The Whoop Diaries, Part 1
Three weeks ago, I picked up a Whoop. What is a Whoop? Great question. It's a new fitness "wearable", kind of like a FitBit, on steroids.
I'm a nerd, and I love fitness, so I feel like this device was made for me. If you aren't really a fan of science or doing experiments, skip over this one.
What is it?
Its kind of like a watch - without the clock. Its small and lightweight. You wear it like a watch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You get the best results if you never take it off. To charge it, the battery pack slides on so it can remain on your wrist while charging. You have to charge it about every 2 days, and it takes 60 minutes to charge.
How much does it cost?
I used to cost $500. They just switched to a subscription model and now it is $29/mo, with a 6 month initial commitment. After that its month by month and you can cancel at anytime.
What does it really do?
It is a tool designed to help you manage your recovery. It measures the daily "strain" on your cardiovascular system, and relates it to how much rest you get. It will then spit out a percentage and give you a indicator:
Green - recovered - go crush your workouts
Yellow - partially recovered - workout, but don't expect a PR
Red - run down - good day to rest
What do I do with this information?
1) On a big picture, I change my workout routine based on my recovery. If I wake up and get a RED, I rest. If I wake up and get a GREEN, I try to add an extra workout. If I'm YELLOW, I just do my normal workout.
2) Tweaks I've already made: Monday and Tuesday are busy days for me at the gym, so I try to make those rest days now, and workout Wed-Sun.
3) Where the Whoop is really worth it though is in "hacking" or "tweaking" your daily recovery activities to try to improve your recovery. In the short three weeks I've been wearing it, I've already discovered that if I work before bed, my sleep quality is poor or mediocre. If I relax, read a book, or stretch, my sleep quality is great. This increases my recovery. I've also noticed that if I don't drink enough water, my recovery is lower. So now I track my water intake again. This is all stuff we "know", but most of us rarely do. "Sure, I drink a ton of water!" ... That's what I thought too ... until I tracked it.
Pictured Above: My daily recovery levels for two weeks. Notice the trend of more red in the beginning, and more green towards the end! The goal is more green!
- The Daily Strain is combination of your workouts plus your daily routines. So if you have an active job, this really adds up. The days I Coach a lot at the gym, my Daily Strain is significantly higher. Days I do not coach much, and I do more administrative tasks, my strain is much lower. This is pictured below. The blue in the graph is a workout. The gray is added daily strain, such as coaching. Monday and Tuesday I coach a lot, Wednesday I do not.
- Alcohol wrecks your sleep. We've all heard this. With the Whoop, you see it directly. RED. If you want to reduce your drinking, this will help. This horrible 18% recovery was after we went to a wedding. Notice while I got 8 hours of sleep, the quality was poor. My resting heart rate was elevated because my body was removing the toxic alcohol and not recovering, and my HRV (heart rate variability, talked about below) was a record low. Sunday was a rest day because of this.
- Stress and emotions play into your recovery. I'll talk about the science below, but know if you are stressed, you are going to see a lot of RED. This should encourage you to find activities to make you relax. Relaxation = better recovery = healthier body = happier person. The picture below is of poor sleep. Again, I got 7 hours of sleep, not bad! But the quality was terrible. I got 6 minutes of deep (SWS) sleep. This is the time the body actually repairs itself. On a good night, I will get 90 minutes of SWS!
- Whoop has a "Sleep Coach" in the app. It will tell you how much sleep you need to get in order to "peak - aka set a PR or compete", "perform - do well and feel good", or "get by - just enough to not feel like death". It learns your normal bed times, and encourages you to stick to it. A normal circadian rhythm means going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every day - even weekends. This will help your sleep quality! In the picture below it shows my sleep patterns over a week. Notice the dark blue at the bottom, this is my SWS deep sleep, the thing I care about most!
It also asks you questions each morning, to help you determine what created the good or bad sleep.
Like setting goals and getting PRs? It gives you a sleep goal based on how much Strain you did today.
There is a lot of science behind the Whoop. It's more a tech company that does fitness than a fitness company that does tech, and it shows. The strap takes 100 measurements per second, and the main thing it is looking at is your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This is the tiny amount of time between your heart beats. HRV has been shown in numerous studies to positively correlate with athletic performance and training adaptation, to negatively correlate with the risk of overtraining, and to generally correlate with overall fitness and health.
Who knew that this amount of time actually relates to how well rested and recovered you are! In short, your autonomic nervous system is made up of your parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. Sympathetic is your "fight or flight" and parasympathetic is your "rest and digest". "HRV emerges from the interplay between these two competing branches. Essentially, in a balanced nervous system, our hearts are constantly getting “mixed messages” — commands to increase heart rate from the sympathetic nervous system and commands to decreases heart rate from the parasympathetic nervous system — these mixed messages cause the resulting heart rate to be in a constant state of fluctuation." *From https://www.whoop.com/the-locker/an-athletes-guide-to-hrv/
When HRV is high, it is a sign that the body is highly responsive to both sets of inputs, and therefore highly capable of adapting to changing environmental conditions. High HRV = Rested, ready to crush workouts. Low HRV = Take a rest day.
Who would benefit from this device?
Anybody who is looking to improve general health and wellness ... AND are willing to make tweaks to their day to make it happen. If the Whoop tells you that your sleep quality is horrible, are you willing to give up your beer and TV show and switch it to water and a book? If it tells you that you are in the RED, will you listen to it and take a rest day, or are you going to workout anyways?
This thing has already caused me to check my ego a few times. Turns out my recovery was highly mediocre! The first few weeks I had a ton of red and yellow, and only 2 or 3 green days! Yikes! So, I rested more, and made tweaks to my routine. Now I'm seeing a lot of yellow, some green, and a lot less red.
Endurance athletes would also benefit from this, as it would easily show your daily strain over time. Training for a marathon? This will help you increase your daily strain week by week to improve your cardiovascular conditioning. It will also show you when you are over-training. That is huge in the endurance world!
The picture below shows the correlation between my daily strain and daily recovery. Workout too much on poor recovery and you will get sick or injured. Have plenty of recovery but don't work out enough or hard enough and you are missing out on gains.
How is this different than a MyZone?
MyZone is meant for DURING workouts, to help you gauge your pacing. Whoop is meant for all 24 hours a day, and you do not really view anything live from Whoop during a workout, it just records the data in the background.
BOLO (be-on-the-lookout!) for Part 2 as I continue to wear it. There is still a featured called "Weekly Performance Assesment" which I have not unlocked yet. It needs a month of data before I can use it!