Adrenal fatigue, Recovery

Adrenal fatigue Pt. 4: Recovery Activities

See Part 1.

Once I got to the point where I could work full days 5x/wk, I started feeling strong enough to begin exercising. But I kept overdoing it, in shockingly short periods of time (e.g., 20 minutes of gardening on Saturday left me tired through Monday). Following the guidelines of Active Recovery, I set the following exercise goals:

  • Prioritize recovery and stress reduction over building strength
  • Continue improving resilience (i.e., recover faster)
  • Learn what each workout zone feels like
  • If energy is good (judge by feel and HRV numbers), THEN alternate “long slow” and “strength/cardio” workouts. NO set frequency or schedule, to avoid overdoing it, or feeling guilt
  • Work on posture and breathing to increase available energy

I take an HRV reading every morning and compare that with how I feel. I use a Polar 10 chest strap gadget and the Elite HRV and HRV4Training apps simultaneously (I know, I know…I’m comparing them…gimme a break) to determine my morning HRV.  If most signs point toward needing to take it easy, I rest or do a recovery activity in zone 1 (or low zone 2 since it’s often hard to stay in zone 1). If both readings are good, then I do exercise in zones 2-3. If I feel great, I aim for zones 3-4, but no more than 15 minutes at a time and no more than 2x/week at this point.

I wear the Polar chest strap or Polar A360 fitness watch to track the intensity of my workouts and some of my regular activities, like canning or walking up stairs or giving a presentation at work. Its app shows my heart rate AND the zone I’m in from moment to moment, then tallies up my time in each zone per workout and day/week/month. Here are some sample activities:



HR range

Activities Aug. ’18


Total rest –

Feels stretchy


·        Sitting, sleeping

·        Seated yoga


Active Recovery –

Easy motion; often hard to stay this low


·        Gentle sun salutations; seated active yoga

·        Tai chi warm-up

·        Walk to meeting


Light – base fitness – feels like “I’m actually doing


·      Flowy tai chi

·     1 flight stairs

·     “Taking a walk”

·     Giving Reflex

·     Weeding

·     Slowest elliptical


Steady state – improve aerobic – feels like I’m working hard


·     Brisk walk

·     Moderate elliptical

·     2 flights stairs


Tempo – speed/stamina – breathing very hard


·    Mowing flat part of yard

·    Cardio workout


Max – increase max performance – starting to worry


·     Mowing slope


Galloping heart




If you want to try this at home, there are tons of gadgets and apps out there. You absolutely need something that can measure heart rate variability – most FitBits and whatnot don’t do this, even if they can track your heart rate. I think HRV4Training can actually measure HRV using your phone – so that can be a good way to get started. It’s also super helpful to have a way to track your heart rate (pulse) as you exercise, so you know immediately if you need to slow down. I use the Polar A360, because it pairs nicely with the Polar chest strap, but if you’re using a phone app for HRV and have a Fitbit or similar, you’ve probably got all the data you need.

Short version: Using HRV for adrenal fatigue recovery

Your goal is to learn how much you can do without “overdoing it,” then restrict yourself to that amount of activity. This will be very hard. You may be surprised how little you can do at first. Take heart! You will improve faster if you can prevent overdoing it in the first place.

  • Take your heart rate variability each morning before you start your day (use the bathroom, then lie back down and take the reading). HRV is very personal, so it’s hard to tell you what number to look for, but after a week or two, you should be able to tell what “good” numbers look like for you.
  • Use the pulse meter to learn what activities put you in what heart rate zones. I was very surprised to learn that things I thought were very easy (like light gardening, picking beans, watering) put me in high Zone 3, and things I thought were moderate exercise (like seated yoga) were so light, they didn’t even register as light exercise.
  • Use the day’s reading to guide your activity that day.
    • If the app says you can train as per usual, aim for exercise in zone 3 (70% max heart rate). Start with no more than 15 minutes, twice a week, until you dial in what tires you out.
    • If the app recommends active recovery, aim for zones 1-2 (50-60% max heart rate).
    • If the app recommends rest, not only should you not raise your heart rate to Zone 1 with exercise, you should take steps to reduce other physical activity. Avoid stairs. Let someone else cook dinner. Go to bed an hour early. Do breathing exercises. Receive bodywork.
  • If you feel tired the morning after a certain type of workout, you’ve overdone it. Make a note and adjust your regimen accordingly.

I had to dial back my activity three or four weeks in a row until I got to a point where I had a sustainable activity regimen. At first, it felt pathetic – I barely felt like I was doing anything – but as I stuck to it, I got out of the overdo-then-crash cycle, and my overall strength improved rapidly.

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