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What’s the WHOOP Strap 3.0?
I’ll keep this bit short as WHOOP has some incredible content on their website, Instagram & via their Podcast describe the intent of the WHOOP Strap and what it can bring to your training & general health & wellbeing. At face-value the WHOOP band appears to be a basic activity, fitness and sleep tracker, similar in design to other brands. However, on closer inspection you’ll notice there is no visual display, only a optical heart rate sensor that is secured snuggly to your wrist via a elasticated fabric band & hinged clasp. This reduced functionality at the wrist enables a 5 day battery life & full waterproofing that encourages 24/7 wearability for maximum data collection.
At-wrist functionality is not the intent of the WHOOP strap, rather the value comes from advanced on-line alogrithmic processing of the heart-rate (HR) & movement data that is presented as three metrics:
- Daily Strain Rating – indicated level of strain placed on the body throughout the day based on level of movement & measured HR above resting HR (RHR)
- Recovery – calculated from heart-rate variability (HRV), RHR & sleep quality
- Sleep – an indication of sleep amount & quality obtained vs. that required for any given night
Further to the daily metrics, once 28 days of data has been acquired, you app on your phone analyses trend in you training & recovery – which can be a really insightful reflection & help to identify addition improvements to your lifestyle.
As mentioned, a great deal of information is available on these metrics direct from the WHOOP website & via their Podcast. They’ve previously discussed how they want to enable all WHOOP users to be mini sports scientist; so there’s as much information & expertise as you’ll likely need.
How’s it compare to the Apple Watch?
I’ve used an Apple Watch for over 3 years and for the last 3 months I’ve typically worn both the WHOOP Strap 3.0 and my Apple Watch both during the day and whilst training.
Functionality & Design – Obviously the WHOOP strap doesn’t offer any at-wrist functionality, so it you need/want to know the time without looking at a phone or clock you’ll need to wear a watch! The subtly of the WHOOP strap means I don’t mind wearing both; I did get the occasional question if I was wearing two activity trackers though. The lack of a screen on the WHOOP strap means I’m less worried about smashing/scratching it whilst training (although I still turn it round when doing kettlebell snatch). I do occasionally catch it on clothing, which can cause the clasp to detach; it reassembles no problem, although I reckon with time it the plastic may fatigue and need replacing (£30 ish from WHOOP). With no screen on the WHOOP strap, data has to be reviewed on the app with processing of data also requiring a data connection; this could prove problematic if your off-grid or have poor signal in your gym.
Activity/Training – Both the Apple Watch Series 4 & WHOOP strap will auto detect activity. However I find the thresholds quite different. The Apple Watch will prompt you to record an outside walk whilst the WHOOP strap needs 15-20 minutes of sustained activity. I typically find that a typical Crossfit class, with strength & then a 15 ish min WOD doesn’t register. That said, the software does learn your training sessions and then becomes better at detecting them! You can also manual track a training session which brings two additional functions: a) WHOOP Live: overlaying your strain, calories & HR on to a video of you training; b) Strain Coach: based on your current strain & recovery a recommended strain level to target. over the last three months I’ve mainly tracked Crossfit workouts & basketball. Typically more cardio-based, the Apple Watch & WHOOP strap give comparable total calories during a basketball session. My Crossfit training, on the other hand, is very different, with total calories, average heart rate & max heart rate typically being ~20 bpm lower. It’s important to note that the accuracy of optical HR sensors are always limited, especially during activity, such at CrossFit, with lots of manual manipulation that could interfere with the sensor. I’ve not gone as far as wearing at chest HR sensor to further compare measured HR. WHOOP also offers other straps to mount the sensor on the upper arm if wearing on the wrist is not appropriate. Another reason they may be different is due to the dataset & algorithms used to calculate calories from the measured HR, movement & biometric data entered by the user. Again, WHOOP have some awesome podcasts on the science behind, however the rightly caution that activity trackers have an inherent level of inaccuracy and all data should be treated with a qualitative pinch-of-salt.
General Activity Tracking – One area I’ve found consistently different is the daily total calories, especially on a busy day; i.e. higher levels of non-exercise activity (NEAT). Typically my Apple Watch can return over a 1000 calories more than the WHOOP! Strap 3.0. WHOOP recently updated their calorie prediction algorithms (along with an open explanation of why) which reduced the caloric contribution of activity between 30 and 40 % of your heart rate reserve. For me, with a RHR of 50 & max HR of ~190, thats activity when my heart rate is between 90-105 bpm – which is a fast walk to the station. This difference may also contribute to the difference seen in CrossFit training, where HR can drop into this region between WODs.
What I’ve got from my WHOOP Strap 3.0?
Truthfully, the value I’m getting from the WHOOP Strap is different to what I thought it would be when I decided to give it a go & order one. My initial thoughts were that it would help me decide when I should training; literally a green status for training & a red status for not. I think I was looking for something to tell me what I should be doing, was I too tired or did I need to get my head straight and go & train. However, in using the WHOOP Strap for four months I’ve learnt some important truths:
- My measured level of recovery is often less than 70% irrespective of whether I’ve trained the previous day or not. That being that my physical readiness to train is mostly impacted by other lifestyle factors, not overtraining.
- Whilst I’m lucky to get good quality sleep, I’ve found that sleep quantity is also important. If I get at least 7 hours of sleep I’m typically in a much better state of recovery, over 8 and I’m right up there.
- Additional user data also provides insight, for example, drinking alcohol before bed both shortens & reduces the quality of my sleep by ~10%
- Finally, its shown that, for me, the rollercoaster of motivation to get in the gym and train is mainly a mindset battle and the WHOOP band isn’t going to solve that – although having my body physically prepared sure will help!
So there we have it, hope you’ve found that interesting. I’ll definitely keep using my WHOOP strap and will be focusing on good daily habits to move that needle in recovery so that I can be best placed to make the most out of every day!
Watch my video review of the WHOOP Strap 3.0 below: