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WHOOP Recovery: What if my score doesn’t match how I feel?

  • November 24, 2022
MU wearing a green WHOOP band

WHOOP gives me a ton of data every morning, but the first thing I look at is my Recovery score, which tells me how prepared my body is to take on Strain (stress and activity). When Recovery is high, your nervous system is in balance and your body is ready to take on the day, from a tough workout to a long hike or bike ride to a stressful day of meetings. If Recovery is low, it means your nervous system and body are stressed, and need rest and recovery more than a hard workout or busy day.

What does my Recovery score mean?

Your WHOOP recovery score can range from 1% to 100%, and is categorized by color:

Green: 67% – 100%. Effectively recovered and ready to take on high Strain or perform at a high level.

Yellow: 34% – 66%. Somewhat recovered, and prepared to take on moderate Strain. If you push too hard today, it’ll likely make it harder for you to recovery tomorrow.

Red: 1% – 33%. Not recovered, and not prepared to take on Strain. Rest, recover, and focus on lifestyle factors like diet, sleep, and stress mediation.

Of note: My Yellow recovery scores still allow for me to take on a significant amount of Strain. Use Recovery along with your Strain score and Strain Coach to help you learn your data, and what “in the Yellow” means for you.

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What goes into your Recovery score?

Your Recovery score is based on four metrics: Sleep, heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate (RHR), and respiratory rate (the number of breaths you take per minute, on average). WHOOP measures these factors during the deepest points of your sleep cycle to arrive at an accurate picture of how well your body and nervous system are in balance, then reports your Recovery score in the morning, when your sleep cycle is over. (It may also take into account your blood oxygen levels and skin temperature, if those are detected.)

It’s important to note that Recovery is more than just sleep! I’ve had plenty of nights where I score 100% on Sleep, with an excellent balance of REM and deep sleep, but still wake up with a lower Recovery score than the day before. Sleep is an important part of Recovery, but if your body is under stress, fighting off an illness, recovering from an injury, still feeling challenges from your last workout, or navigating a chronic illness or injury, your Recovery score will reflect all of that too.

How can I improve my Recovery scores?

If you see a Yellow and Red streak, or you just want to spend more time in the Green, here are some things you can focus on:

Use WHOOP to guide your activities. This is the whole point of WHOOP, and the Strain Coach. If you’re in the Red, now’s not the day for a long run or hard CrossFit session. Think about tailoring your activity levels to your Recovery such that you’re allowing yourself adequate time to recover after your training sessions.

Focus on sleep. While sleep is only one part of your Recovery score, it’s a big one! Going to bed early, having consistent bed and wake times, practicing good sleep hygiene (like using blackout curtains and limiting screen time before bed), and taking naps where you can will help.

Eat enough. Under-eating, purposefully restricting calories, intermittent fasting, and not eating enough nutrient-dense foods can all take a toll on the body and your Recovery from exercise and activity. Focus on nutrition, eating in the way you know works best for you and your goals. (Doing a Whole30 can get you started.)

Skip the alcohol. The last time I had one drink (ONE) with a meal plenty early, I woke up with a 1% Recovery. Alcohol tanks HRV and Recovery scores fast, so consider starting your own “I’m not drinking right now” experiment.

Other practices that can improve sleep, recovery, and your HRV include cold therapy (ice baths or cold showers), journaling, meditation, low-intensity cardio like walking, stress management practices like breathwork or talking to a therapist, and setting healthy boundaries.

What if my Recovery score doesn’t match how I feel?

Just because you’re in the Green doesn’t mean you should go run a marathon. It’s important to balance WHOOP data with how you feel, the signals your body is sending you, and your goals. Here’s how I balance my WHOOP data with my own observations to effectively plan my day.

WHOOP says I’m 🟢, but I’m super sore: WHOOP measures cardiovascular strain, not muscle soreness. This means your heart is ready to go—but your legs might not be! Listen to your body and use different muscle groups in your workout, do lower-intensity cardio like walking, or go hard on the ski erg or in the pool, which gets your heart pumping without destroying your legs.

WHOOP says I’m 🟢, but I feel down/tired: It’s possible that your HRV, sleep, and resting heart rate are all in range, but you don’t feel up for a hard workout, mentally or physically. In this case, I might get into my workout and see if I start to feel better. If I do, I might push harder, knowing my body is up for it and I’m now feeling good. If I’m really not feeling it, I’ll practice self-care and do an easy workout, go for a walk or hike, or even take a rest day There will be other Green days. (Also note that your body has tremendous capacity to take on Strain while you’re on your period. It’s a weird flex, but hormonally you’re primed to build muscle and improve performance during this phase of your cycle, so you may see your Recovery score go up even though you feel bloated, cramping, and cranky. Again, listen to your body here, and only do what feels good or comfortable for you.)

WHOOP says I’m 🔴, but I feel fine: WHOOP often detects signs of illness, stress, or (for me) concussion symptoms before I even notice them. If HRV is down and resting heart rate and respiratory rate up, here’s where I trust the data. Even though I feel good, I’ll scale back to a light lifting session or walk and get to bed early, to see if an easy day plus a good night’s sleep gets me back in the Green.

WHOOP says I’m 🟡: Here, I lean hard on how I feel. If I feel good, I’ll get a hard workout in—I can usually handle a surprising amount of Strain, even in a yellow. (Here’s where Strain Coach comes in handy; I’ll preview by pretending to start an activity and seeing how hard WHOOP thinks I can work, then plan my workout.) But if I feel down or tired, see a streak of Yellow and Reds in my week, or know I’ve got tough days ahead (business travel, stress, etc.), I’ll go easy and give myself a chance to catch up.

Have a question about WHOOP or Recovery scores? Find me on Instagram @melissau.