As regular readers of the blog will know, I love a gadget (and a new paddle): I’ve been toying with upgrading my Apple Watch since the battery issues from WatchOS 10 started draining my battery more rapidly. I’d also been looking at the dedicated fitness wearables like the Oura Ring and Whoop Strap.
A Black Friday offer on a year of Whoop for £189 was the tipping point: I’m hopeful for a big update to Apple Watch for its tenth anniversary next year. So I ordered the Whoop with a year’s subscription included, instead of paying £27 a month on a rolling contract. I also ordered some Whoop body clothing to test wearing the sensor in a location that wasn’t my wrist, assuming that using for pickleball would be a tricky option to keep the sensor close to my skin and not slipping around my wrist. You can also get Whoop on a free month’s trial with this link: https://join.whoop.com/A893AC7B. It also helps me if you sign up via the link, either for a trial or a full year.
Once the parcel arrived, it had the classic higher end feel to the packaging. All nice lines, simplicity and on the premium end. Inside the box, I found the Whoop sensor attached to the Superknit band, the battery pack, USB C cable and quick start guide. Out of the box, the sensor was almost totally discharged and the battery had minimal capacity. This was a surprise as many rechargeable devices now ship with a close to fully charged unit and battery. A couple of hours on my fast USB C charger and the battery was ready to charge the Whoop.
This is the first big difference: rather than charging your device, you charge the battery and then slip this over the sensor to charge. This means it can be charged whilst wearing. There’s actually no need to remove the strap from your wrist to charge and it can measure 24/7.
It also has no screen so metrics are only displayed on your smartphone. It has a single LED light to give a broad idea of battery life and a vibration function to wake you with the alarm setting. It’s this aspect that allows the range of Whoop Body clothing: clothing, including underwear, where you can insert the sensor in a dedicated pod.
Yes, reader, I bought the smart(y) pants (!) with a sensor pod in the waist band. It isn’t noticeable at all, allows for use in combat sports and also doesn’t suffer from sweat or moisture like the super knit band. I didn’t get a Hydroknit fast drying band but I’ve heard they can be a bit slippy. The underwear is definitely a better option for racket sports: I found I needed to put a sweatband over the Whoop to stop it moving around my wrist when playing. I’d imagine the shorts, leggings and bra work just as well: I’m not sure the T-shirt would work unless there’s a perfect fit.
Once you’ve gone through initial setup, it takes four days to start to provide data and guidance: it needs to establish a baseline of health metrics to work from. I got my strap at the back end of a bout of Covid 19 and recovering from some minor injuries so my baseline would be lower than two months ago.
Its core metrics are strain, recovery and sleep. Strain is a measure of the physical exertion in your day, as well as factors such as chores, going about your day and stress, even emotional, that raises your heart rate. Recovery analyses four key metrics: heart rate variability, resting heart rate, respiratory rate and hours of sleep.
Sleep is obvious but uses the core sensors to measure time asleep and the various sleep phases, although it’s questionable if it’s is possible to accurately track sleep phases with a wearable. It also allows you to set how your alarm is set: set time, a sleep percentage goal or optimum recovery. The last one normally means a LOT of sleep.
Strain normally measures your cardio vascular load but that’s not a reliable metric for weight based training. Whoop’s new strength trainer uses the gyroscope and accelerometer in the band combined with the logged weight and reps in the app to measure muscular load. It assesses the explosiveness of your movement and also modifies the algorithm based on your body weight percentage in relation to your lifting weight. This should be a more accurate way of assessing the benefits of your strength training.
How good is the Whoop at measuring effort with pickleball? It has a dedicated mode to select the sport and you can also use the Apple Watch to trigger a pickleball workout in the Fitness app. Whoop will then intelligently pull those active times and apply its own heart rate data. Where it scores over Apple Watch was with its ability to recognise that I was active and intelligently pick pickleball as the activity type. It would pick up start and stop times of activity (assuming I was active for at least fifteen minutes) with a high level of accuracy: whilst a Fitbit can track activity and nudge to log pretty well, the Apple Watch has limited success outside of basic activities. Is its calorie burn accurate? Measured against Apple Watch data, it’s was within a 5% difference so they are equally accurate or equally inaccurate! It’s hard to measure exact calorie usage with this type of sensor but the consistency across devices is reassuring. There’s a massive range of activities it can track, either retrospectively (which Apple Watch doesn’t do) or live by triggering in app: as the Apple Watch only takes regular readings to save on battery life, it can’t go back in time to track an activity as the sensors aren’t active at that time. Whoop’s singular focus and constant monitoring is what lets this retrospective activity to be logged accurately. There’s even a Live option where you can record video with an overlay of heart rate, calorie burn and strain for the day so far. That has great potential for social media sharing of workout or activities to show the exertion.
Perhaps the most important aspect with any wellness or fitness tracker is whether it aligns closely to how you feel on any given day after effort, and if it promotes long term beneficial change.
To test this out, I tested Whoop against the Athlytic app on my Apple Watch/iphone. I’d used Athlytic for a while and liked its insights, journaling and overview of recovery, sleep and exertion. I’d also been using Sleep Cycle for a very long time to manage a more peaceful wake up in the morning: it’s still part of my wake up routine at the moment whilst I’m waiting for Whoop to be fully calibrated to me.
The most illustrative examples of where I could directly measure the perceived quality of Whoop over Athlytic and Apple Health are where there is a big discrepancy between the two apps measurement of recovery. I could then assess how their data aligned to my own personal feeling. After a couple of days with a club session of pickleball plus some coaching each evening, there was a similar metric of my exertion in both apps of around 7.0 or 70%. Sleep was measured very similarly but there was a wide difference in the recovery score between Whoop and Athlytic. Whoop was much more accurate in how the recovery measurement reflected how I felt physically to take on my day. I woke feeling rested, had no issues with energy either during activity or throughout the day. Athlytic substantially under assessed my readiness and recovery.
In theory, both apps take the same measurements of respiration, resting heart rate, blood oxygen, temperature and heart rate variation. It means that the variation is most likely caused by the respective quality of the sensors on my Apple Watch SE/Whoop or the algorithm used by the software to interpret the data. As both are predominantly wrist worn by me, they should have similar readings due to location: there’s no gyroscopic analysis in either metric system (outside of strength in Whoop, which I didn’t use) to affect dominant or non dominant wrist wearing. Even switching the data read by the apps to default to Whoop, there was still the discrepancy so it appears that the engine that powers the data analysis by Whoop is far more robust at this stage. A whole year of Athlytic is £26.99: that’s a month of Whoop paid monthly so there’s a substantial differential in costs. Athlytic is one developer I believe, compared to the large resource of the Whoop company.
Over the early weeks of use, I found that the insights were slowly influencing some of my bedtime choices and a few minutes extra sleep started to have a degree of impact in how I felt. The Whoop insights correlated this too. By using the Journal function, where you track various activities each day, Whoop will assess the impact of these logged changes. It covers a huge range of data, including mental health/feelings, nutrition, lifestyle and medication. The majority of these impacts make sense although some of these are based on a small amount of data points: over the coming months, I expect this to become more accurate. If you use a nutrition tracking app like My Fitness Pal, it will input carb, fat and protein intake, as well as other nutrition data, into the Whoop journal.
There is a monthly performance assessment generated that pulls your key metrics into a report that lets you see trends. Over time, this will clearly denote impact of changes in programme and routines. Right now, I’m coming back from a couple of injuries and the festive break so my baseline benchmarks are low and I can see how December and the rest periods are reducing certain metrics. Whoop proves how vital recovery and rest are to performance. I’m looking forward to using Whoop to motivate and power through the dark winter months to get me going in the gym.
By now, you must be asking “is it actually any good?” and “nearly £200 for a tracker I can’t tell the time with, why would I get it?” The value proposition is a tough call: if you want additional functionality beyond the fitness metrics, even a £20 Amazon cheapie will give you more functionality on device. However the depth of metrics, analysis and insight from Whoop is a market leader.
There is a huge benefit to having a light, long lasting device that can be worn in clothing (a bit like PreVayl) or wrist worn for day to day use. Going on court with minimal distractions by taking your watch or tracker off but still getting those performance metrics are where the clothing worn devices score. I don’t need to worry about charging my watch or running out of power if I track for too long. It absolutely promotes positive change and insight into your lifestyle choices. Whoop does require input from you to complete the journal to make sure there’s plenty of data to deepen the insights. If you are serious about improving your health or performance on court, Whoop could be part of your solution.
if you want to try it out or purchase a Whoop, please use the link below, as it will reward me with a free month of Whoop if you continue for the year. It’s a little reward for me for sharing my experience and knowledge of how it works for pickleball: Whoop works great for any athlete or person interested in their general wellness.
Get a free WHOOP 4.0 and one month free when you join with my link: https://join.whoop.com/A893AC7B