“Whoop takes athletic analytics to the next level, but it's uncomfortable and expensive.”
- Unique data gives a clear idea of performance
- Access to team data should help coaches
- Bulky and unattractive (even without the battery pack)
- Disappointing battery life
- Band may lead to rash or other skin reaction
- Extra add-ons push cost well above $500
Nearly all wearables on the market use some form of step tracking or GPS tracking to determine your fitness level. A few track heart rate during activity, but there are currently none on the market that take that data and crunch it over days and weeks to determine what’s actually happening in an athlete’s body. is she becoming stronger? Recovering faster? How has sleep quality been affected?
When the guys behind a new wearable called Whoop came on the scene just three years ago, they wanted to tackle these questions and more. They’ve created a new wearable wristband that offers predictive analytics for athletes and coaches with the aim of helping athletes train smarter and avoid overtraining. Claiming it’s been worn and vetted by professional athletes and Olympians alike (Olympic swimmer Connor Jaegar and Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry have testimonials on Whoop’s site, among others), the company says that it has developed a system that helps athletes train smarter.
What is it?
The Whoop is a sensor strapped to a wide elastic band that you wear on your wrist. There are no lights or display on it, and the only branding is on the simple metal clasp that you use to adjust the band’s length. The sensor itself is about an inch wide and about 1 ¾ inches long. It is just over ¼ inch thick without the battery pack, making it one of the thinner wearables on the market. Adding the battery pack increases overall thickness of the Whoop to about ¾ inch.
This is the second version of the Whoop, and it offers fully automated recognition of activities like sleeping. The first version launched back in 2015 following a whopping $12 million investment after coming out of Harvard’s Innovation Lab. The company has seen solid sales since, according to Will Ahmed, the founder of Whoop. The company doesn’t project or give out numbers of bands sold, but Ahmed assures Digital Trends that sales are solid.
The Whoopis a new wearable wristband that offers predictive analytics.
Different types of bands are available for different activities, too. Want a waterproof band? There are 8 different colors on the site, though at last check they were all sold out. How about a NATO style band that Whoopcalls the Churchill? You have a choice of four different colors. Bands are also cheap, at just $15 — though at $500, the Whoop itself is way too pricey (more on that later).
The one we tried came equipped with the standard black and white stretchy material. Whoop says the band is specially engineered with nanotechnology that helps keep it in place on your wrist and makes it breathable. It loop up and over the black sensor disguising it as a colorful wristband. If you’re a child of the eighties, you might remember the slap bracelets that were all the rage; the Whoop looks quite similar. The biggest bonus is that the Whoop sensor is waterproof so there’s no concern about wearing the device in the shower or pool. Ahmed says most people buy a few bands so they can let them dry off between workouts.
The goal of the Whoop is to give athletes an idea of how well they recover, and to help them predict with relative accuracy when they can expect to be at peak performance. It is largely geared toward professional teams and college teams that want their athletes to be at peak performance for big events. Same for the app, which lets teams and coaches create groups and monitor the behavior and performance of a number of athletes at once.
There is no way to tell how charged the device is by looking at it on your wrist.
The strap itself constantly measures and records your heart rate and is recharged by a rather large and bulky battery pack that you charge separately and hook onto the strap when the battery gets low. There is no way to tell how charged the device is by looking at it on your wrist, unfortunately. And to see your stats and the band’s status, you need to log into the app on your iPhone or get online and check it. (Whoop does not have an app for Android, but one is expected sometime this year.) The strap can automatically detect your activity, or you can go into the app and set it to whatever activity you are about to do. You can also go back and retroactively add activities.
I wore the device 24 hours a day for a week and a half, and my patterns became clear, which was an interesting exercise in the quantified self. I swam with the device, sweated out a Soul Cycle session or two, and went to yoga — and the more time I spent with it, the more information it gave me.
What makes the Whoop special?
Like other high-end bands, Whoop will track your heart rate and has an accelerometer to detect when you are moving. Beyond that, it doesn’t track steps nor GPS location. That’s a strategic decision, Ahmed says, because the company is going after a clientele that’s serious about their athletic performance. “Steps can be misleading as a measurement of performance,” he told Digital Trends. “We wanted to create a wearable that could help a fitness enthusiast or an athlete measure their performance in the context of recovery.”
Still, heart-rate monitoring is the key factor that makes Whoop stand out in the increasingly crowded fitness band field. The band tracks what’s called Heart Rate Variability, or HRV. This factor is monitored continuously as you wear the band, and your data is steadily run through Whoop’s algorithm. HRV, according to Whoop’s white paper on the topic, is a measure of the irregularity of heart beats that naturally happen throughout the day. While the measurement was originally used to judge the chances of survival after a serious medical emergency, it’s now used to study how athletic performance and training adaptation affects the body. The higher your HRV, the better your body is at adapting to various sympathetic and parasympathetic inputs. The lower it is, the less likely you are to perform well. Also, when your HRV is high, your resting heart rate is low, meaning you are in good shape. The opposite is true when your HRV is low—at least in recreational athletes.
It tracks heart-rate variability, which was originally used to judge the chance of survival after an emergency.
In professional athletes, low HRV and RHR mean they’re getting ready to peak physically: That’s the sweet spot for athletes getting ready for a big event or race. The better primed their bodies are for high performance the more likely they are to break records and win races and games.
HRV is a highly individualized measurement and changes from person to person. Many things can change it, including illness, pain, psychological stress, fatigue, and hydration. A hangover can affect your athletic performance for days after you finish drinking, Whoop notes — knowledge that’s clearly of use to college coaches. According to Whoop, it takes at least four days of constant wear to get an accurate idea of HRV for any one individual. The longer you wear it the more accurate the readings become.
Whoop combines this data with sleep quality data and heart rate data to give the wearer an idea of how well-recovered they are. Again, resting heart rate comes into play. The accelerometer in the Whoop measures movements in bed but your heart rate truly determines the quality of sleep. Your heart beats slower when you are in deeper sleep, and the more time you spend in deep sleep, the better recovered you are.
Whoop also depends on the wearer’s input. Open the app and you are presented with a dashboard that shows your activities. You can choose to start and stop activities or just let the Whoop recognize them. When you wake up in the morning, you set the Whoop to stop recording sleep (or let it auto detect the change); you’re then taken through a series of questions about your sleep and how you feel — including some questions about your sexual activities, whether you share your bed, and if you worked or read any lighted devices before falling asleep. You are then given a recovery score based on everything from your sleep quality and how many hours (or in my case minutes) you spent in deep sleep, how you say you feel, your HRV, and your RHR.
Does it live up to the hype?
After a few days of wearing the Whoop it became clear that the device was learning more about me and my habits. On days when I was in the green zone, I could work out harder — I felt more alert and stronger. On days in the red or yellow recovery zones, I definitely felt more worn out and was less likely to want to work out or even be able to.
Limited battery life, a bulky design, and the high price tag make it less appealing.
The strap was relatively comfortable, though I found that in any workout that relied on my hands (the downward dog pose in yoga, or lifting certain weights, for example) I had to move the band up on my wrist so it wouldn’t dig into the back of my hand. It’s wide and rather bulky, making it tend to get annoying at night. With its bulk you certainly couldn’t wear a watch and the band on the same wrist.
The other problem I ran into was a result of wearing it all the time—I got a small rash under the sensor after just a few days of wear. Though I didn’t wear it in the shower, and wiped it with a damp cloth with soap and water every day, it did cause a breakout. Once the round, itchy rash appeared on my wrist I stopped wearing the device all together.
The Whoop’s battery life also leaves a lot to be desired. I am very active, so my battery life tended toward the shorter end of Whoop’s estimates. The company claims you should get 40 hours of wear, but I generally got just 36 at the high end. More than once it died mid-workout, meaning the opportunity to collect data was totally lost. That made it incredibly frustrating to wear. The tech folks suggested charging it overnight while I slept, but with the charger attached the thickness of the sensor grows to almost ¾ of an inch. That makes it very bulky and even more awkward to wear at night.
Then there’s the cost. While it gives you really interesting information, Whoop is incredibly expensive at $500. Add in separate bands at $15 each, which we’d certainly recommend, and you’re costs could easily climb to $550. Will Ahmed argues that this is a minimal cost for serious athletes, and perhaps he’s right — but for my money I’d go with a different device.
The Whoop comes with a one-year limited warranty that covers the band, sensor, battery pack, and charger. If something happens to your Whoop, the company will replace or repair it at no charge to the customer.
The Whoop is a unique wearable because it monitors and records your recovery; the more you wear it the smarter it becomes, a concept we find fascinating. And it can deliver great information for serious athlete. For everyone else, though, there are more economical options that can deliver fitness data.
Is there a better alternative?
While there are countless fitness trackers on the market, Whoop stands alone in its unique ability to monitor and record your recover. There currently isn’t another wearable out there that does this kind of work. That said, consumers looking for less of an investment and more practical advice won’t go wrong with the Samsung Gear Fit 2, which is just $180 and a heckuva robust product. It’s Android-only, however; Apple fans would do well with a Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which also monitors heart rate and has great features for runners.
How long will it last?
Whoop says the sensor and rechargeable battery pack should last around a year before needing to be replaced. The company detail plans for upgrades or future-proofing the wearable, however, and despite the nanotech in the band, we’re worried about how long-lasting those $15 items will be. If you need to keep replacing them annually, the upfront investment is just the start of the Whoop’s costs.
Should you buy it?
No. The Whoop is great if you want a different take on how fit you are; it delivers unique information no other wearable can offer. But it’s simply too pricey, and the limited battery life and bulkiness make us hesitant to recommend it. This band isn’t for the casual athlete — and even pros working toward a training goal may be unsatisfied with the sacrifices it requires.
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