Keeping track of your fitness and wellbeing is becoming increasingly structured and less periodic thanks to the availability of wearable devices that can monitor important fitness and health metrics 24/7.
The latest WHOOP 4.0 band is designed to help you track the impact of your training activity, along with your recovery and sleep, in order to identify actions that will help you maintain and improve your fitness.
It’s used by many athletes, including the EF Education–EasyPost pro cycling team, to track recovery, sleep and health metrics. This, in turn, helps inform how one should train on a given day.
What is WHOOP?
WHOOP is a fitness coaching system that captures data on your physical condition using the WHOOP 4.0 band, a non-invasive monitoring device you wear on your wrist 24/7.
Working alongside the WHOOP app, the system analyses your personal data to provide information in three areas that form the three pillars of WHOOP’s service: Strain, Recovery and Sleep.
WHOOP assesses your strain level based on the activity you’ve undertaken that day. It also identifies your recovery status to assess your readiness to train, and tracks your sleep, which in itself is a vital part of the recovery process. We’ll talk about these metrics in more detail a little later.
According to WHOOP: “You can only manage what you measure – WHOOP helps you to understand the decisions that you have to make today, so that you can be the best possible version of yourself tomorrow.”
WHOOP says it acts as a “personalised digital fitness and health coach” by telling you what you can and should do to maintain and improve your performance.
The WHOOP 4.0 band isn’t a GPS watch. WHOOP says it’s designed to give you different data from a cycling watch or bike computer, as it’s monitoring your fitness and activity all day, off the bike as well as on, and providing structured feedback and recommendations.
How does WHOOP work?
Optical sensors in the WHOOP 4.0 band continually record your heart rate, heart rate variation, blood oxygenation, breathing rate and skin temperature.
That data is transmitted to the WHOOP smartphone app, where it’s analysed and all the data correlated to give you information on your fitness, provide insight on your performance and give you feedback you can use to periodise your exercise and improve your performance.
You don’t have to keep WHOOP 4.0 on your wrist either, because the company sells a range of smart apparel, known as WHOOP Body, enabling you to wear the device on multiple placements across your body, as well as offering a bicep band for your upper arm.
What does WHOOP measure?
As mentioned above, WHOOP uses the data it collects to give you information about a wide range of factors that can affect your fitness and performance, which it organises into three pillars: ‘Strain’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘Sleep’.
First up, WHOOP will give you an assessment of your strain. At its core, strain is a measure of cardiovascular load placed on your body during an individual activity or over the course of a day.
Strain is calculated based on the amount of time you spend in your heart rate zones. As the heart rate percentile range increases, so does the impact it will have on your strain score, so a one-hour interval session will, for example, carry greater weight than walking for one hour. Strain is also personalised to account for an individual’s fitness, with the score then weighted accordingly.
It’s not just workouts, with things like anxiety, work and parenting all affecting your strain score, which the app assesses on a scale from zero to 21.
WHOOP will automatically detect your activities each day and gives you a weekly activity report with a readout of your strain by day, as well as a plot of your average heart rate and an estimate of the calories burned.
WHOOP also includes a ‘Strain Coach’, which recommends a target exercise load for the day based on your recovery and lets you monitor whether your level of activity during the day is achieving your target strain level.
The goal of the Strain Coach is to help you train in tune with your body, knowing when to push and when to rest, helping you to avoid overtraining.
The second pillar of WHOOP’s service is its assessment of your recovery status. It’s a personalised measure of your body’s capacity to take on activity, based on four metrics: heart rate variability, resting heart rate, respiratory rate and sleep.
WHOOP analyses your recovery status on a scale from 0 to 100% and categorises these values with a traffic-light system into three bands.
If your recovery score is between 0 and 33%, it’s rated red and WHOOP will suggest you aim to have a rest day. A yellow recovery score in the range from 34% to 66% suggests you’re ready for a moderate amount of activity, while a green recovery score of above 67% means that you’re ready for a day of peak performance.
WHOOP’s third pillar is its monitoring and analysis of your sleep, including quality, quantity and consistency.
Sleep is one of the most important components of recovery, when your body resets ready for the next day. Good-quality sleep improves recovery, fitness and wellbeing.
WHOOP assesses the sleep you need and compares that with your actual sleep ‘performance’ each night, giving you a sleep score between 0% and 100%.
Its ‘Sleep Coach’ analyses your circadian rhythms and recommends your optimum bedtime and wake time based on its measurements of your sleep needs.
It will wake you at the best time in your sleep cycle the next morning with gentle haptic alerts via the WHOOP 4.0 band, so you’re not jolted awake as with an audible alarm clock.
While you’re asleep, WHOOP monitors your sleep cycles of deep, light and REM sleep and assesses your heart rate, breathing and heart-rate variability to help determine your baseline fitness and recovery status, and to identify trends in these over time.
Alongside the core pillars, the latest addition to WHOOP’s service is its Health Monitor, designed to give you an overall assessment of your health status.
It determines baseline numbers – including blood oxygen, skin temperature and heart rate – and helps you spot improvements and variations over time. It will automatically alert you when there’s a significant deviation, and you can download and export 30- or 180-day trends.
WHOOP notes that it’s not a medical device, though, so you’ll need to consult a practitioner for a full diagnosis and assessment of any medical condition.
What can you expect from using WHOOP?
WHOOP has studied the actions and understanding its members have achieved from using the system. According to WHOOP, the results show 81% of its members have made positive behavioural changes, with 83% understanding better how their body operates.
WHOOP claims 89% of its members improved their understanding of their sleep needs, with an average of 41 minutes of longer sleep, better sleep quality and increased REM sleep.
The brand has identified practical benefits, too, with 31% of its members reducing the number of days they ate a late meal and 46% drinking alcohol on fewer days, based on the impact this has on the user’s metrics.
By periodising training based on stress and recovery scores, WHOOP says its members have reduced the number of sports injuries they’ve suffered due to overexertion but still achieved the same fitness gains as a control group.
How much does WHOOP cost?
You can sign up to WHOOP’s service on a monthly, annual or 24 month basis, with the WHOOP 4.0 band included as part of the membership.
In the UK and Europe, a monthly subscription with a 12-month minimum costs £27 / €30 or you can sign-up for 12 months for £264 / €300 – that’s £22 / €25 per month.
Go for a 24-month subscription and you will pay £432 / €480 up front, bringing the price down to £18 / €20 per month.
The equivalent US prices are $30 per month, $300 for 12 months or $480 for 24 months.
Membership includes 24/7 services support and access to new features, metrics and updates as soon as they go live.