What is the WHOOP?
While I wish it was a cool acronym for “Walking Haphazardly Over Opulent Pathways,” or “Worrying Hopelessly, Observed Our Parents,” the term WHOOP was actually coined as a joking way to measure “energy” amongst some college friends. They used to refer to their day’s energy as “whoop,” as in “I’ve only got some much whoop left in me today.” Starting as a joke and a funny term amongst friends, it eventually grew to be the name of their company, WHOOP.
The WHOOP is a device used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike to help measure and record their sleep, training, and recovery. While other devices can help measure your heart rate during a workout or your sleep patterns, the WHOOP combines all these data points along with another called Hear Rate Variability (HRV), to help formulate a recovery score each day for you. When used properly, this recovery score can help aide and guide your fitness activity throughout the day and also encourage healthy habits like sleep, nutrition, and consistent workouts.
I first heard about the WHOOP by following some CrossFit athletes on Instagram and then again through a Physical Therapist friend of ours in Michigan, and decided to take the plunge myself. I’ve been wearing my WHOOP 24/7 since mid-December, only taking it off to adjust or replace the strap.
What is HRV and how does it work?
I’ll save you from the long, scienc-y explanations and just boil it down into the simplest analogy and terms I can think of, but if you like reading science journals, then just google “heart rate variability” and start reading away! Here’s how I like to think of it:
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the measurement of time between your hear beats and how much that time varies. So if your heart was beating rhythmically at the exact same pace with no variation whatsoever, you would have a low HRV. If the time between heart beats differed from one heart beat to the next, that would be high HRV. Think of it like this - imagine your body is exhausted and tired, so your built in emergency system kick in and put your body into a daze, sort of like an “autopilot” mode. Your heart would just keep beating rhythmically like a metronome with no variance - boomboom, boomboom, boomboom - like it was marching in time. This indicates that your parasympathetic nervous system is taking over. Fancy word for your body’s built in way to down-regulate your activity so your body can recover. After a long day at work, a killer workout at 5pm, then mowing the grass in the cool of the evening would likely cause your body to need some rest. So rather than gathering up your fight or flight adrenaline hormones, your body is trying to calm itself down.
In summary: if you’re exhausted, your body needs rest so it will automatically takeover and put your heart in an autopilot mode (low HRV), so that it can be forced to rest. If your body is feeling recovered and fresh, there’s a higher HRV because your body is ready to take on life’s physical challenges!
The WHOOP takes 5 measurements up to 100x every second (HRV, Heart Rate, Body Temperature, Accelerometer, and Proximity/Placement of strap). For you math wizards out there, that’s 500 data points every second! It is designed to be worn 24/7 (detachable battery that snaps on to charge WHOOP) so it is constantly calculating your body’s Strain for the day. This calculation is based off of your Heart Rate, Body Temperature, and Movement and gives you a daily score of how hard you worked that day. At night, it measures your sleep cycles (Awake, Light, REM, & SWS Deep) including how long you were actually sleeping, not just in your bed trying to sleep. Then each morning, it’ll use your RHR, HRV, and Sleep Time to calculate a Recovery score.
How is the WHOOP different than my FitBit or Apple Watch?
So this is really what inspired me to write this blog. I was looking around the gym one day and saw multiple people wearing FitBits and Apple Watches. I don’t want to take away from those devices, or say they’re wrong to wear, but only highlight the differences, especially for someone who doesn’t currently wear anything on their wrist, and talk about what WHOOP has to offer. For those of us that are juggling working out, our job, yard work, family, and other stressors, the WHOOP is very effective in giving useful, real-time information of how hard our body is actually working. Have you ever heard someone say, “Listen to your body”? Well, the WHOOP is a way to listen to your body through the data it provides, not just based off of a “feeling.” And you guys know how I feel about feelings…
The main leg up that the WHOOP has the ability to measure HRV. Because it can measure HRV, it can also be a much more helpful tool for the sake of your workouts and recovery. While other devices can take some of these metrics, WHOOP is the only one of those devices that can take the HRV measurement. It’s also the only device on the market that takes in 24/7 HRV. There are other HRV measuring devices, but you want to be constantly monitored, not just a one time measurement that can be thrown off by a multitude of factors.
Additionally, the WHOOP is the only device that combines all of these measurements into one. The selling point on the WHOOP is for you to manage your Strain vs. Recovery and see how both are affected by quantity and quality of sleep. While the FitBit and Apple Watch can do some with the sleep and heart rate, that isn’t necessarily their main design. The FitBit tracks things like steps and sleep, but what if steps are easier one day vs. harder the next based on how your body is feeling. I know I’ve tried walking the day after a big squat session and those steps are WAY more taxing than on a day I’m not sore. The Apple Watch can download a sleep tracking app that’s helpful, but it doesn’t monitor your sleep cycles the same way. And to be charged, it needs to be taken off so it isn’t measuring your full day’s worth of activity.
Again, there’s nothing against these other devices, but if we are using them to track our sleep, fitness, and recovery, WHOOP is the far superior choice. The Apple Watch obviously has immense capabilities with linking up to your phone for calls or text and telling time - since the WHOOP is 100% waterproof, it doesn’t have a display, everyone is run through the app. So that’s the main downside I’ve heard for the WHOOP is users wishing to have a display for time, but I’m just not one of those people, so it’s no bother for me.
The WHOOP is a subscription based model. Ranging from $18 to $30 per month (depending on length of commitment), the membership comes with a strap, band, and the app. If you click here and be my friend, this will give you $30 off your membership. Mine has been very durable throughout the time I’ve had it and I’ve honestly had zero complaints.
How would I use the WHOOP for my CrossFit training?
So here’s the real meat. I’ve talked a little bit about how it all works and there’s much more info out there if you’re interested. The WHOOP website does a great job explaining how it all works too. But how does this affect my training?
It’s simple really. Instead of listening to how your body feels, which can vary hour by hour, you can compare that against what your body is telling you. This is very important for both ends of the spectrum - those that struggle getting motivation and those that push themselves too hard ignoring aches and pains. We still want everyone to come to the gym 4-5 times per week, but we know that can take a toll on your body. The WHOOP can help you objectively listen to your body. if you have a bad recovery, then still come to the gym, but it’s your first warning sign that you probably aren’t going to PR your Fran time today. Maybe this is a good day to just back off a little on the weights or the reps, and purposefully only go 80% speed rather than putting the pedal to the metal and risking injury (just google “HRV and injury correlation” you can read article after article about how they’re related). If you get a good recovery score, those are the days you know you can go for it. Throw caution to the wind, run a little faster on the first lap, add the extra 10# to your deadlift bar, and try to hang on for a bigger set of unbroken Toes to Bar than you normally would.
Here’s my favorite thing that wearing the WHOOP does. It forces you to emphasize the importance of sleep. When you get a couple of bad recoveries in a row, you’ll naturally want to fix it. You’ll watch all the metrics about your sleep quantity and sleep quality and try to improve them. On a day where your Strain was really high from a tough workout (like Memorial Day Murph), then you may need to get a little extra sleep the next night. Or if the Open is coming up and you want to make sure you’re primed and ready for Friday Night Lights, you now get a score waking up Friday morning, so you’ll naturally want to go to sleep sooner on Thursday.
I’ve got endless amounts of help, tips, and advice if you jump on board and get a WHOOP for yourself, but a lot of it will fall to the wayside if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But the main principle is this, if you want to improve something, you need to measure it. Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition, Recovery. Those are what add up into our health. If we aren’t measuring them, we won’t know if we’re getting better! Imagine not recording your results in SugarWOD, you’d never know if you were getting stronger or not.
So that’s what the WHOOP is. It’s a wrist worn device to help you maximize your Training, Sleep, and Recovery. I truly believe it’ll help you understand the relationship that Recovery plays with your Training and Sleep which will ultimately maximize your overall health. If interested, you can be my friend and get $30 off your first month, or just ask me any questions you might have. I’d be happy to show you around on my app so you can see how my Recovery interacts with my Training.