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Podcast 148: The Science of Recovery with Dr. Robin Thorpe

November 9, 2021

Dr. Robin Thorpe joins the WHOOP Podcast to discuss the physiological and psychological benefits of recovery, plus how to best get your body ready to perform at its peak.

By Will Ahmed

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This week, we’re excited to welcome Dr. Robin Thorpe for an episode on The Science of Recovery – the second of a three-episode series which also includes The Science of Sleep with Dr. Meeta Singh, and The Science of Strain, coming soon. The series is demystifying these core concepts, answering common questions, and debunking myths with some of the leading experts in the field.

Dr. Thorpe is perhaps best known for his work with some of the world’s best soccer players. He spent nearly 10 years with Manchester United as a Senior Performance Scientist and Conditioning coach. He has also helped world-class track and field athletes, Olympic gold medalists, and world record holders in the lead up to their biggest performances, focusing on balancing training loads and recovery to reduce injury and illness.

Robin sits down with our VP of Performance Kristen Holmes to discuss the physiological and psychological benefits of recovery, and how you can best get your body ready to perform at its peak. They detail what metabolic fatigue and structural damage are, how that changes how you should think about recovery, and different recovery modalities and how they affect your body. They also explain why HRV is such an excellent measurement of recovery, both physical and mental.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


The Science of Recovery with Dr. Robin Thorpe Podcast Quotes & Highlights

8:45 – Two Subcomponents of Muscle Fatigue. Robin explains what metabolic fatigue and structural damage are and why understanding these factors can help lead to better recovery.

12:59 – Soreness, Recovery & Muscle Building. Kristen and Robin discuss whether you need to be sore to build muscle. “Soreness doesn’t directly correlate with adaptation,” Robin says.

19:23 – Mental Side of Recovery. “The cognitive, psychological component is huge. And I think the one great thing that we have is that we can measure HRV. It’s probably the closest thing at the moment we have to measure some of those psychological or mental fatiguing properties.”

25:22 – Understanding your HRV Range. “We probably need to understand more about [HRV ranges]. Every individual has their lower and upper range. If they’re within that, it gives an indication of normality.” Robin goes on to discuss how it’s common for endurance athletes to have higher HRVs and strength athletes to have lower HRVs.

27:55 – How Cold Therapy Works. “What cooling actually does, in the event of structural damage where the muscle fibers have had a mechanical stress put on them, we have this inflammatory cascade, which cryotherapy and cooling can actually reduce the secondary phase of. And so if we cool the skin, we cool the tissue, we can then probably reduce the secondary phase of the inflammatory infiltration.”

33:03 – Fundamentals of Recovery. Robin considers sleep, nutrition, hydration, and joint range of motion maintenance to be the four keys to good recovery.

33:40 – Different Modalities for Different Recoveries. Kristen and Robin explain how you should think about what type of recovery modalities are best suited for metabolic fatigue, structural damage, and mental and emotional fatigue.

39:16 – The Placebo Effect. “There’s this athlete belief effect, or human human belief effect, which we all are exposed to. We all have it in some way, shape or form. … It’s very powerful,” Robin says, noting that the brain actually experiences a neurotransmitter change during an intervention or modality. “The placebo effect is true.”

44:06 – Sleep and Cold Therapy. Robin talks about how using cold therapy can indirectly improve your sleep, but also explains how a shower or bath shortly before bed can also facilitate better sleep.

45:59 – Getting the Fundamentals Down. “I think if you don’t show appreciation to sleep, adequate nutrition, hydration, and also joint range of motion, I think a lot of the other stuff we’re really going to be struggling to see a practical performance improvement in our daily lives.”

48:27 – Training Your Autonomic Nervous System. “I love thinking about the autonomic nervous system as a muscle you can train,” Kristen says. “We can improve our autonomic control by engaging in certain modalities.”

58:48 – Future of Recovery. “I think the future of this recovery space and the science of recovery is massive. And I think it’s really exciting. So I think using products like WHOOP and being able to understand a little bit more about our physiology, our biometrics. Is definitely helping people understand some more and being educated about this area.”

Connect with Robin on Twitter and Instagram.


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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.