Devan van Vliet
WHOOP - is it worth it? (2 years of data)
You may be asking yourself, what is ‘Whoop’? Whoop is a physiological biometrics device – which looks at parameters such as RHR(resting heart rate), HRV(heart rate variability), sleep (REM/Light/SWS) *discussed on Introduction to sleep: The link between athletic performance and sleep, and respiratory rate. This device is essentially the ‘poster boy’ for biometric devices alike (Oura ring, Garmin watches, and so forth) – thus, today’s blog will focus purely on this device (as I have been using it for the last 2 years) and how it has/does impact my athletic performance. Topics that will be talked about include; wearability (comfort, style, reliability, and practicability), accuracy, usefulness, affordability, and my experience (identifying over-training, burnout, and iron deficiency). At the end of the day, athletes are purchasing this product because they believe it will make a difference in their athletic performance outcomes – so the question becomes, does it? Let’s lace up our shoes and take a walk through the realm of biometrics.
No one likes tech that is uncomfortable and prone to skin irritation. I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t like wearing too many pieces of jewellery or ‘things’ around us, especially when we are exercising. What I really like about Whoop is that it is easy to remove and is quite discreet in its appearance (not as bulky as one might think). With that being said, it is also quite light and sometimes you’ll forget that you’re even wearing it. However, if you wear a watch, like I do, you may find it annoying to have two devices wrapped around your wrist. Overall, the adhesive material underneath the interchangeable band allows for minimal movement once the device is on the wrist and can easily be adjusted to fit your wrist – which allows for optimal comfort. Before moving on to style, it’s important to note that the sensor/strap can be washed; however, DO NOT wash the battery pack (easiest way to clean it is in the shower – taking it off and cleaning the sensor and band).
I think most Whoop users can agree that the device is quite comfortable and easy to wear; however, since it doesn’t display the time or serve any other purpose besides tracking a select few physiological parameters, it acts more of a fashion piece – which it appears that Whoop has taken that into consideration. I do appreciate the fact that you can buy different coloured bands and some limited-edition ones, but they come at a cost (not a cheap one at that either). If you can get over the cost of the bands, they are extremely easy to change and come in a wide variety of neutral colours – appealing to the majority of wardrobes. In my opinion, it’s both comfortable and stylish, but that’s not why I purchased the device in the first place. I care about reliability, practicability, and accuracy (which falls under usefulness as well). The portable charging pack is truly a game changer for me, as it allows for continuous use and doesn’t require you to take the band off (which would impact the culmination of consistent data); however, it isn’t waterproof, which is unfortunate – since purchasing a new one isn’t necessarily cheap *see the trend yet?*
In addition to the reliability, it is very practical – withstanding many bumps on the wall, droppings on the floor, and other nonsensical mishaps. If you’re clumsy, don’t worry, it can take a solid beating. Again, it could be the most stylish device and be extremely easy to use, but if it doesn’t produce accurate data and if you can’t interpret the data, it’s a useless device that will slowly eat away at your wallet – which I’m sure would be better suited for new sporting equipment.
Whoop is primarily based off PPG (photoplethysmography) technology – which isn’t all that revolutionary; however, it does provide accurate data (not the most accurate; although, it is practical and accurate enough for what we need), which is why we care. If you flip the device over, you’ll notice green LEDs – which shine light into your skin and the blood within the capillaries absorb the light, reflecting the light that isn’t absorbed. The light that isn’t absorbed by haemoglobin is picked up by the sensor on the device (photodiode *located between the LEDs). Keeping it simple, the device observes the changes in blow flow from each pulse and calculates your HR and HRV. Essentially, when your heart beats (expanding and contracting), blood fills the left ventricle – increasing blood pressure, forcing blood into the arteries of the body, causing them to swell slightly before returning back to their original state. This increased pulse will cause a difference in the amount of light reflected back to the photodiode.
The other component of the device is the accelerometer, which measures motion. Whoop claims that in conjunction with the LEDs, their proprietary algorithm tracks the different stages of sleep. According to the University of Arizona, Whoop offers a “highly accurate commercially available wearable for measuring sleep staging” (Whoop, 2021). Based off the research done and the investment in which the company has put into the device, I am convinced that it is accurate enough to provide insightful data that you can rely on.
I think it’s safe to say that data is useless if you aren’t able to interpret it and act of the feedback provided. Similar to constructive feedback given in our daily lives – if you don’t change your habits, you won’t be addressing the issue that has been identified. I believe the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result (let’s avoid that). The great thing about Whoop is that it will give you 24/7 data about yourself (feedback) and it’s up to you to make the necessary changes to optimise your athletic performance (and general health). Before we dive into the nitty gritty of usefulness, it’s important to take daily data into consideration, but take it with a grain of salt – pay more attention to the weekly/monthly trends. Your HRV/HR/strain/readiness scores over time will give you an indication of physical/mental burnout or underlying health concerns, etc. Once you start using Whoop, give it some time to accumulate data, as it will become more accurate/useful over-time - establishing a baseline that is personalised (your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate *the number of breaths you take per minute). Once this is established, Whoop will give you a daily readiness score (day strain), which is calculated based off their proprietary algorithm (factors in sleep, RHR, and HRV). They say that the higher the HRV, the healthier the heart (commonly associated with heart health) – multiple studies have shown an association between lower morbidity rates and higher HRV values. Look, it’s important that you understand there is a large genetic component to it (as well as your resting heart rate). For example, my resting heart rate is 32-33 BPM when I am well rested; this is LOW, but low RHR runs in my family and this is MY normal. Healthy resting heart rates range from mid 30s to 70+. To give you an idea on what is considered ‘good’, you’d be looking for a RHR near your normal, higher HRV values, and a near 100% sleep score (based off consistency *similar bed times for consecutive days and a sufficient amount of time spent in SWS and REM) – this will give you a high readiness score and you’ll be primed to take on a hard race/hard session.
Keeping it as simple as I can, to optimise your athletic performance and for optimal general health, you need to focus on these components:
Getting your RHR near your baseline (keeping on top of your hydration, eating a healthy diet, and taking your recovery seriously *sitting/laying down when possible, and engaging in different forms of recovery)
Hitting consistent (wake up around the same time and go to bed around the same time *plus/minus 15 minutes) sleep that is composed of high REM/SWS *engage in proper sleep routines – reading a book, eliminating blue light/tech 1-2hrs before bed, eating 3hrs before bed, 10-15 minutes of meditation, etc.
Don’t stress about daily scores (if you have an off day) – look at your weekly trends and then assess whether you’re putting on too much strain (workouts are too hard/too easy if you’re always in the green). The goal is to remain in the yellow (slightly elevated RHR because your body has been under strain *heavy training block)
Pay attention to consecutive days in the ‘red’ – you may be sick, over-training *not enough days of easy recovery/rest, starting to become deficient (work alongside your doctor for quarterly blood tests *ensuring you’re not deficient in iron, etc.)
Make sure your respiratory rate doesn’t fluctuate too much from your baseline (increased respiratory rate is often an indication of illness, fever, or underlining medical condition)
*It’s important to note that you’re RHR will likely never be at baseline during a block of training and you’re likely experience predominantly ‘yellow’ days alongside some ‘red’ – with green being harder to achieve if you’re in the thick of training.
I could seriously talk a lot about how to get the most out of Whoop; however, this blog would be more of an e-book if I did! Look out for separate blogs that address different physiological parameters. Overall, Whoop is EXTREMELY useful and I urge any competitive athlete to give it a chance, as it has enabled me to take my training to the next level – teaching me when to back off, push a bit harder, and when to visit my doctor *helped me identify an iron deficiency.
Typically speaking, when you purchase a piece of tech, it’s a one-off purchase… which most of us prefer – allowing us to limit our monthly expenses, because who likes more monthly bills? Not me, that’s for sure. That’s the catch with Whoop. They offer a membership program, starting at $44 USD per month, 12 month membership at $32 USD per month ($384 to begin), and $24 per month for 18 months ($432 to begin). It’s not cheap; however, it provides insightful data that is both useful and can certainly help with adjusting workouts and getting the most out of your athletic journey – whether that is cycling, running, swimming, triathlon, and so forth. I would say that it isn’t necessary whatsoever; it can be seen as the ‘cherry’ on top – after you dial in your nutrition, structured training, and supplementation.