Monitoring Stress and Recovery
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Brief Article Overview
Stress is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. The goal is not to get rid of stress, but to become as stress-resilient as possible.
- Stress-resilience is built by achieving a balanced interaction between; a) stress (sympathetic dominance) and b) recovery (parasympathetic dominance).
- There are four measurement techniques we can use to track and monitor recovery status; 1) Mindful check-in (how we feel), 2) Sleep performance (quality and quality), 3) Resting Heart Rate and 4) Heart Rate Variability.
- Using a Multitrait-multimethod approach, which combines all four measurements, will give the most reliable and accurate indication of recovery status.
Stress and recovery can be thought of as two ends of a spectrum. Our bodies are constantly fluctuating between a state of “rest and digest” or “fight and flight”. This is so in-built within our physiology that our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) can be divided into two distinct pathways;
Parasympathetic (rest and digest)
Sympathetic (fight and flight)
Life is full of stressors including work, social, family and financial worries for example. And as much as we love exercise, it too is a stressor. As much as they’re given a bad rap, stressors are not inherently bad, they are unavoidable and inevitable and often give purpose and meaning to peoples life. The goal is not to get rid of stress, it is to become stress-resilient. The ability transition from stress to recovery allows for an optimal balance between the two. Recovering from stress is crucial to increase your stress-resilience. Monitoring recovery performance will give us important insights which can highlight stress-recovery discrepancies, from which relevant strategies can be implemented.
Averages and Baselines
A general rule of thumb when measuring and tracking any health parameter is to take some time to gather an average or baseline. It usually takes 2-4 week to gather enough data to draw reliable averages. Although we can compare your numbers to normative data, don’t get hung up on the specific numbers at first, just gauge what’s normal for you. Beyond this, the numbers can be measured against your baseline to guide your training and recovery practices.
Here are some techniques to measure your recovery status;
1. Pause and Reflect
No fancy equipment needed here, just take a few minutes to check-in with yourself. Life can get hectic around this time of year, so take some time to pause and reflect. Here are some example questions you can ask yourself when carrying out this practice;
- Am I feeling slow and lethargic?
- Am I generally demotivated?
- Am I experiencing brain fog or forgetting things frequently?
- Am I experiencing chronic aches and pains?
Answering a strong yes to any of these is an indication that you’re not fully recovered and may need to adjust stress/recovery practices.
Sleep is critical in the world of recovery and health. The regularity, quality and quantity of your sleep is the foundation stone on which all other recovery practices are built. To give you an idea of how much sleep you should be getting, the national sleep foundation has provided recommended sleep time per age group;
There are some great apps out there (Sleep Cycle and Sleep Score for example) and that can measure and track your sleep performance, which we would highly recommend. Doing so can build awareness and highlight the need for improvement. Follow the links if you would like to know more about the importance of sleep and how to improve your sleep quality and quantity.
3. Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
RHR is the measure of your heartbeat when you are at complete rest. Here are normative data for RHR by age group and gender:
A lot of smartwatches nowadays can constantly measure your heart rate. Resting heart rate can then be monitored and daily feedback can be provided via certain apps. Alternatively, you can buy a good Bluetooth chest-strap (we like the Polar H10), connect to your phone via Bluetooth and measure your resting heart rate when you’re fully relaxed (aim for the same time of the day and body position). Low RHR is usually an indication of optimal recovery and higher fitness levels. A significant increase in RHR will indicate inadequate recovery.
4. Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is the measure of the difference in the time intervals between successive heartbeats (usually measured between R-R intervals). It is an indicator of the state of your autonomic nervous system, which reflects parasympathetic (higher HRV) or sympathetic (lower HRV) tone.
There are many wrist and chest-straps that connect to certain apps (Elite HRV have industry-leading software), which can monitor and track HRV. Although normative data is starting to be provided (see below), this measurement is highly personal so only compare to your own average/baseline. HRV scores are provided as a “relative balance” between the sympathetic and parasympathetic ends of the autonomic nervous system spectrum.
5. A Multitrait-multimethod Approach
The most accurate and reliable measurement of recovery is combining mindful check-in, sleep time, RHR and HRV all together. Getting the “green light” on all of these parameters is a powerful indication that you’re fully recovered and ready to handle physical and mental stress. Some software, including Whoop, do this automatically and provide you with a total “recovery score”.
Stress is an inevitable part of life which, although unavoidable, should be monitored to optimise performance and stress-resilience. Recovery is crucial for stress-adaptation, which builds stress-resilience over time. In this article, we outlined four techniques (mindful check-in, sleep quality and quantity, resting heart rate and heart rate variability) for measuring and tracking recovery status. Using each technique in isolation can provide valuable insights regarding recovery. When collecting data; consistency (same time, same place), frequency (daily or weekly) and volume (number of readings) is key. A large amount of data can provide reliable averages and baselines, which can be used to measure future readings against. Where possible, use a Multitrait-multimethod approach (all 4 measurements at the same time) for the most accurate and reliable recovery status.
Food for thought? If this has encouraged you to think about your health, fitness & wellbeing, why not click this link and fill out our enquiry form. We’d love to see how we can help you on your journey.
Disclosure: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are currently experiencing physical or mental health issues, please seek professional advice from a fully qualified Nutritionist, GP or Physiotherapist.