Rest & Recovery: 6 Charts Reveal Their Power


Rest and recovery are just as important as sweaty, grueling workouts.

There, we said it.

But does anyone believe it?

Gentle yoga sessions and extra time in bed can feel like the opposite of what you need to see results. It’s as if they’re more of an indulgence than a necessity—nice for when you have extra time. (And who has extra time?)

Only that’s just not true. Here are six charts that’ll show you why rest and recovery should be at the top of your to-do list.

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There’s a right amount of stress.

It might be amazing to have a completely stress-free life for a few days.

But after that? Without any challenges, adversity, or obstacles, you’d eventually get bored.

A line graph showing the stress sweet spot—where you don’t have too much stress, but you also don’t have too little. The graph shows a curve that goes from less stress to more stress (x-axis) and low performance to high performance (y-axis). When there’s hardly any stress, the sentiment is “I’m bored.” When there’s a little more stress the sentiment is “Starting to get my attention.” When there’s a medium amount of stress the sentiment is “I’m rockin’ it.” From that point, as stress increases, performance starts to decline. Add a bit more stress, and the sentiment is “starting to freak out.” And when there’s way too much stress, the sentiment is “crash and burn.”

Of course, there’s absolutely such a thing as too much stress, too.

And aside from the obvious stuff, lots of things count as stressors that many people might not even realize: your fitness efforts, eating in a calorie deficit, the construction noise from next door…

(For more unexpected sources of stress, read: Invisible stressors: Are they sucking the life out of your health?)

So how do you stay in that “sweet spot” where you’re thriving?

That’s where rest and recovery come in.

When you recover, you regain, restore, or recuperate what you’ve lost. And you return to your baseline state of wellbeing, health, and performance.

For example, recovery could involve:

  • Replacing the fluids you sweated out during exercise, or the glucose that you used up to power your muscles.
  • Getting your immune system back to full strength after you’ve been sick. (And rest is definitely a key factor in that!)
  • Something intangible, such as feeling mentally or spiritually restored after a vacation.

Stress and recovery go together like shoes and socks, Batman and Robin, and rocks and hard places. That’s because recovery is part of the process that helps you get stronger, faster, better, and more resilient, as this chart shows.

A line graph showing the stress response. On the x-axis the graph shows time, and on the y-axis it shows performance. There are four stages shown on the graph. We start in homeostasis, or the baseline level of performance. From there, we enter an alarm phase when a stressor is introduced. Performance declines, and we enter a recovery phase. During the recovery phase, performance rises again until it reaches the fourth stage: new homeostasis. This is the new, improved baseline.

Let’s take a closer look at the chart above, using an intense workout as an example of a stressor.

▶ You start in homeostasis, or your baseline. This is your body’s status quo.

▶ Then, you encounter a stressor that disrupts your homeostasis. In this case, it’s that intense workout. Your breathing rate, heart rate, energy needs, and body temperature all increase.

▶ Next, you enter an alarm phase where you deal with the disruption. During this phase, your performance temporarily gets worse. (This is the part where that barbell/those dumbbells/your legs start to feel reeeeally heavy.)

▶ Now you enter the recovery phase. As long as you replenish fluids and nutrients and don’t keep adding additional stressors your body can’t handle, you’ll recover and rebuild any damaged tissues over the next several days. During this process, you get stronger and more resilient.

▶ Lastly, you enter a new homeostasis or baseline. Now, you’re slightly better than before.

Thus, if you take time to recover, you adapt and get better. 

So, what happens when you skip the recovery part, and just do the stress part?

It’s not great.

Let’s take sleep as an example. Sleep is a recovery rockstar. Getting enough good-quality sleep:

  • improves your mood and the ability to manage your emotions
  • improves cognition, concentration, and attention
  • helps you lose fat and build valuable lean tissue like muscle and bone
  • regulates your hunger, appetite, and satiety (which helps you make wise food choices, eat the right amount for your body, and eliminate cravings)
  • helps clean up and get rid of your body’s waste products

Not getting enough sleep, on the other hand, really tanks your recovery, and can have far-reaching effects, as you can see below.

A flow chart showing the many effects of poor sleep. The first layer of the chart is poor sleep. Arrows connect it to the next layer: physical, emotional, and mental effects of poor sleep. The physical effects are: Risk of cancer, drowsiness, cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems, and reduced immunity. The emotional effects are: HPA dysfunction (chronic stress), frustration and anger, increased risk-taking and impulsivity, irritability, depressed mood, and exhaustion. The mental effects are: reduced working memory, difficulty multitasking, less creativity and productivity, difficulty staying alert, indecision, and poor concentration.

The point? Not getting enough rest can make you feel very crappy and make it much harder to see results.

After all, it’s pretty hard to make smart food choices and give your workouts your all when you’re cranky, tired, and wired.

Plus, all these negative effects can interact with each other and create vicious, self-perpetuating cycles. Here’s just one example of how some of those factors build on each other and make it harder to stop the cycle:

Illustration showing how the vicious cycle of poor sleep can work. Four illustrations are arranged in a circle, connected by arrows. The first one shows poor sleep, with a woman with her head on a pillow, struggling to sleep. The second shows the same woman experiencing drowsiness. The third shows the same woman sitting in front of her computer with less productivity. The fourth illustration shows the woman experiencing chronic stress, which then connects back to poor sleep.

But there’s a bright spot here:

Recovery is so much more than sleeping and taking rest days.

And that’s actually pretty exciting. Because it means there are dozens of ways to promote and enhance your (or your client’s) progress.

In the table below, you’ll see examples of stressors, and ways you can recover in each of them.

A chart that shows deep stress vs. deep recovery in the physical, emotional, environmental, mental, existential, and social dimensions of health. Physical stress includes: Injury; illness; overtraining; poor sleep; toxic substances in the body. Physical recovery includes: Good nutrition; varied movement; enough good-quality sleep. Emotional stress includes: Grief; anger; shame; fear; disgust; poor self-regulation and coping; emotional labor. Emotional recovery includes: Recognizing, expressing, and sharing emotions appropriately; taking time away from difficult emotions; purposely evoking positive and/or calm states. Environmental stress includes: Noise; light; pollution; temperature; discrimination and “isms”; lack of safety; violence; inaccessibility; distractions. Environmental recovery includes: Creating a literal and metaphoric recovery space; creating safety and security; eliminating distractions; accessing health care. Mental stress includes: Decision fatigue; information overload; perfectionism; neurodivergence without enough support; cognitive impairment; switching languages, codes, and tasks. Mental recovery includes: Interspersing periods of focus with periods of mental recovery; “mental play” and creativity; building thinking and problem-solving skills; engaging in a wide variety of mental tasks. Existential stress includes: Hopelessness; despair, lack of meaning; inability to cope with life transitions and mortality. Existential recovery includes: Being of service; participating in meaningful activities; time devoted to introspection and reflection. Social stress includes: Stress in relationships; loneliness; interpersonal conflict; rejection; lack of community; social exclusion and inequality. Social recovery includes: Healthy, affirming communication and conflict resolution; inclusive and welcoming community; safety and security in relationships.

As you can see, for every stressor, there’s a way to recover.

Recovery doesn’t have to be complicated.

Making it part of your routine can be quite simple.

Think about the balance of stress and recovery as a tank that can be simultaneously filled by a faucet (recovery), and drained (stress).

  • To add more water to the tank, plug the leak by decreasing stress.
  • If that’s not possible, you can also turn up the faucet by adding recovery.
  • Or, do both: Lower stress while increasing rest and recovery.

A graphic showing how to keep your recovery tank full. The illustration shows a water tank with a tap pouring water in, and a tap on the tank itself that lets water out. The tap that fills the tank is recovery, which includes elements like: good nutrition, regular sleep, gentle movement, fulfilling activity, social connections, positive emotions, time in nature, and mindfulness. The tap that empties the tank is stress, which includes elements like poor nutrition, low energy intake, intense exercise, work stress, relationship stress, caregiving, financial stress, loneliness, negative emotions, environmental stress, alcohol and drug use, illness, and injury.
When you think about it, many recovery practices deliver maximum impact for relatively minimal effort.

Sure, good nutrition and restorative sleep absolutely take some work to achieve. (You can learn more about what to eat here and how to get better sleep here.)

But laughing at your favorite TV show, spending time with friends, and sitting in the sunshine count as recovery, too.

So go ahead and enjoy them—guilt free. They might be exactly what you need to slay that next workout.

If you’re a health and fitness coach…

Learning how to help clients manage stress, build resilience, and optimize sleep and recovery can be deeply transformative—for both of you.

It helps clients get “unstuck” and makes everything else easier—whether they want to eat better, move more, lose weight, or reclaim their health.

And for coaches: It gives you a rarified skill that will set you apart as an elite change maker.

The brand-new PN Level 1 Sleep, Stress Management, and Recovery Coaching Certification will show you how.

Want to know more?



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