"Train hard, recover harder" has become a mantra among fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes alike in recent years and the demand for foam rollers, massage guns, compression gear, ice baths, meditation apps, blue light glasses, and mobility programs has exploded. But which of those things are worth the time and money?
The Whoop Strap is a small computer with a PPG-heart rate sensor that you wear on your wrist that tracks metrics related to your recovery and training load 24/7 such as heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate. The strap analyzes these metrics alongside the quality of your sleep - the amount of mentally restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and physically restorative slow wave sleep (deep sleep) you're getting compared to the time that you're in minimally beneficial light sleep or awake - and gives you a 'Recovery score' between 0 and 100% based on where you are in relation to your baseline.
Whoop Strap 3.0 Details
• 5 days of battery with a 60-minute charge
• On wrist charging
• Water-resistant spec to IP68, fine for swimming
• Stores up to three days of data
• Metal frame, plastic body
• 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, and PPG-heart rate sensor
• Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) compatible
• Colors: 14+
• Weight: 0.64 ounces / 18.14 grams
• MSRP: $30 USD monthly
It then gives you a recommendation for how much strain your body can handle on any given day and records a 'Strain Score' out of 21 for each day that denotes how hard you've exerted yourself. A light walk might be a 3 on the strain scale, while a hard all-day mountain bike ride would likely get you up to 19 or 20 on the scale. If you slept soundly and have a 70% recovery, Whoop might suggest that you build up to a 15 strain for an optimal balance of strain and recovery. If you had a couple too many drinks and stayed up late and your Recovery score is only 31%, Whoop would suggest that you take it easy that day and only build up to a 7 strain for the day. Your strain is based on your max heart rate and the duration of the activity.
Unlike competitors Garmin, Suunto, Fitbit, or Apple Watch, you don't need to pay for the hardware up front. Instead, you pay a monthly fee for the product, which ranges from $18 USD per month if you commit to 18 months, or $30 USD if you pay monthly, and the hardware comes with the membership. The wearable doesn't work without the membership since the hardware needs to connect to the analytics software via Bluetooth in order to give you recommendations for how much sleep to get and how much training load you should be able to sustain on a given day.
If you're curious about the impact of something like stretching, hydration, alcohol, caffeine, eating vegetarian, light exposure, or having a sauna are on your Recovery score, you can choose to log those specific behaviours in the 'Journal' and your Monthly Performance Assessment will analyze your Recovery scores from each day. For example, if you want to know whether having caffeine after a certain time affects your sleep, you would select to track that in the journal, and then every morning you would record what time you had your last coffee in the app. At the end of the month, Whoop's analytics will let you know whether your recovery score is impacted by what time of day you consume caffeine.
While the main target is undoubtedly fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes, Whoop is really about looking at yourself as a a high performance machine from every angle and the company has done research with elite knowledge workers like CEOs and professors who want an extra cognitive or psychological edge over others in addition to athletes.Getting Started
Whoop sends you the strap and charger in the mail when you subscribe to a membership online, and from there it is easy to adjust it to your wrist and connect it to your phone through the Whoop app. Whoop says that you should wear the strap just behind your wrist bone for the most accurate reading and suggests the left arm for right-handed people.
You immediately get readings after your first sleep, but the strap will be calibrating to your body to learn its baseline metrics for the first four days you wear it. After four days, you receive your first Recovery score which is the personalized measure of how ready you are to take on Strain. If you're between 67 and 100%, your score will be green, if you're between 34 and 66%, your score will be yellow, and if you're between 0 and 33%, your score will be red. After five days, the Strain Coach feature is unlocked and will give you suggestions for how much training load you can sustain that day based on your recovery.
The strap calibrates to your body as it learns its baseline metrics and then gives you personalized recommendations.
You can track what the app recommended you do and how much training you actually did.
It's a good feeling to be "in the green" and not as great of a feeling to be "in the red."
After seven days, Whoop begins to give you recommendations for what time you should go to sleep and wake up since consistent sleep times have been proven to improve the quality of your sleep.
After 14 days, you get your first Weekly Performance Assessment which is a weekly breakdown of your last 7 days of data. After 30 days, you get your first Monthly Performance Assessment in your app, which goes into detail on the habits that you are tracking.
Using the Whoop Strap
Just one of the 12 pages of data that are available in the Monthly Performance Assessment.
Unlike a bulky sports watch, the Whoop Strap is extremely low-profile and it's easy to forget that you're wearing it. It's also much more discreet than traditional sports watches if you want to wear it out to dinner or during a meeting. Its small size also means that the heart rate data is more accurate than an ill-fitting watch, especially for people with smaller wrists, because the heart rate sensor is always close to your skin. After six months, I still find it hard to unlock the clasp and I generally pull it on and off over my hand unless I have a pointy object at hand to pry the clasp open, but otherwise, I find it very comfortable and easy to use.
One feature that is excellent is that you can charge the watch while it's still on your wrist. The app will give you a notification when the strap is below 20% battery life, after about five days, and then you simply slide the charger on top of the watch and go about your day while the watch charges back up.
While the device isn't waterproof when it is charging, it's otherwise quite bombproof and you can wear it in the sauna, swimming, in the cold, and on muddy bike rides. You can also take the strap off the sensor and throw it in the washing machine when it gets dirty, or swap it out for another since Whoop offers about 900 different coloured straps. Of course, I chose the oil slick option.
You can either track your activities by pressing "Start" and "Stop" in the app, or you can let the app auto-detect your activities. The strap itself does not have a GPS in it, but if you start and stop your activities when you head out manually, you can enable your phone's GPS to track the distance. If you let the app auto-detect your activity, it will only record your heart rate data and not your route. If you choose, you can pull your Whoop data into Training Peaks, Strava and Equinox+.
The auto-detect option is impressively accurate, and most of the time the app can figure out whether I went on a mountain bike ride, a run or a hike just based on my heart rate data. If it's uncertain, it will just log "Activity" in the app. Occasionally, I have had it register an activity with a higher score than accurate (for example, an easy walk with a 15 score when those are usually 4-6), but for the most part, I've been impressed with its ability to record and then analyze my heart rate data to determine what activity I just completed.
When I compared the average heart rate from my Whoop strap with my Garmin computer and a heart rate strap, I found it to be within a couple beats per minute most of the time, although the Whoop strap takes a second longer to adjust when you adjust your intensity.
The strap analyzes the quality of your sleep - the amount of mentally restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and physically restorative slow wave sleep (deep sleep) you're getting compared to the time that you're in minimally beneficial light sleep or awake. After seven days, Whoop begins to give you recommendations for what time you should go to sleep and wake up since consistent sleep times have been proven to improve the quality of your sleep.
As for tracking sleep, I initially would press the "Start" and "Stop" options for that, but I found it ironic to have to press a button on my phone to use a device that is supposed to help me learn to sleep better, so I started just letting the app figure out what time I went to sleep and what time I woke up. With this, I've found it best to leave the app open in the background when you go to sleep so that it doesn't take too long to analyze the sleep and calculate your recovery score in the morning. Occasionally, the app will think I woke up earlier than I did or went to bed later than I did, but you can adjust the sleep time retroactively if it detects it incorrectly and overall I found the Recovery scores to accurately reflect how my body was feeling the majority of the time.
I also find it interesting to delve into how much deep sleep I get each night compared to how much REM sleep and at what time of night each phase of sleep occurs. If you want to nerd out about sleep, I highly recommend this podcast
with Dr. Matthew Walker and his book "Why We Sleep." Whoop told me that you should aim to have half of your total sleep in REM and deep sleep phases.
While I initially used the Journal feature extensively, I found it time-consuming to track a whole bunch of different categories or too difficult to quantify and so I have streamlined the categories that I track. I think the Journal feature is one of the most interesting things about the Whoop Strap however since it makes me more aware of the things I do each day and how each behaviour impacts my sleep and recovery scores. One thing that I got really interested in thanks to the Whoop Strap is cycle tracking and how hormones affect you differently at different parts of the month. If you are a woman or have any female athletes in your life, I highly recommend reading Roar by Dr. Stacy Sims.
I think the Journal feature is one of the most interesting things about the Whoop Strap however since it makes me more aware of the things I do each day and how each behaviour impacts my sleep and recovery scores.
While the strap might start to give you Recovery scores, sleep recommendations, and strain recommendations early on, I found that the Whoop Strap gets better with time. At first, its recommendations for sleep were on the low side and it would recommend that I get less sleep than I was actually getting. Over time, it started to give me more accurate sleep recommendations.
I also had a glitch with my heart rate data early on, where the strap measured my heart rate at 193 beats per minute. Since my maximum heart rate is closer to 180, that wasn't an accurate high heart rate and so all of my Strain scores were on the low side. I spoke with a Whoop representative, and they were able to lower that artificially high heart rate in my profile so that all of my Strain scores were more representative of how hard I was working. Whoop said that any member is able to chat with a Whoop agent and get that score changed and also that the Day Strain is independent of the Recovery score. That means that even if you just wear the strap to sleep and don't wear it during the day, you should still get an accurate Recovery score.
The wearable also works better for cardio-based workouts than strength workouts I found. Since your heart rate is very low during a strength workout and bounces around a lot, the Strain score usually registers quite low compared to the perceived effort. If you try to get into the optimal strain score on a day that includes a strength workout, I found I would usually end up overdoing it and spend a couple of days in the yellow.
Another limitation I found was that the device only stores three days of data. Therefore, when I headed out for a long weekend out of cell phone service, I lost a day of data and lost my data streak. Not a big deal, but something to consider.
Something that is both a good thing and a limitation is that the strap doesn't have a GPS in it. That means that it relies on your phone's GPS to record your ride, run or other activity distance, and if you leave your phone at home, you'll only get the heart rate data unless you bring another device with you like a Garmin or Wahoo computer to track your ride's elevation, distance, and route. The plus side of not having a GPS in the device is that the battery life is much, much better than your average sports watch or cycling computer. Whoop said that they elected not to have a screen on the strap to improve that battery life as well.
Small, comfortable and discreet+
Great battery life, charges on wrist+
Robust app and analytics+
You get to know what helps and hinders your performance
No integrated GPS-
Only stores 3 days of data