I wrote this beast of a review for the WHOOP Strap 3.0, a 24/7 fitness tracker similar to the Fitbit or Apple Watch. I’ve been using WHOOP for a full year now. I’ve improved my sleep, optimized my training and recovery, and become fitter and better at my sport.
This in-depth review will cover exactly how WHOOP works, why I wanted to try it, all its major features, how I use it and what I’ve learned, and my results. I’ll also discuss several criticisms.
WHOOP has changed the way I train. I hope it can help other people like me become more energetic and avoid burnout, overtraining, and injury.
Table of Contents
- What Is the WHOOP Strap?
- Who This Review Is For
- About Me
- WHOOP 3.0 Major Features
- More Things I’ve Learned Using WHOOP
- Other Features
- My Results with WHOOP
- Some Criticisms
- Conclusion: Is It Worth It?
What Is the WHOOP Strap?
WHOOP* is wearable tech designed for professional athletes. It collects five different metrics 100 times per second, much more than a simple heart rate monitor. If that sounds completely wild, keep reading.
The fitness band stays on your wrist (or bicep) 24/7 measuring your heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), skin conductivity, ambient temperature, and accelerometry (movement). WHOOP collects this data and connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Your phone sends your data to the cloud, which crunches the numbers and sends back your results in digestible form. When you’re out of range, the device stores data to process later. WHOOP uses that data to offer daily recommendations to help you make better choices around training, sleep, and recovery.
It’s like having an incredibly accurate personal trainer with zero ego and no judgment.
You pay monthly for this intense data-crunching, as low as $18 if you commit to 18 months. I opted for the $30/month plan to try it out before committing to a longer period. (Try WHOOP for free using my referral link.)
(*Rhymes with “boop.” Yes, I’ve made a lot of jokes about the name, but I’m mostly over it now.)
WHOOP 3.0 Specs
- Light-weight, just 0.67 ounces (19 grams) with the band, according to my kitchen scale
- Ships with the black ProKnit band for the wrist (other colors/accessories cost extra)
- 5-day battery life
- Recharges quickly on-wrist with a relatively unobtrusive battery pack that slides over the device
- 100% waterproof (not the battery though! I wore mine in the shower
oncetwice and had to throw it in a bowl of uncooked rice to dry it out)
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) compatible, which allows it to connect to other devices (not a feature I use, so I won’t be reviewing it)
- Accessories: different wristbands in other colors, bicep band, backup batteries
Who This Review Is For
While WHOOP was designed for professional athletes, I think it could be a game-changer for anyone interested in fitness, from beginners to athletes.
I primarily train parkour, which includes a lot of plyometrics, running and sprinting, climbing, and quadrupedal movement. I also do lower-impact conditioning and strength training. Read more under My Training Now.
My training is analogous to sports that are speed/power-based, like basketball and tennis, or things like martial arts, CrossFit, and obstacle course racing. The list of possible applications is long. Endurance athletes like distance runners, cyclists, and triathletes may also find it useful, as well as general fitness enthusiasts who practice many types of training.
I also hope this review will help people just beginning their fitness journey. I wish I had WHOOP when I started getting back in shape after having kids.
Lastly, female athletes and older athletes might find particular comfort in reading a review written by someone in their demographic.
Here’s an overview of my experience so you can understand how my perspective might apply to you.
My Movement Background
I’m a fitness enthusiast with a long history of movement. In high school, I ran track and cross country. Later on, I completed military training, ten years of dancing, six years of practice as a massage and structural integration therapist, a year of Alexander Technique, and plenty of sports rehab for various injuries.
I used to hate exercise. I’ve struggled over many years to find a way to move that makes me feel good. I’ve learned to be athletic because I love movement.
How Bad Fitness Habits Led to Overtraining and Injury
As a teenager, coaches and drill sergeants didn’t teach me to self-regulate my workouts. They constantly yelled at me to work harder, regardless of whether it was what my body needed. I learned to push past exhaustion and ignore signals from my body. I thought good workouts meant pain in my lungs, burn in my muscles, and daily soreness.
Constant overtraining led to injury (chronic knee pain, a partial rupture of my Achilles tendon, and various sprains in my feet) and hindered my ability to reach my potential. These injuries contributed to years of inactivity later in life. I’d wonder if I was getting too old or whether the problem was genetic.
Luckily I moved to Seattle in 2010, where my brother owns two sports rehab clinics. Since I moved here, my brother has treated all my injuries and taught me a lot about what I was doing wrong. In the past decade, I’ve seen a lot of gradual improvement from strength training and rehab. I’m able to get back to training more quickly, I’m more resilient to injury, and I’m able to train a lot more overall.
But I still hit fitness plateaus and felt run down too often. I hadn’t completely solved the overtraining problem. I wanted to experience more great training sessions and not give in to my fears about gender limitations and aging.
I had two main goals with WHOOP: Fewer injuries, more progress.
I’m 39. A lot of people think they need to start slowing down when they hit 30, but I look ahead and see another four decades of life potentially. I want to do whatever I can to make those decades more fun!
Progress = fun
Injuries = not fun
Before WHOOP, I knew I was overtraining sometimes, and I knew that overtraining leads to injuries, but I had a hard time calibrating. Parkour is so fun. It’s hard to stop when your friends keep going.
Progressive overload (ramping up slowly) is supposed to keep you from getting injured. It’s easy when you’re training endurance sports, e.g. by adding a certain percent mileage each week.
I don’t measure my progress by mileage. My type of training makes it difficult to know exactly how hard I’m working. Plus, explosive training like parkour takes longer to recover from. Overtraining becomes a real problem if you’re exerting a lot of force on your body as I do in parkour. I could be building fatigue for weeks or months, and one day a ligament just snaps during a landing.
In a book called Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age, I read about this wearable tech elite athletes were using. It wasn’t just a heart rate monitor. It measured how hard your body was working in real-time. And by using a metric called heart rate variability, it could predict when you needed to rest.
I immediately wished I had that tech. After reading Play On, I came away convinced I could perform at a higher level than I had previously thought. If I timed my training better and rested when I actually needed it, I knew I could progress more.
In February 2019, I saw an ad for the WHOOP Strap. It looked exactly like the tech I had read about in Play On. I made the purchase after a couple of days of deliberation and started using it on March 4, 2019.
My Training Now
Currently, I’m following a program of lifting two days a week and training parkour two to three days a week.
My strength training is parkour-specific and consists of barbell lifts, pull-ups, dips, etc. This style of strength training is low cardiovascular load but high musculoskeletal load. Depending on WHOOP’s recommendations for the day, I might add some cardio cross-training (running, elliptical, jump rope, etc.).
My parkour training sessions are around one to three hours, consisting mostly of short spurts of running and jumping with longer rests in between. I also do some climbing and quadrupedal movement. It’s moderate-to-high cardiovascular load, but moderate musculoskeletal load (unless I’m doing especially high impact jumps or a lot of dynamic climbing/swinging). Here’s the culmination of a recent training session:
I occasionally do more traditional sprint and plyometric workouts, as well as interval-type parkour conditioning, like repeating vaults or running a simple routine several times.
I do not compete, so I haven’t needed to optimize my training for that. But I do travel to parkour events where I may want to train three days in a row. WHOOP can help me plan around these intense training periods.
How I Use WHOOP
WHOOP makes daily recommendations on when to go to sleep and how hard to work each day (Strain). I decided to follow its recommendations as closely as possible and see what happens, like an experiment. Otherwise, what’s the point of paying $30/month?
I’ve had it for a full year now. I use my Recovery score every morning to plan any adjustments to the day’s training or recovery plans. I check my Strain several times a day to make sure I’m hitting WHOOP’s target. In the evening I look at Sleep Coach to see what time I should go to bed.
When I have goals or needs that don’t align with WHOOP’s general recommendations, I still use it to help plan.
WHOOP 3.0 Major Features
WHOOP spits out three primary metrics. In the following sections, we’ll take a deep dive into how these work:
- Strain: How much work your cardiovascular system is doing over the course of a day
- Recovery: How ready your body is to take on cardiovascular Strain that day
- Sleep: Snoozing, slumber, shut-eye
Here are screenshots from the WHOOP iPhone app, which is the main way I access my data:
And if you swipe up, you’ll see the following screen below each of the main metrics:
You can also access your data in the browser. I’ll include some screenshots of that later under Other Features.
Strain and Strain Coach
The WHOOP Strain metric measures how much cardiovascular load you’ve put on your body on a 0-21 scale. Zero Strain means you stayed in bed all day. 21 means you ran a marathon or something similar. Day Strain measures the entire day, and Activity Strain measures a single activity (more on that later).
WHOOP does not measure musculoskeletal strain. I’ll discuss the implications of this under More Things I’ve Learned Using WHOOP. But for now, keep in mind that Strain is cardio.
What makes the Strain metric so innovative is that it is cumulative for the whole day. Everything you do gets added in–taking a walk, chores, every kind of workout, even stress (if it raises your heart rate).
That helps you put your workouts in the context of your entire day. If you’ve been standing and moving around all day, and you don’t perform well in your workout that evening, you’ll know exactly why. And you’ll begin to think about how to plan your day so that you can perform better in your training.
Recently I was supposed to take a rest day, but I did chores all day. Lots of going up and down stairs, moving things around, doing laundry. By the end of the day, my Strain score was as high as if I’d trained parkour for two hours. I was exhausted. That day wasn’t very restful.
How does WHOOP measure Strain? WHOOP does not discuss the exact formula, obviously. But the app says Strain is calculated using your heart rate, indexed to your max heart rate. That means it’s individualized and sport-agnostic. If I do the exact same plyometric workout as a beginner, my heart won’t be working as hard as theirs, so I will have a lower Strain score. But if I go for a six-mile run with my brother who does 15-mile obstacle course races, I’ll be working much harder than him, and my Strain score will be higher.
It’s not clear how WHOOP calculates max heart rate. But given that the Strain metric feels accurate and gives me good results, I consider it a good estimate.
Strain measurements fall on a 0-21 scale based on the Borg Scale of perceived strain. The 21 is arbitrary; they could have chosen any numeric scale. Importantly, this scale is logarithmic. This is because they needed to fit people who run an Iron Man on the same 21-point scale as someone who spent the whole day in bed. If they used a linear scale, most of us would be squished between 0-1 every day. So for presentation purposes, they’ve made it logarithmic. This means that if you’re watching your Strain score creep up over the course of a workout, the needle will move more slowly as time goes on. They’ve found the scale tracks well with perceived strain and other physiological factors. For a deep dive on Strain, listen to this episode of the WHOOP podcast.
So far I’ve learned a lot from tracking my Strain score each day. For example, I’ve found that I build Strain faster when I’m sore or have low Recovery. When tired, my muscles and cardiovascular system work harder to do the same movements. Now I’m more mindful of this on rest days.
I also noticed lower-impact activities don’t build Strain as fast as higher-impact activities where your body stays vertical. The heart works really hard while running and doing plyometrics. Conditioning like elliptical or cycling doesn’t get the heart pumping as fast despite breathing hard and feeling the burn in your legs. That’s because it’s easier for the heart to pump blood when you’re not bouncing around or doing horizontal activities like swimming. Lower-impact workouts are great for active recovery days when I want to use my body but don’t want to build too much Strain.
Activity Strain: WHOOP can detect elevated heart rate and automatically add an activity, or you can add it later. WHOOP gives each activity its own separate Strain score on the same 21-point scale. This confused me at first since the numbers don’t add up. Once I understood that it’s a logarithmic scale, it made more sense.
You can also use Strain Coach during workouts. Strain Coach suggests a target for the optimal activity Strain to meet its recommendations for the day. This is how much Strain you need to maintain your fitness. It gives a specific target as well as a huge range. I use Strain Coach mostly when I’m solo training.
For the workout below (a run on a treadmill), I selected an 8.0 Strain target to put me just barely in the optimal zone for the day. Seven minutes in, I reached 6.2 Strain. It took about six more minutes to reach my target of 8.0 (remember, the scale is logarithmic).
Strain Coach shows your current heart rate throughout the workout, as well as your approximate heart rate zone. During parkour and endurance cardio like running, I don’t track my heart rate closely. Instead, I use perceived effort to gauge how hard I’m working.
During interval and plyometric workouts, I want my heart rate to recover somewhat between intervals. By tracking it closely while doing box jumps on the highest setting I can reliably do, I’ve discovered that when my heart rate reaches around 160 bpm I start to make more mistakes. My fast-twitch muscles stop responding as quickly, which makes me more prone to injury if I don’t rest or adjust. I’ve calibrated that heart rate to an approximate level of perceived effort. When I sense my heart rate and breathing escalate to what feels like the 160 mark during my parkour training, I stop and rest.
Whether or not I’m tracking my heart rate closely, I regularly check my Strain score. Each day, WHOOP gives me a Strain recommendation based on my Recovery (see below). The Strain metric has been crucially helpful during group training. Instead of following along with whatever other people are doing (and potentially over- or under-training), I know exactly when to push myself and when to hold back.
I’ve found it difficult to reach a high Strain level (16+). Some people have high Strain every day. That could be normal for them, or a sign that they need more rest. Either way, WHOOP can help you calibrate.
The Recovery metric represents how well-recovered WHOOP thinks your cardiovascular system is, expressed as a percentage. High Recovery (67-100%) means your heart is super ready to go, like a puppy that’s been pent up all day. Moderate Recovery (34-66%) is about average, and low Recovery (0-33%) generally means it’s time for a full rest day.
Recovery is primarily based on your heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate (RHR), and hours/quality of sleep. You probably already know that lots of good sleep and a low RHR are good.
But what’s this HRV thing? HRV (the variation in time between heartbeats, measured in milliseconds) can tell you how well-balanced your nervous system is. High HRV (lots of variation) means both your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are sending out lots of signals. Whatever life throws at you, you’re more ready to go. Low HRV means one of the two is in overdrive. Low HRV means that, generally, your body will be less responsive and adaptive to Strain. WHOOP puts extra emphasis on HRV when calculating Recovery.
(See My Results with WHOOP to see my HRV trends over the last year.)
HRV varies greatly by age and individual. My 7-day average on the day I’m writing this is 41 ms. A younger, fitter athlete may have an average HRV well over 100 ms. Importantly, WHOOP compares your HRV to your recent baseline, rather than to other athletes, when calculating Recovery. Because of that, it needs a few days to calibrate before it spits out official Recovery metrics.
Depending on your Recovery level, WHOOP makes recommendations about how much Strain you should aim for to increase fitness. During high Recovery, WHOOP recommends 14-18+ day Strain. On a low Recovery day, it recommends I keep it under 10. On moderate days, I shoot for something in between.
Does Recovery match how I feel? Often it does not! On the day I started writing this article, for example, I had a slight cold, hadn’t slept enough in several days, and was feeling really distracted–yet WHOOP still scored me at 94% Recovery.
Lots of things affect how I feel, but don’t necessarily dictate my Recovery and whether I should train:
- Mood. Day-to-day variations in mood certainly affect my desire to train, but they don’t have much effect on my Recovery.
- Muscle soreness. Tired muscles do not equate to a tired cardiovascular system.
- Sleep. Lack of sleep the night before does affect Recovery, but HRV is more important!
Before using WHOOP, I was relying on mood, soreness, and sleep to gauge my recovery. I probably had lots of high Recovery days I was missing out on, and overtraining on low Recovery days just because I was in a good mood and not sore.
During workouts, my experience usually tracks well with my Recovery score. That means even if I feel mediocre, I can still perform well on a high Recovery day. Likewise, on a low Recovery day, I usually struggle through the workout, even if I’m feeling great otherwise.
Timing my training correctly has been a huge shift for me. Training according to a scripted weekly program wasn’t working. I had already learned to adjust my scheduled training based on how I felt that day, but WHOOP has given me insight that allows me to shift my training days around to take advantage of high Recovery days.
For example, right now I’m strength training Monday and Friday mornings. If WHOOP shows high Recovery on a Monday, I’m (hopefully) going to make time to get in some conditioning or parkour training later in the day and rest or keep it lighter on Tuesday. If it’s moderate, I may do my normal strength training and then train parkour on Tuesday. If it’s low, I may adjust my strength training and keep it chill the rest of the day.
One amazing benefit of having WHOOP is knowing for certain when I can go all-out. On high Recovery days where I’m in a good mood, not sore, and have slept well, it feels like the stars aligning. I call it “Golden Retriever Mode,” a state of happy, boundless energy. I experience those days more often now that I have WHOOP’s crucial Recovery metric.
A downside of WHOOP is that I’m aware of when I’m missing out on high Recovery days. That can be frustrating. I can’t always rearrange my workouts, because life. All in all, I’d rather have the information than be in the dark. A little frustration is worth the tradeoff for better training days in general.
Sleep and Sleep Coach
I’ve struggled with insomnia my whole adult life, but it’s been particularly bad since I had children. At its worst six years ago, I was averaging maybe 5-6 hours a night for months on end. Over time, I’ve retrained myself to sleep better, but I’d sort of hit a wall. Before WHOOP, I’d still sometimes suffer from insomnia several nights in a row.
That’s changed since I started using WHOOP.
WHOOP’s primary sleep metric is Sleep Performance, the amount of sleep you get vs. the amount you need. Getting enough sleep affects heart rate variability (HRV), which WHOOP uses to estimate your Recovery. In the example below, I only got 86% of the sleep I needed that night.
Each morning, WHOOP asks for user input about what you did the night before, whether you drank caffeine or alcohol, used screens in bed, etc. By collecting that data, it can calculate whether and how much those habits affect your sleep. For example, I’ve learned that sharing my bed decreases my slow-wave sleep (SWS, or deep sleep) by 11%, but that reading a physical book before bed increases my restorative sleep (REM by 15% and slow-wave sleep by 10%).
If you swipe up on the main Sleep Performance screen, you can find the following data:
This is an average week for me. I had some good nights and some mediocre nights. This week, I got 7:16 hours average sleep per night, compared to needing 8:11. Apparently I sleep more than the average WHOOP user! What are you all doing??
You can also see my Sleep Consistency is good. Sleep Consistency is important for maximizing Recovery.
I love the way WHOOP visualizes all this data. For example, when I fall behind on sleep, my sleep debt increases each day. I can see my sleep need trend up as my sleep performance trends down, and it cues me to get back on track. Graphs takes the subjectivity out of my sleep habits. They’re just little dots and bars I can use to make better decisions, not a moral judgment on how “good” I am at sleeping.
How accurate are the WHOOP sleep metrics? WHOOP knows exactly when I fall asleep and get out of bed, due to the very clear changes in heart rate. But can it accurately detect which sleep phase you’re in? Considering it can track how my habits affect the amount of time I spend in various sleep cycles, I’m gonna say yes. WHOOP also uses the last phase of slow-wave sleep (SWS, or deep sleep) to calculate HRV and RHR for your Recovery score. So it better be accurate! Here is one of the independent studies that have validated WHOOP’s data.
WHOOP Sleep Coach tells you when to go to sleep and wake up in order to maximize Sleep Consistency and Recovery. First, it calculates a baseline amount of sleep for each individual. Mine is 7 hours and 24 minutes per night. Then WHOOP calculates how much additional sleep you need based on day Strain and sleep debt. It also takes into account how much time you spend awake in bed. For example, WHOOP knows I spend about 30 minutes awake in bed per night. In the screenshot below, it recommends I go to bed at 10:32 pm if I want to wake up at 7:00 am, for a total of 8:01 sleep.
You can set Sleep Coach to help you peak, perform, or get by. If you select perform or get by, it will suggest shorter sleep durations for you. I keep mine permanently set on peak to give me the best chance of getting to bed on time and having a good day.
More Things I’ve Learned Using WHOOP
Can WHOOP Predict Illness?
I live in Seattle, the first coronavirus hotspot in the United States. The number of Covid-19 cases is increasing exponentially. Due to the long incubation period and our administration’s dangerous complacency, the virus has been spreading undetected throughout the country for weeks.
Can WHOOP can do anything to help during this crisis?
WHOOP may be able to predict or confirm when you’re getting sick. When your system is stressed, you’ll see a drop in your HRV and a resulting low Recovery score (learn more about Recovery). With practice, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what causes low Recovery, from overtraining to drinking to not getting enough sleep. When I see a low Recovery score that doesn’t make sense, it may be a sign my body is trying to fight off illness, even if I haven’t fully gotten sick yet.
A few weeks ago, I had a cold sore. I saw a huge drop in my Recovery score, from 68% to 31%, with no other apparent cause. The next two days, I felt run down and slept additional hours with a higher proportion of restorative sleep. It was really unusual, even for a low Recovery day. I knew something was off, so I rested most of the day.
After day five, my cold sore was pretty much gone, and my Recovery jumped from 30% to 97%. Here’s what that looks like in the WHOOP app:
By resting when I needed it, I may have prevented additional days of illness and reduced their severity.
On March 13, WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed revealed they had learned of their first known user diagnosed with COVID-19. Ahmed shared the person’s Recovery scores in his Instagram story. You can see the dramatic decline in Recovery:
You can see this user had three days of mediocre Recovery followed by an extremely low Recovery score of 7%. According to their Reddit post, they were extra tired Tuesday morning and experienced a sudden onset of symptoms late Tuesday afternoon. In this case, the low Recovery score confirmed (rather than predicted) illness. Only more data can give us a clearer picture of how WHOOP metrics might look during a bout of COVID-19.
Shortly after this user posted their data, WHOOP updated the Journal feature to include an option to track whether you have been diagnosed with COVID-19:
“Our goal is to build a data set around coronavirus,” Ahmed said in his Instagram story. “What does it look before, during, and afterwards? And hopefully, we can share that with the WHOOP population and potentially society at large.” He said the data would be anonymous and de-identified.
Just days before, WHOOP had implemented a policy of requiring their employees to work from home when their recovery is in the Red. They wrote, “A Red Recovery on WHOOP signals that their body is run down. That could mean that they are getting sick… That could also mean that their body is more susceptible to getting sick.” Additionally, they are offering their employees a “Sleep Bonus,” a cash incentive for getting enough sleep.
WHOOP believes in its ability to help predict and prevent illness, and I do too. Here are some of the ways I’m using WHOOP during the COVID-19 outbreak:
- Tracking my COVID-19 diagnosis status in the Journal (negative so far)
- Following daily recommendations from Sleep Coach (read Making Sleep Your No. 1 Priority Can Help Prevent and Overcome Illness)
- Making sure to meet daily Strain recommendations without overtraining (Exercise boosts the immune system, and overtraining may weaken it. Exercise also improves mental health, which everyone can benefit from during a crisis.)
- Observing my Recovery trends, especially Red Recovery days, and resting accordingly
I would not recommend getting WHOOP just for coronavirus, and it’s certainly not a replacement for hand washing, social distancing, and appropriate medical care.
But if you’re a fitness enthusiast looking for one more reason to try WHOOP, this is it. WHOOP may be able to help prevent, confirm, or even predict illness by tracking your Recovery and nudging you to sleep more and better, exercise enough, and take a rest day when you need to.
Personally, I’ll use any advantage I can get right now.
A few weeks ago, a stressful event happened. For the next 5 days, my Recovery gradually tanked from 43% down to 27% despite mostly resting and getting 88% sleep performance. Sometimes exercise can help with stress, so I tried some light training. My body felt like crap. When the anxiety subsided, however, I was able to get back to my normal training. Ten of the next twelve days were high Recovery, which felt amazing after letting my body rest.
Whether stress directly affects HRV/RHR or whether it affects my sleep, stress negatively impacts Recovery. High-stress weeks are generally lower Recovery weeks for me. I’m now much more aware of the effects of stress and how to manage it.
Anxiety and stress also tend to increase heart rate. During a high-stress period last summer, I noticed my resting heart rate increased 10-15 bpm over my normal baseline during flotation therapy. If rest isn’t restful, it increases Strain and decreases Recovery.
Sleep is the #1 way to ensure optimal Recovery. My Recovery score roughly mirrors my Sleep Performance each week. Because sleep takes up about a third of my day, I prioritize sleep above all other recovery activities by following recommendations from Sleep Coach. If I’m not sleeping well, I take a nap or float rather than foam rolling, stretching, or doing yoga. Listen to the WHOOP podcast Naps–Your Greatest Recovery Amplifier or read their article on napping.
From WHOOP I’ve also learned other things I can do to improve Recovery, some learned from tips in the app, and some learned by listening to their podcasts:
- Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day (Sleep Consistency)
- Eat a higher proportion of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
- Follow a consistent eating schedule
- Drink enough water, especially when working out. The heart works harder when you’re dehydrated
- Avoid alcohol, especially drinking a lot of it before bed. WHOOP released an entire podcast explaining the effects of alcohol on your sleep, Recovery, and performance
- Read a physical book before bed
The more consistent you are, the more consistent your Recovery will be. That means you can train and improve more consistently. Learn more about maximizing recovery in this podcast.
I’ve always struggled to add strength training into my schedule without burning out. Using WHOOP has taught me a few things that make it easier.
Strength training has low cardiovascular load and therefore does not build much Strain. On average, an hour-plus lifting workout for me builds 5.8 Activity Strain. I like to add a cardio warm-up and plyometric training or a run after lifting. If I have the time, I might train parkour later in the day.
Remember, WHOOP does not measure musculoskeletal strain. Even if your body feels trashed from yesterday’s lifting session, you can still have high Recovery. That’s not ideal. I usually want to make good use of high Recovery days, and I can’t do that if I’m sore. To limit soreness, I’ve tried to make sure I’m VERY consistent and progressing slowly with strength training. I also make sure to rest the area I want to strength train the day before. If Monday is leg day, no heavy jumping on Sunday!
You thought we were done with features? Hoo boy, we are not! Here are some other great things WHOOP can do.
Weekly Performance Assessment: Every Monday, WHOOP tells you how close you are to its recommendations by plotting your data on some sweet charts. I sometimes get stuck on the daily metrics, so this helps me see my week in context:
Monthly and Yearly Performance Assessments: At the end of 2019, I got a wonderful surprise from WHOOP–a PDF with a full year’s worth of data aggregated and displayed on beautiful graphs! In 2020, WHOOP began releasing Monthly Performance Assessments as well. The Yearly and Monthly Performance Assessments reveal patterns in my Strain, Recovery, and sleep, which help me better plan for the future. (Read more and see screenshots under My Results).
WHOOP Teams: Initially, team features were only available to professional athletes on specific teams. Now anyone can create a team and compare daily Strain, Recovery, and sleep data. I’m not using this feature yet, but I’d be excited to connect with friends.
Calories burned: I don’t use this feature. For a variety of reasons, tracking calories burned or eaten is a fool’s errand. WHOOP has a whole podcast explaining the science of tracking calories, or read their article on the same topic. They don’t claim to have accurate numbers, but they do claim their numbers can reveal trends, e.g. that you burn more calories on high-Strain days and less on low-Strain days.
WHOOP Snap: Take a photo while you’re working out and post it to social media!
WHOOP Live: Take a video while you’re working out and post it to social media! Ok, this feature is actually kind of cool. You can see exactly what your heart rate is at various points in your workout.
Whoop browser app: You can see all your stats in graphic form when you log in via your browser. Here are my daily Recovery scores for the past 6 months:
Here’s a pretty cool graph of Activity and Day Strain over the course of a month. On the right side, you can group your activities by Strain level, sport, or by day. June 2019 was a month of heavy parkour training (“Other”). When I started my strength training program in September, I had more “minimal activities” and fewer “moderate activities.” It’s interesting to see and probably contributes to my HRV leveling off at the end of the year (see My Results below).
Emailing support: I’ve only emailed support a couple of times. Their response time and treatment of my concerns have been adequate.
Journal (NEW FEATURE!): On March 9, WHOOP updated my app with a new feature called Journal. You can log up to 40 different activities (including new sleep behaviors; nutrition and medication factors; recovery activities like massage, CBD use, or flotation therapy; lifestyle behaviors like sex, stress, and cannabis usage; and many more). WHOOP will track how each factor affects your sleep, RHR, HRV, and more, and show you the results on your monthly performance assessments.
It’s a much more robust version of their current behavioral tracking, which presents data like this:
I’ve only had this feature for one day, but I’m looking forward to getting solid evidence on how these different behaviors affect me.
My Results with WHOOP
Results By the Numbers
I’ve been using WHOOP for a full year now, starting at the beginning of March 2019. In February 2019, I sprained my foot severely. It would be several months before I could walk without a limp, but I was able to train lower-impact movements during that time. In summer I trained a lot more parkour in the beautiful Seattle weather. During these initial months, I followed WHOOP’s daily Strain recommendations as closely as possible.
In this graph from my Annual Performance Assessment, you can see my heart rate variability (HRV) clearly rising and resting heart rate (RHR) clearly dropping through the summer. That’s good! It means my cardiovascular system was getting more fit. Read more about HRV under the Recovery section.
In September, I started a strength training program with my friend Cordelia. We lifted three days a week for three months. Before this, I was lifting once or twice a week. While I became much stronger, there was a tradeoff. I didn’t have time to do as much parkour and other cardio training. Plus the program we followed made me pretty sore, which made it difficult to integrate enough cardio training to meet WHOOP’s Strain recommendations some days. You can see the big drop in my HRV and rise in my RHR from September on.
In October, my partner of 10 years and I decided to separate. This was a very stressful period. My sleep was terrible, and I was undertraining. You can see that my Sleep Performance went way down and my Strain scores were lower October through December.
So far, my longest streak of moderate to high Recovery was 86 days. In 2019, I had only 16 low-Recovery days total. And while I don’t have data from before using WHOOP, I’m pretty sure I have far fewer low-recovery days, because my body feels trashed way less often, which means I’m rarely overtraining.
On my Annual Performance Assessment, WHOOP also gave me yearly averages for Strain, Recovery, and sleep compared to other users, as well as averages by the day of the week:
You can see that in 2019, Fridays were my biggest training day. And predictably, my Recovery was lowest on Saturdays.
So far in 2020, my Sleep Performance is back up to 90%. That’s a good start! But my Recovery is all over the map, which makes it hard to train optimally (on top of going through a huge life transition). That means my cardio fitness hasn’t begun to improve again yet. However, both my HRV and RHR are better than when I first started using WHOOP.
I hope to manage my training better this year despite knowing it will be stressful. My main goals are to get better at balancing strength training with cardio, get more/better sleep, and follow daily Strain recommendations to improve HRV and RHR.
Quality of Life
After a few months of training more optimally even with an injury, I could feel that my fitness and energy levels improved. Running and jumping felt easier. I could train parkour (or whatever I felt like) for longer sessions, more days in a row.
Despite being injured much of the year and having a horribly stressful end of 2019, I’ve continued to make strength gains and technical gains. Although my HRV and RHR have leveled off, I experience less burnout and perform better during workouts.
In fact, it’s gotten harder to hit WHOOP’s Strain targets. On a moderate Recovery day, WHOOP might suggest I aim for 12+ Strain. For me, that means I can both strength train and train parkour for a couple of hours–that is, if I have the time. On a high Recovery day, it gets even harder to meet Strain goals.
On a daily basis, WHOOP helps me calibrate how hard to work in order to maximize gains. I’ve gotten better at gauging my activity Strain and overall day Strain, which means I’m spending less time thinking about how to plan my day. I have different daily templates based on what my Recovery says in the morning (which I can adjust based on my training goals or my needs for the day):
- Red means I have permission to sit around all day, skip or seriously modify a workout, and postpone chores that require a lot of activity
- Yellow means workout as normal and pay attention to how much Strain I’m building over the day in case I’m overshooting
- Green means go all out and don’t worry about it!
Lastly, WHOOP has helped break the cycle of insomnia. By following Sleep Coach’s recommendations, I’ve improved my sleep and reduced the number of nights I find myself lying awake. I think this operates through two dimensions:
- Going to bed at the right time. If I have sleep debt and heavy Strain, 10 or 10:30 pm is a normal bedtime. If I have light Strain and I’m well-rested, it’s more like 11 pm. That’s a big difference. Going to bed at the right time means I have higher Sleep Performance and Sleep Consistency. Getting good sleep trains your body to sleep better.
- Prioritizing sleep. Knowing exactly when to go to bed makes it easier to prioritize sleep. I even use Sleep Coach as an excuse to retire early when I’m feeling the pull of staying up late. Coach’s orders, you know? It’s become an important part of my evening ritual. My partner would ask, “What’s Sleep Coach say your bedtime is tonight?” so we can plan around it.
Not to oversell it, but if I’d known that WHOOP could reduce my insomnia, I might have considered paying the $30/month just for that feature.
Design & Convenience
Really? You wear it 24/7? What about real life? In real life, you go swimming and take showers and play impact sports and roughhouse with the kids. In real life, there are other things you may want to put on your wrist. Any of those things could affect the comfort and convenience of wearing WHOOP.
If you need to take the device off during games or other activities, it will affect your total Strain score for the day. As long as you put it back on before bed, it won’t affect your Recovery score the next morning, because Recovery is calculated by measurements taken during sleep. I’ve gotten pretty good at gauging how much Strain I’m taking on, so I don’t worry too much about the missing Strain data.
For impact sports, WHOOP used to sell an upper arm sleeve and a full arm sleeve to protect the device. These are no longer available; I’m not sure if they are out of stock or developing new versions.
For swimming, WHOOP sells the Hydroband, a fast-drying, non-elastic nylon braid, which I have not tried. I’ve worn my ProKnit in the shower and while floating. Afterward, I dry it with a towel. So far I haven’t been too annoyed by it taking a while to fully dry.
Parkour involves a lot of sprinting, jumping, vaulting, and rolling, so I do a fair amount of vigorous arm movement. Sometimes I need to tighten the band, but mostly it stays where it’s supposed to. I wear the device above my wrist bone, so it doesn’t interfere with the way my wrist bends during my workouts.
Due to its design, the device does catch on things and flip over from time to time. A climber friend of mine really has a problem with it, and she’s always adjusting it. The device can slip out of the band and flip over, which means it can’t collect data. I have not personally had a big problem with this, but it’s worth mentioning. I’m not sure why the device is designed this way, because it seems like it would be easy to fix.
I had trouble sleeping the first few nights I had it. I never have anything on my wrist, and it made me very aware. Past those nights, I’ve had no problems.
The ProKnit band and device leave a mark when I switch wrists each morning. I’m not wearing it too tight; my skin is extra sensitive. When I need to expose my completely unblemished wrist first thing in the morning (which I rarely do), I switch the strap over at night.
The black ProKnit band has also faded slightly in the past 9 or so months I’ve been wearing it. I don’t wear it as a fashion piece, so it’s a small annoyance.
Lastly, it is not a watch. At least twice, someone has asked me the time and I’ve found myself glancing at the WHOOP. Silly me. I don’t even like watches. If you need NEED a watch, this ain’t it.
Some people get inaccurate readings, which seriously affect the usability of WHOOP. If you have this problem, you may be able to improve accuracy by moving the strap around on your arm (see WHOOP’s FAQ for more info). I can’t tell you exactly how accurate and precise WHOOP’s measurements are in general–there is not a lot of research on this device.
Bluetooth: My WHOOP 3.0 has been unable to connect to my iPhone several times. The app walked me through troubleshooting. It can take a few minutes to reconnect and sometimes requires me to take the device off my wrist. If I don’t notice it has disconnected, it may fall behind several hours and take a while to catch up once it’s reconnected.
Lag time: Sometimes the cloud takes a while to crunch my data, especially in the morning. Occasionally I’ve had to wait a while to get my Recovery score, which might delay my ability to plan/modify my training for the day. This hasn’t been a huge problem. The only time it affects me is when I need to leave the house and I want to know whether to bring my gym clothes with me.
Sleep detection: WHOOP doesn’t always detect my sleep properly when I don’t sleep next to my phone. If I get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, sometimes it thinks I’m awake for the day. I always check in the morning to make sure my time in bed is correct.
Software and more: WHOOP 3.0 initially needed a few firmware updates. The updates took a while and required me to stay close to my phone, which was not convenient. I can’t say whether the device will need more updates in the future.
The WHOOP server has gone down once or twice in the past year. The longest I had to wait to get back online was a few hours.
WHOOP uses a lot of resources to crunch its data. I’m sure someone can calculate how much the company contributes to global warming. In any event, that’s why it costs $30 a month.
Also please note, I use an iPhone. Android users may have a different experience.
Is all this too much to think about? Am I going to be on my phone all the time? Will I be anxious about trying to train optimally every day?
Yes, there is some additional mental load using the WHOOP Strap. In the first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time in the WHOOP app looking at all the different features and trying to figure out how to use them. WHOOP is not a no-brainer to use. I was already experiencing some level of uncertainty and confusion about my training. I transferred most of that mental energy to figuring out how to use WHOOP to my best advantage. That’s been a much more productive use of my brain.
Conclusion: Is It Worth It?
To get the WHOOP Strap, at minimum you need to invest $30 for a 1-month commitment (or $0 if you use my referral code). Is it worth it? There are a couple of ways I want to approach this question: whether it’s saving me money, and whether it’s worth the value.
Is It Saving Me Money?
It’s hard to say for sure whether it’s saved me money. WHOOP was something of an impulse purchase. Before I bought it, I didn’t spend much time comparing WHOOP to other fitness trackers or other things I could do to improve my training and recovery.
In the short term, I’m not sure what I would have done differently had I not started using WHOOP. Training and recovery fads confuse me, and I’m generally skeptical. But at the same time, I knew I wasn’t training optimally. Would I have picked up yoga? Tried cryotherapy? Wasted a bunch of time with various recovery routines that have a marginal effect? Or would I have done none of these and languished in my training?
I did try an expensive CBD supplement that seemed to be high quality. I didn’t notice any difference in my next-day Recovery Score, so I stopped using it.
I also started flotation therapy. So far floating doesn’t appear to have a direct effect on my Recovery score. But it does have a direct effect on my stress levels and ability to focus. So it may have an indirect, cumulative effect on my Recovery over time.
WHOOP helps me focus on habits I know work. And if I do try new things, I have hard data that can help me figure out whether it’s actually effective.
Over the long term, I hope to avoid chronic overuse injuries and improve my cardiovascular fitness, both things that will save me money on healthcare but which are hard to quantify.
Are the Results Worth the Cost?
My training and recovery now focus on the two things that have the biggest, most obvious effect:
- Timing my workouts (working harder when my body is most ready; taking it easier when not)
If you already sleep well each night, you may or may not find the Sleep features helpful. The Strain recommendations may be most useful to help you time workouts and give you an edge.
If you’re not committed to following (or can’t follow) WHOOP’s Strain and sleep recommendations, then you probably won’t get much out of it. Most of WHOOP’s claims rest on the expectation that you will make improved choices based on their data and recommendations. It’s not a passive treatment like taking a pill; you have to do the work. If you ignore the data, I can’t see how it would be worth the cost.
WHOOP is like having a sixth sense. It gives me certainty and grounding in my training that I didn’t have before. If I stopped using WHOOP, I would lose my sense of confidence that I’m training appropriately. I would go back to guessing my Strain and Recovery, and although I’d be a little better, I wouldn’t know for sure. WHOOP gives me a definitive answer.
Would I pay $30/month for improving my sleep, knowing exactly how hard to train each day, and knowing when to rest? For me, the answer is 100% yes.
And when you consider that (a) it may be preventing overuse injuries, (b) it’s probably saving me from wasting time and money on ineffective fitness and nutrition fads, and (c) it may have even greater long-term effects on my health, then the $360/year price tag seems even more reasonable to me.
I feel good about recommending the WHOOP Strap 3.0 to my friends who are interested in it. With a 30-day return policy, it’s risk-free. Try it for $0 for the first month by using my referral link.
Let me know if you’re on WHOOP! How has your experience been? What have you learned?