(Click the box at the bottom for a discount on WHOOP.)
I’ll admit, I like seeing data...training files, VO2 testing, lactate profiles, and panels of blood work. As this data is gathered, a picture of the athlete’s health and physiology starts to form. Each of these data points is like a snapshot. Combined, they form a “flip book” that begins to show trends. For any anyone interested in getting the most from their health and performance, some sort of regular monitoring is requisite.
But what if that data was in the form of a continuous stream rather than intermittent snapshots? What if you could gather constant, ongoing, trendable measures of your cardiac response, your sleep, your body temperature, your movement, and even more? We are entering an era where that type of continuous information is now attainable.
There seems to be an ever-expanding list of “wearables” which can keep track of your steps, heart rate, sleep, etc. I’ve tried a few of these, but often they are not truly geared toward athletes. Many tout their ability to remind you to get up and move, but for athletes that’s really not an issue. We want to know something different, and wearables have not really provided this information...until recently.
When I solicited the Strava audience for topics they’d like to hear about, both recovery and HRV were mentioned often. Additionally, injury avoidance and overtraining were themes that popped up. What does this have to do with wearable technology and fitness trackers? Well...a lot.
There have been a few devices that I’ve tried and not liked for various reasons. I won’t get into those. The tool that I’ve used for the past six months is the WHOOP. While a review on this device could be quite lengthy, I’m going to try to hit the high points.
- WHOOP was developed by a group at Harvard with a goal of collecting longitudinal data and interpreting it in a predictive manner. In other words, it can be used to proactively guide the prescription of training load.
- Your daily step count is not reported and you are not urged to get up walk around the office. This is for athletes and active individuals, not couch potatoes.
- The band is worn 24/7, even charging while on your wrist. Data is captured in a truly continuous manner.
- Throughout the day, “Strain” is measured during workouts and while resting (or working, or driving, etc.). The manner in which you accumulate strain is individual to you, based on the profile the software builds. Your resting heart rate (RHR) and max heart rate are not the same as your training partner’s, so your calculated strain for a given workout will be different as well.
- In addition to accumulated strain, the band measures RHR, heart rate variability (HRV), sleep performance, and body temperature.
- For those unfamiliar with HRV, it is a measure of the difference in time between heartbeats. This metric has been researched for decades and seems to be indicative of autonomic nervous system balance. Put more simply, the greater your HRV, the more likely you have recovered from your recent training load, and the “fresher” you are.
- The WHOOP also measures sleep performance and sleep cycles. It has been validated in clinical sleep laboratories, so the data can be considered quite reliable.
With all of this in mind, the true value of WHOOP is what it is able to tell you when all of these metrics are evaluated, trended, and correlated against one another. This is the good part! Here’s what you’ll learn every day:
- Within a few minutes of waking, you’ll be given a recovery score. This is based on your RHR, HRV, sleep performance, and the strain you’ve accumulated. This score lets you know if today is a day to go hard in training, or if it’s best to take an easy day. The score is numeric (0-100) and a green-yellow-red stoplight system is used as well.
- Every day you’ll get a score for the previous night’s sleep as well. This score is based on both duration of sleep and how well you slept. You can even see the time you spent in various sleep stages throughout the night. With added input from you, you can correlate your sleep performance to habits such as alcohol intake or reading in bed. With that data, you can make changes which will positively impact your sleep performance.
- At night you can use the Sleep Coach. This feature gives you a recommendation on how much sleep you need that night. You can choose whether you want to “peak”, “perform”, or just “get by” the next day. You can also tell it when you need to wake up. Based on those inputs, the software will suggest an appropriate bedtime to help you meet your sleep goal..
- You can also see your total strain score for a given day. This includes strain accumulated outside of training.
Having tried a number of wearables, I think the WHOOP has the greatest utility for athletes, whether elite or recreational. It’s validity has been well documented, and its software provides a distillation of the data that results in actionable recommendations. At the end of the day, that is the winning combination. Robust data. Simply communicated recommendations.
Now the downside. These are not cheap. Until recently, they were only available to professional teams and Olympic athletes, but this past winter they became commercially available. The cost is $500 each, which is two to three times what a FitBit, Withings, or Misfit might cost. I think the athlete-specific data is worth it though.
If you are interested in trying a WHOOP, I may have some good news for you. If you click the link below, you can get $50 off. It’s not huge, but it helps. To be totally transparent, this is not a sponsored post in any way. The folks at WHOOP have no idea I’m writing this. But the link below does give you $50 off and will net me $50 as well. Don’t feel obliged to use it! I’m not counting on this as a source of income. They sent out these links to many early adopters, and I just figured I’d pass along the only discount I know of. If you are in the market for a device which will help guide your training, improve your sleep, and monitor your fatigue (and your health/injury risk!), I think WHOOP is a solid choice.