Sports Massage Recovery Measurable with WHOOP
In Motion with Morrison Blog
Written by Aubrey Morrison
MS Sports Medicine, CSCS, Licensed Massage Therapist #16763
Maximizing athletic performance involves a delicate balance of recovery and training. It
is during recovery that the body physiologically adjusts to the stimulus of the workout.
Measuring recovery will indicate how ready the body is to undergo the strain and intensity of
activity; so total recovery is key to the gains you are going for, and for being ready for the next
tough training session. “Measuring recovery” seems objective, but the WHOOP device worn
by many competitive athletes has given a percentage number to allow for more subjective
information. It uses heart rate to do this; more specifically, heart rate variability (HRV).
Recovery isn’t just “not being sore.” Muscle recovery is absolutely important, and massage
helps with that – improving blood flow, reducing adhesion build-up, etc. The nervous system needs recovery as well! Exercising impacts the balance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS)- parasympathetic and sympathetic- which are often used to determine the recovery of athletes. If these are out of whack even if muscles feel good, you will probably not perform optimally. The ANS is what controls many involuntary functions of the body, including cardiac regulation. The sympathetic system is the “fight or flight” portion and increases heart ate in response to stress/exercise, while the parasympathetic is the “rest and digest” portion that brings the body back to homeostasis by decreasing heart rate. Life stress and intense exercise triggers the “fight or flight”, putting the body into a necessary overdrive; and it takes a decrease in physical and mental stress to let the parasympathetic bring the body back to normal. For example, a stressful life event plus not enough sleep plus intense exercise will really take a toll on the body! If adequate effort is put into recovery, the body will calm back down and you will be ready to take on more stress of some kind. However, if life is constantly stressful, sleep is hard to come by, and you are squeezing in high intensity workouts, your “recovery score” may not be so great. People can deal with this day to day to some extent, but for more competitive athletes this is important because their training and competitions depend on how ready their body is to work hard.
Much more than heart rate is affected here, but since that is what the WHOOP measures then
that is what we are focusing on. Although it is just a part of the entirety of the ANS, heart rate
can be monitored to reflect how recovered an athlete is. More specifically, heart rate variability
(HRV) is actually what reflects recovery. HRV is the variation in time between heartbeats, and
is independent of actual heart rate (although that is also measured by the WHOOP). More
variability is a GOOD thing! It means that the sympathetic and parasympathetic are both
working to balance each other out. Less HRV means that one or the other is taking over, usually the sympathetic; indicating that the body is in overdrive and needs to recover. Recovery score on the WHOOP would be lower, meaning the body is not primed for optimal performance. Sometimes training with a low “recovery score” is done on purpose depending on a program’s periodization, but that could be another whole topic. The point is, knowing how recovered the body is can help tremendously in a training program.
What helps the body recover more quickly and completely? Adequate sleep (also a measurement of the WHOOP), hydration, good nutrition, minimal emotional stress, and MASSAGE! Surprising to hear that from us, I know. Massage obviously is beneficial for the muscles by increasing blood flow, reducing restriction, decreasing soreness, etc; but it has also been shown to improve the variables that make up the WHOOP recovery score. These variables are HRV, sleep, and heart rate. Some examples of research indicating massage’s positive effect on the ANS by stimulating the parasympathetic system to kick in faster (and therefore recover faster) than just rest alone can be found here: https://ijtmb.org/index.php/ijtmb/article/view/279/358
We did our own little experiment here, and had one of our regular clients take some readings
from his WHOOP to see the effect of massage on his recovery score, sleep patterns, and
In the charts below, it can be seen that the night after getting a massage, he had more
REM sleep and more deep sleep, and less light sleep! Since sleep is key in recovering adequately, better sleep means better recovery. Most importantly, HRV was very much
increased the days post-massage versus his baseline HRV, and resting heart rate was lower
than usual which indicates a parasympathetic shift. Sleep and HRV are two key components
of the WHOOP recovery score, so you can see that the total recovery score averaged at
90% the day after getting a massage. This was a much higher and faster jump in recovery as opposed to the client recovering on his own with no massage.
So according to published studies and our own little experiment, it is clear that sports massage
not only helps muscles stay supple and healthy and injury-free, but your body systematically
recovers as well! Prepare to perform your best and recover faster with our sports
Book online www.coastalmassagewellness.com or call 910-581-2900