Fitness trackers are a dime a dozen these days – whether it’s the old school analog pedometer that’s been around counting steps since forever, to the high tech multi-tasking Apple Watch, Garmin Fenix 3, Suunto Spartan or the paddle specific NK Speedcoach. I love my Fenix, and I cannot imagine life without the data I get from that device on a daily basis. So why on earth would I need or even be interested in another strap? Aside from the fact that I am a gear girl, of course.
The Whoop is different. It is not designed to count steps. It won’t interface with my phone and transmit notices of incoming emails, texts or Facebook status updates. And it won’t tell me the weather. It won’t even give me a stroke count.
So WHY would I need another device on my wrist?
Hello, my name is Lisa and I have a sleep hygiene issue.
Over the years, especially with the advent of all manner of high definition devices, streaming, audio on demand (“Alexa, turn on my favorite radio station!”) I have developed the awful habits of a) watching a screen right before bedtime and b) leaving some form of audio on all night. Usually it’s NPR or the BBC, but it is still hampering my sleep. During this off-season, I have been working to improve my sleep habits – to clean things up. Going to bed earlier, reading PAPER books before bedtime instead of an e-book or web content. And falling asleep to a meditation mp3 that turns off, instead of listening to cricket scores or the latest from Number 1o Downing Street all freaking night long.
Why do I want to break these habits? Well, all manner of studies seem to indicate that rest, quality rest, is key to so many different things – not the least of which is recovery and your body’s ability to ward off illness. In fact, here’s what the National Institute of Heart, Lung and Blood Health, a part of the National Institutes for Health, says about sleep:
“Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.”
I am more acutely aware of these issues after losing my dad to heart disease – he operated on a sleep deficit for years, both before and after my mom’s Alzheimer’s night wanderings kept him up. He was a night time radio listener too. And um, hello…Carrie Fisher! She was only 7 years older than me, and her recent death is a stark reminder that heart disease kills more women than any other ailment.
But there are plenty of other reasons too. Sleep improves learning. Lack of sleep hinders performance throughout the day.
The list goes on.
I need to clean up my act.
Whoop It Up
And that’s where this new tracker comes in.
The Whoop is all about sleep, recovery and how daily activity as well as workouts can be effected by your sleep performance.
Yes, my Garmin can track my sleep. And it can give me a basic number of hours I need for recovery after a given workout. But what it won’t do is calculate how much sleep I need to either just get by during my next training session, or perform well, or even peak. The Whoop, after collecting enough baseline data can do that. It can also give me a percentage of recovery after a night’s sleep, based on how well I rested (how much light vs. REM sleep did I get in conjunction with my levels of activity the previous day.)
For instance, yesterday was a low -key day, as I am fighting off a cold. I got to bed early and got 100 percent of the recommended hours/minutes of sleep needed to “perform” today, assuming I am going to do a work out. According to Whoop, I needed at least 7:23 hours of sleep in order to perform today. I got 7:47. My recovery level is at 82 percent – or in the green. Recovery is color coded so you know how the percentages stack up: 0-33% recovery is red and a no-go; 34-66% recovery is yellow, which means recovery is sufficient enough for moderate activity; 67-100% is green – go after it!
Heck, this gadget will even suggest you can improve the situation by taking a nap! Who wouldn’t want that????
Recovery is calculated by looking at the heart rate activity during sleep, as well as the quality of the sleep (how many disturbances were there as evidenced by spikes in heart rate activity.) Heart rate activity includes resting heart rate and something Whoop calls Heart Rate Variability. According to Whoop, HRV “is a measure of the difference between heart beats, and is captured during your last period of Slow Wave Sleep each night. HRV is an indicator of the health of your autonomic nervous system, and a trending increase in HRV leads to a stronger Recovery.”
Measuring HRV and the way that measurement is plugged into the tracker’s data algorithms is what makes this fitness tracker unique.
And it’s caught the eye of lots of folks in the professional sports world – the NBA in particular. Word has it that the league is considering forming a committee to look at the use of “wearables” after many pro players started using the Whoop – at least according to ESPN. The NCAA is using Whoop data, and olympic swimmers used it in Rio as well. They report that the data received from the Whoop strap helped them sleep more, reduced injuries because of lack of sleep or poor recovery and they performed better over all.
Now, let’s keep in mind that it’s not the tracker itself that is going to make you better – it’s all in what you do with the data you get.
Pros and Cons
The Whoop Strap doesn’t operate independently though. Unlike my Fenix, I can’t see data on the device itself. That makes what’s on my wrist very minimal in comparison to my big Fenix watch. That means I don’t really mind wearing another device on my other arm – it’s so low profile. The strap itself is just a cloth bit of elastic which holds the Whoop device in place. Snug so that it gets a good, accurate wrist HR read. That’s one thing I like about the unit. However, the strap is so minimal that sometimes the unit gets twisted around it. That is a bit annoying.
The device stores and then transmits the data to the Whoop app which you much download to your phone. They communicate via Bluetooth.
Here are some other things I like so far about using Whoop:
- The Sleep Coach Function helps me see how much sleep I need on a given night, based on what I plan to do the following day. I can plug in when I need to wake up and then it tells me how much sleep I need and when I need to go to bed. I wish the app would communicate with the alarm function on my iPhone so that I could set a reminder of when I need to get to bed. That would be handy.
- The sleep read-outs tell me at a glance how my night’ sleep compared to the average of the last two weeks. I can see if I am doing better or worse when it comes to hours slept, my HRV rate, my resting heart rate and disturbances during the night. In other words, I now know that turning off the BBC at night has resulted in fewer disturbances during my sleep cycles.
- Each morning, after you stop your sleep tracking on the app, you are asked several questions, like “did you have an alcoholic beverage/caffeine within two hours of going to bed?” or “Did you look at any screens within two hours of bedtime” etc. That figures into the equation and affects your sleep and recovery. So, that is a motivator to drink less coffee or pick up a real book instead of the iPad. And for me, it’s working.
- Day Strain Scores: throughout the course of a regular day, I can see how my usually activity is affecting my calories burned and my ability to be fully recovered. So, that Day after Christmas shift at the store really was as much of a workout as it felt!
- I can charge it without having to take it off my wrist. The charging battery pack slips on over the main unit for on the go charging. Just be sure to keep the pack charged up via USB cable and you’re good. Unlike the Whoop itself, which IS waterproof, the battery pack is not. Take it off before a paddle or a swim!
Some things that are a bit irritating about the Whoop at this point. If I want to track a specific activity, which you can do with the device, I have to have my phone in order to start and stop the activity. There is a manual way to add the activity, and I admit I haven’t tried that yet. Not sure if all the data from the wrist is captured when you do that or not. And I do wish there was more integration, as mentioned, with the other functions of the iPhone, as well as other apps like My Fitness Pal, Strava, etc. Perhaps that will be forthcoming. Oh, and right now, it only functions with the iPhone. Android app is coming soon.
Pricey, very pricey
Probably the biggest impediment to using this device is the price. It is super expensive at $500. At that price, I would expect more of that integration, and maybe a little more finesse when it comes to the strap. I don’t see this becoming a mainstream thing like the FitBit when the price tag is that high, even if it is, as the blog Well + Good calls it, the world’s smartest wearable yet.
Since paddle season training is about to ramp up this week, it will be very interesting to see how workouts that are going to be more intense will affect the data coming in off the Whoop. And we’ll be able to better gauge if this is as effective a training tool as I think it will be when I can see how good sleep and good cardio are impacting each other. If things continue to go as they have been so far, I expect this will be a very useful tool in protecting me against my perennial nemesis – overtraining!
- WHOOP Strap 2.0 (Ships with Black/White Nanostretch Band)
- Battery Pack
- Mini-USB Cable
- Travel Puck
- 1 Year Warranty
- 5 Key Measurements: Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Ambient Temperature, Motion via 3-Axis Accelerometer, and On/Off Wrist Detection via Capacitive Touch Sensor
- Auto-Detection of Sleep and Activities
- Strain, Sleep, and Recovery Analysis
- Access to WHOOP Mobile and Web App, included with purchase
- Always On for continuous wear utilizing unique on-wrist charging system
- Battery Life: 36 hours for typical use
- Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
- On Strap Data Storage of 3 days