How To Truly Know If You’re Recovering From Your Workouts

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Articles, Recovery

I'm not going to kick this horse to death.

Oh wait, yes I am.

When it comes to getting results, from pro athletes to triathletes to recreational athletes, recovery is the most neglected aspect of training.


  • Too little recovery, and you slowly grind yourself into an insidious, perpetual state of over-reaching. Push this condition too far and you’re facing full-blown over-training.
  • Too much recovery, and you never introduce enough stimulus/stress to trigger physiological adaptation. You never get fitter, stronger and faster

So how do you track recovery? It goes way beyond the over-used advice of simply taking your morning resting heart rate, or stopping when you get too sore. For example, you've heard me talk about getting blood, saliva and hormone testing through Bioletics. You've also heard me talk about using foam rollers and muscle sticks.

But ultimately, the best way to consistently measure recovery on a day-to-day basis is to:

  • Identify the research-based markers that relate to recovery and over-training.
  • Determine their relative importance.
  • Build an algorithm which folds all the data together in such a way that the resulting calculation is meaningful.
  • Wrap it in a web-based tool that doesn’t require a PhD to understand.
  • Generate a score that tells an athlete how prepared their body is for hard training.

But as much as the solution may be intuitive (and deceptively simple), the science and math behind it is intimidating. Consider the number of variables that need to be taken into account to measure proper recovery:

Resting Heart Rate

Sports science has confirmed the link between variation in resting heart rate and overtraining. But this link is neither easily understood nor directly correlated. The problem is that an elevated resting heart rate can indicate training stress… but it can also simply mean that you had a rough day at work. To complicate matters, an elevated pulse may be a sign of sympathetic overtraining, whereas a dramatically lowered pulse may indicate parasympathetic stress. A smart athlete analyzes resting heart rate variability within the context of both heart rate history and other daily inputs.


Resting heart rate should ideally be monitored during sleep or first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. Day-to-day variations in resting heart rate of approximately 5% are common and not usually associated with fatigue or stress. However, increases of greater than 5% are typically reported in fatigued or acutely over-reached (sympathetic) individuals.

Body Mass

Sport nutritionists agree that rapid loss of body mass compromises the body's ability to repair itself during intense training. Rapid reduction in body mass occurs as a result of fluid and/or substrate loss, both of which affect recovery and performance. An acute body mass loss of 2% or greater can adversely affect cognitive and physical performance.

Regular monitoring of pre-breakfast body mass can aid in optimizing fluid and energy balance, lead to more efficient recovery and performance. But simply weighing yourself every morning isn't enough. Why? Because hydration, type of food, regularity, etc. can all influence daily weight. Restwise analyzes the body weight input within the context other variables and of your historical trends to interpret daily variability within the larger picture.


As we all know, there is sleep… and then there is sleep. As athletes, we have experienced the after-effects of a hard race or a heavy block of training: a restless night. We have also experienced that magical feeling which comes after several days of high-quality sleep. Fortunately, sleep is one variable that has been studied extensively relative to recovery.

Although there is no consensus on what an “optimal” amount of sleep is, broad agreement exists on the importance of sleep when it comes to repairing the damage that hard training inflicts. Many sleep specialists gravitate around the 8-hour mark. When an athlete regularly sleeps less than this amount, it is possible that recovery will be negatively influenced. Either, or both, sleep volume and quality can be effected, which in turn can undermine recovery strategies.

Oxygen Saturation

Although there is little evidence that blood oxygen saturation provides an indication of overtraining or fatigue, the measurement can be a helpful indicator of a variety of non-training-related issues: an athlete's altitude acclimatization process; diagnosing pre-symptomatic bronchitis; highlighting the risk of anemia; detecting the early stages of chronic over-training fatigue, etc.


Normal healthy oxygen saturation values are between 96% and 99% at sea level (values are lower for non-acclimatized athletes at higher altitude). Oxygen saturation below 95% may indicate any of the above referenced issues, of which anemia (usually associated with weakness or fatigue) is the most common among athletes. There is methodologies that exist that allows an athlete to incorporate SPO2 into a recovery score, thus utilizing its value as a predictive tool.


Athletes understand that hydration is important, and that an good indicator of hydration is urine color. Pre-training dehydration can compound the effects of prolonged activity on fluid balance, as dehydration of 2% or more can negatively impact cognitive functions and physical performance. It can also affect immune status, body temperature and cardiac output, all of which undermine efforts to recover from training. A urine “pee chart” can provide a useful indication of fasted hydration status, but for athletes who don't want to obsess on their morning pee, you can simply record your urine color via a simple, three-stage color indicator.


Appetite typically decreases with high training load and fatigue, which can result in negative energy balance. Inadequate carbohydrate intake can lead to earlier onset of overreaching symptoms and impaired performance, while insufficient protein and micronutrient intake can impact on immune function, protein synthesis and recovery from training.

Muscle Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers, resulting in intra-muscular inflammation. DOMS is therefore a normal reaction to high training intensity, which can increase the risk of injury if followed by insufficient rest. Persistent muscle soreness may indicate an increased risk of overuse injury and overtraining syndrome (OTS).


Of course, the phrase “microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers” should alert you to the importance of monitoring this condition relative to recovery. While in some phases of training (initiating a resistance program, for example), you should expect some DOMS, it should not be a chronic condition.

Energy Level

We have all experienced those days when we didn't want to train, bur forced ourselves out the door and had a fantastic experience. We have also had those days when we didn't want to train, so we took a nap and felt much better afterwards. The trick is to be able to distinguish been low motivation derived from over-reaching and low motivation derived from non-physical factors. Subjective level of energy is related to a number of markers of fatigue, including physiological, immunological and psychological markers. You need to be able to distinguish between days when you are recovered but may feel tired versus days when you may feel tired … and need to rest.

Mood State

Profile of Mood States (POMS) was created to evaluate the efficacy of counseling and psychotherapy. It first gained favor among sports psychologists in the late 1970's to help athletes achieve peak performance. While Restwise does not explicitly use one of the POMS tests, we do rely on the extensive body of research that supports it. More recently, researchers have used a medical model – the Central Nervous System score – to quantify non-exercise related stress. Between the two, research confirms the link between mind and body, and the impact that an athlete's mental state has on recovery.

General apathy, mood swings and feelings of depression or anxiety are often indicative of fatigue, illness or over-reaching. These markers are also commonly associated with periods of underperformance.


You may have read that moderate exercise boosts the immune system. Great news! But then you may also have wondered why, during periods of intense training, you often feel that you are “about to get sick.” Serious athletes can push their bodies hard enough to become more susceptible to illness, often riding that fine line between wellness and illness.

Headaches, nausea, diarrhea and sore throat are all common symptoms of stress, fatigue and illness. Symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections are common to athletes and, if prolonged, may indicate overtraining. By tracking the presence of these symptoms and considering them in the context of the other signs of fatigue, you can stay on the right side of the fine line.

Previous Day's Performance

It is no great insight to observe that performance decline is, ultimately, the most valid indicator of fatigue or over-reaching. While brief periods of underperformance may be expected in a carefully constructed training program, prolonged underperformance is a reliable indicator of over-training. Restwise takes a backwards look at your performance to help you ensure that intentional over-reaching does not cross the line into counterproductive overtraining.

It's pretty tough to actually keep your finger on the pulse of all the variables mentioned above, and still have time to live, train and enjoy life. Well, something new has hit the scene, and I'm pretty excited about it (at least in the 9 days I've been using it so far). It's called the Restwise Recovery Systemand it basically involves an online software logging system and a pulse oximeter that comes with the software. Here's a video over view that shows how it works:

The result is a coherent, intuitive way for you to think about, quantify and evaluate the relationship between exercise and recovery. And by doing so, Restwise revolutionizes the process of preparing your body for endurance performance. The key to this process is how the team at Restwise manipulates these markers: how they gather, aggregate and analyze them, and how their software generates a recovery score that adds intelligence to your training.

Years of research experience taught the Restwise scientists that athlete compliance depends on simplicity. Each marker is easy to track, the software interface is very intuitive, and daily information can be entered in less than a minute through any web-enabled computer or through an iPhone application. Restwise then returns a daily score, an explanation of what it means, and a color-coded chart showing your score over time. As a coach, I can even keep a running tally of all my athletes on  and instantly see when an athlete's program needs modification (see right).

So here's the best part: for a 6 month program that includes a pulse oximeter that allows you to take your resting heart rate and oxygen saturation with just 1 minute of time each morning, it is a one-time fee of $119 (less than that, if you use 10% discount code “pacificfit”). That's for the oximeter and the 6 month package. For complete peace of mind, a running tally of the exact recovery parameters described above, and the ability to share the information with other athletes or your coach, this is a no-brainer.

Click here to learn more about the Restwise or to get it now. Readers of this post instantly get a 10% discount with code “pacificfit”.


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5 thoughts on “How To Truly Know If You’re Recovering From Your Workouts

  1. Lynette says:

    I'm reading this post as I sit trying to figure out if I'm over training; trying to get back into race shape after a failed Ironman in 2009 and being in a boot and on crutches for 10 weeks. I think even having periods of overtraining over time takes it's toll. Recovery is a hard concept to accept when I feel so much pressure to be back into shape. Recovery for some is all about patience…

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