Are you a data junkie? Want to know how your body is responding under the strain of training? Are you getting enough sleep to promote recovery? Is your body primed for that race or challenging ride? WHOOP combines its fitness strap with a mobile app (iOS and Android) to provide real-time daily personalized fitness, sleep, and recovery data to let you optimally train.
The company set me up with their 3.0 strap, battery pack, and access to the app. I’ve been wearing the strap and recording data for over two months. The data that it’s analyzing and the resulting information have been eye-opening.
For example, at the beginning of July, I went over the bars while mountain biking and sustained a mild concussion. I monitored how the concussion altered my sleep, heart rate, HRV, respiratory rate, recovery, and more. I saw an elevation in my resting heart, HRV, and respiratory rates as my body worked hard to heal itself. As my body started to return to normal, those values returned to their pre-concussion levels. But it was a full two weeks before I saw an improvement which convinced me to take it easy so my body could repair. Well, also the fact that I was nauseous most of the time, too.
WHOOP will autodetect activity with the increase in heart rate for more than 15 minutes. Or you can use the app to start/stop a workout. The strap has an autodetection feature that can determine the type of activity without using the app. It is extremely precise, and it automatically knew I was cycling, swimming, or running. However, it didn’t detect hiking.
Monthly Reports and Comparisons
The value of the WHOOP data comes from the Monthly Performance Assessment. The graphical nature of the report helps to understand and interpret your data. Below are samples from my report. Note, I did remove the strap for a couple of days in June.
Sleep Analysis – This chart looks at the hours of sleep you have versus the amount needed and sleep quality. Restorative sleep combines REM sleep (rapid eye movement) and slow wave sleep (SWS, or deep sleep).
Sleep consistency, the time you go to bed and wake up, has been linked to circadian rhythm. If it isn’t consistent, you experience less REM sleep.
Training Breakdown – These charts break down cardiovascular load by strain and time in heart rate zones across different sports or activities. The chart below is just a sample of the detail in the monthly reports.
Heatmaps – Another section of the MPA is strain, recovery, and sleep performance heatmaps that provide an overview of how you are trending throughout the year. The darker the color of the strain boxes, the higher the strain for that day.
Journal Analysis – WHOOP lets you customize key behaviors during the last 24 hours that help analyze trends that impact recovery and sleep. Every morning over breakfast, I’d open the app and answer a few questions I selected during the initial setup (can always modify). Did I sleep with a cat in the room, was I fully hydrated, did I eat close to bedtime, seasonal allergies, level of stress, along with a few others. There’s also a free form field to add notes like when I crashed on my MTB, had a stressful day, details on a workout, etc.
Training Behavior – These charts show how I balanced strain and recovery (top) and how my cardiovascular fitness (bottom) responded to that training. Ideally, it should be six months of data, but I wore the strap for only two months. The gray line shows the difference between my optimal and actual strain, with higher values indicating periods of overreaching and lower values indicating restorative periods. Sustained periods of overreaching or restoring are highlighted in red and blue, respectively.
The company’s blog, also known as The Locker, is one of the best resources of information I’ve seen. It’s divided into different categories, one being how quality sleep is essential to recovery. I have often shared links to the blog posts in my women’s cycling Facebook group.
Other posts include information on Tour de France riders from EF Education – NIPPO Pro Cycling who wore a WHOOP strap during the race. See how hard the stages are in this blog post. Compare that data to Lachlan Morton’s Alt Tour. He also was wearing a WHOOP strap.
WHOOP’s Focus on Women
The folks at WHOOP are also looking at male vs. female athletes. Like Dr. Stacy Sims says, “women are not small men.” Listen to a recent podcast with Dr. Sims as she talks about the nutritional differences between men and women.
The WHOOP app provides sleep coaching recommendations based on the physiological changes experienced during the menstrual cycle. Circadian rhythm and sleep stages are both impacted by a menstrual cycle.
WHOOP Teams and Communities
Within the WHOOP app, you can create or join teams to stay connected and motivated. Teams can be with people you know or with other WHOOP users.
Integration with Third-Party apps
WHOOP integrates with Strava and TrainingPeaks, automatically uploading the data.
With All the Positives WHOOP Offers, There are a Few Downsides
With all the robust data WHOOP provides, there are some downsides. Since I already wear a fitness watch on my left wrist, I wore the WHOOP on my right wrist for two months. It was a bit of a conundrum. If I wore just the WHOOP, I didn’t know what time it was, nor could I use it to broadcast my heart rate to my Garmin Edge 1030 Plus cycling computer.
The company intentionally didn’t incorporate a watch face into the strap because they wanted it to maintain a low profile. Also, they didn’t want notifications you see with smartwatches to distract the user. As far as HR broadcasting, the WHOOP 3.0 strap does HR broadcast to several other devices, including Peloton, Strava App, Zwift, Wahoo ELEMNT, Garmin Fenix 5, Trainer Road App, and a few others.
The WHOOP strap is just another electronic to keep charged. The company states battery life to last five days, but I found it was usually four days, depending on my activity level. To charge the strap, slide the charging unit on the wristband and go about your business. The charger is not waterproof, so don’t jump in the shower with it on like I almost did.
To charge, slide the battery pack slides over the strap.
WHOOP automatically detects activity, but if your heart rate returns to normal for 15 minutes, the system thinks you’ve completed the workout. For example, if I have a rest stop during a ride longer than 15 minutes, WHOOP breaks the activity into two rides. To avoid this from happening, you can start and stop activity within the WHOOP app. Now then, I have to remember to start the WHOOP app and my cycling computer. Just too many electronics.
Another monthly subscription. WHOOP costs $30/month with a minimum of a six-month commitment (hardware included). I agree with the six-month minimum because it takes a few months of data recording to see trends. I got more out of the WHOOP data my second month than the first part because I started to understand what all the numbers meant.
That brings me to another concern. Being in the media, I received a 1×1 training, including a review of my data. Without this ‘hand-holding,’ I wouldn’t have interpreted the data as well as I should. WHOOP does offer members additional training, but there isn’t a standard onboarding process that I’m aware of today.
A WHOOP subscription costs $30/month with a six-month commitment which includes the 3.0 strap. For a reduced price, there’s a one-year option @ $288 ($24/month), paid upfront, or an 18-month option for $324 ($18/month). Additional wrist or arm bands are available for purchase so you can match your style or outfit.
Additional WHOOP battery packs are available for $30 each. I was in the habit of recharging the battery pack after I charged my strap. That way, I knew there was always a fully charged battery pack available when my strap was running low.
I found the data my WHOOP strap provided informative, enlightening, and valuable. But I can’t help but think I wasn’t using all that information to its full extent. If I worked with a coach or trainer, they could leverage the data to help develop a more personalized training program for me.
WHOOP version 4.0 will be released Sept 27, 2021.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.