you define a rest day as ‘the day I skipped my workout’ you’re thinking about it wrong.”
18:18 - Active Recovery. “If the goal of your rest day is to boost recovery, then you actually have to take actions towards that, it’s not merely the inaction of not going to the gym,” Emily says. Kristen adds “When you are struggling to rebound from the various stressors and stimuli that you’re putting on your body, you have to actively recover.”
19:53 - 100% Sleep, Recovery Not Green? Sleep performance is a measure of duration, but Emily points out that “it doesn’t explicitly measure the quality of the sleep [other metrics show that]. You want to make sure that sleep across the board is as good as possible. Sometimes you can also be more than one sleep away from recovery, the amount of accumulated recovery you need can be greater than what can be repaid in a single night.” Additionally, sleep is just one of many pieces that contribute to recovery.
22:01 - Feel Great, Low Recovery? “Sometimes our bodies are really, really good at compensating,” Emily notes. “The moments when the recovery score surprises you are when it’s most valuable.”
26:07 - Mental Aspect of Recovery. “If you’re emotionally run down we don’t allocate the necessary resources to rebuilding. For all of the training inputs that you’re doing you don’t get the proper fitness gains.”
28:38 - Training Adaptation. Check out the White Paper: Using Recovery and Strain to Unlock Your Potential.
31:00 - Improving Recovery. “There are a lot of things we can do during the day to optimize the regeneration process,” Kristen says.
31:27 - Auto-Regulation. “Setting your system up to work efficiently and optimally,” Kristen explains. “It’s food timing, exposure to light, and sleep-wake timing.”
32:09 - Training when Red. “Recovery is not a prescription every day,” Emily says. “Don’t think about it from the perspective of ‘WHOOP told me I’m red I shouldn’t train,’ but instead “I need to be green on Saturday, how do I make that happen?’”
33:01 - Factors that Inhibit Performance & Recovery. Alcohol, poor sleep consistency, and bad diet, to name a few. “If you have the information, it’s just a matter of making all these little micro-choices throughout the day,” Kristen says.
34:09 - Self Experimentation. “You can play around with ‘oh, I heard this advice…’ what does that do to my WHOOP recovery?” Emily gives examples of how to use the data to help refine what you works for you.
37:26 - 3 Things to Boost Next-Day Recovery. “Sleep consistency, hydration, and diet.”
38:26 - Circadian Rhythm. “Every cell in our bodies has a circadian rhythm. That’s your 24-hour rhythm, and it exists in every single cell.” Emily uses an analogy of how when we eat unusual foods at unexpected times it’s like having a big task you’re not prepared for dumped on you at work--in both cases, it’s hard to handle. You (and your body) can do things more efficiently when you know what’s coming. “The less regulated you are, the more random your recovery is going to feel.”
40:57 - Light Exposure. “Cue your body that it’s time to release all the hormones that it’s time to be awake,” Kristen says.
42:05 - Babies Have Regimented Schedules, why do we give that up as we get older? “We think we grow out of that, but we’re actually still the same species,” Emily points out. “If you can make yourself do that, you’re going to get the same benefits that infants do.”
45:09 - It’s a Guide, Not a Prescription. “Recovery is meant to be used in conjunction with your own understanding of what your goals are. When you’re red, you don’t need to stay in bed,” Emily says. Kristen adds, “If you’re green every single day for a month, you’re not making fitness gains.”
47:25 - Can’t Always Be Green. “if we’ve never trained in these [red] conditions, how can we expect to perform in them?” Emily notes, “If I’m red every so often that can actually be a really good sign, it can mean I had this tough stimulus in a period of functional overreaching.”