Recovery Matrix

Is it over-training or under-recovery?

Recovery Matrix
Photo by Tobias Oetiker / Unsplash

Your training plan is only as useful as what you actually do.  The training itself is only as useful as what you can recover from.  If you recall my original carnivore statistics report (1), one of the biggest keys to performance was recovery.  Obvious as it may seem, I'll keep hearkening back to it because it's reassuring when data validates "common" sense.

At any rate, 4 years after it was published, I still refer back to the June 2018 Climb Strong Newsletter (2).  The idea is simple, gamify recovery and recover more than you train.

Training - Recovery = Debt
Endurance (-1) Sleep (hour)
Strength (-1) Ice Bath (5 min)
BJJ (-1) Mobility (15 min)
*per hour *0.1 each *negative debt = credit

The exact numbers and items can vary and I'll get to that below; but the main concept is to make your recovery as competitive as your training.  The example above emphasizes simplicity.  The same template can easily be copied to a small whiteboard or training notebook and kept on your fridge, gym locker, etc.

Simplicity matters because the best training / recovery plan in the world is useless if you don't actually do it.  

Variance in Training:

  • activity / experience
  • age

Some activities are more difficult to recover from than others.  Depending on your experience (or training age) at a given sport / activity, one hour of that may not nearly be as taxing as something you're not as familiar or experienced with.

For example, a runner may be quite accustomed to running (endurance pace), but sprinting or heavy lifting may be very taxing.  In this case distance running may incur a "fee" of 0.5 recovery points / hour while lifting weights incurs a fee of 1 recovery point / hour.

Similarly, for combat sports, you might say that "drilling" incurs a fee of 0.5 / hour while hard sparring incurs a fee of 1 / hour.

Chronological age is another factor.  Of course, you can still train hard at any age; and it is more difficult to recover from those hard sessions.  Steve Bechtel, in the original article, suggested:

  • < 30 years old: fee of 1 recovery point / hour of training
  • 30+ years old: fee of 1.5 / hour of training
  • 40+ years old: fee of 2 / hour of training

There's a bit of a tango here as the older you get, the more experience you gain in certain activities.  Again, the individual variability is high, so do your own homework and experimenting.

The point isn't to have an ultra precise metric, it's to get you consciously thinking about the hole you're digging and how to get out of it.

Variance in Recovery:

If you're prone to splitting hairs and (unhelpfully) obsessing over details turn back now.  However, if you consider some basic "health" principles or objectives, your list of recovery task options might look something like:

  • Protein @ 1g / lb of body weight
  • Water @ 0.5 oz / lb of body weight
  • Sleep
  • Ice Bath
  • Mobility

There are others things you could add like easy walking (scratch this off the list if you're prone to "going hard no matter what"), sodium intake, sauna, etc. but the real variance comes in the value we assign to these things.

The original article had some suggested values and in the example above I based "one day's recovery" around needing to recover from one hour of training per day:

  • +0.8 points from sleeping 8 hours
  • +0.1 points from stretching
  • +0.1 points from a 5 min ice bath
  • = 1 hour of training earned

As with training debt values you could consider what you're "good at" or "like to do" and assign a higher value to the things you don't like to do.   There is, then, a higher incentive to work on the things you're not good at.

For example, I'll never have a problem:

  • eating enough protein, or
  • drinking enough water

However, I hate ice baths, struggle with getting enough sleep (because I always want to do more), and have some overuse / mobility restrictions.


Yes, I have a spreadsheet for this type of thing.  No, I don't think that's necessary or even helpful for some people.  While most people need to get their butts moving more and control what they ingest; those aren't the people this article is written for.

This is for the self-starters and go-getters.  You my dear compatriots need to learn that you cannot "make up for it later."  Just like finances, it's better to pay cash up front than cross your fingers when the credit card bill comes at the end of the month.

Stop spending recovery (i.e. energy) you haven't earned yet.  Stop buying your ability to train on credit and borrowed time.  

You may recall me quoting Jocko that; "Life will give you rest days (children get sick, injuries happen, etc.); don't take them willingly."  No, you don't have to take passive rest days.  You do need to be conscious (or active) about your recovery.  

You also don't have to be so ignorant as to believe there isn't a cost for training (or anything involving effort).  There is, and everyone pays.  Sooner or later.

NOTE:  For my own training (as of 8/13/22) I've altered the sleep value to 0.11 / hour.  This roughly translates to 8-9 hours of sleep per night and 5-7 hours of training per week.  As noted previously, my weekends are busy, 6+ hours of hard training over 3 days (see on ice below).
NOTE:  In James Dinicolantonoio's "Win" he notes research that ice baths may impair the anabolic signalling after weight lifting; however there doesn't seem to be such an impairment with aerobic training.  In addition, most research indicates ice baths (from a recovery / performance perspective) as most helpful in acute circumstances (congruent with James's assessment) – think professional athletes training multiple times per day with a high risk / rate of overuse injuries.  Sauna may be more beneficial for recovery without the detriments of cold, though detrimental to competitive performance (pre-comp sauna).  There are merits and cautions to both.

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