A few months of Whoop

First thing is first.  I am a data nerd and am an exhaustive researcher.  I am also a fairly new cyclist compared to many of my peers.  I don’t have the experience to ride, train, or fuel by feel so I rely on as much information and coaching as possible to help me along the way. 

This has been a big year of change for me and our family which I have had some struggles physically and emotionally.  From still trying to find the groove in my day job, to our passion of putting on cycling events which is taking off faster than we could have ever dreamed, and a career change for Wendi...it’s been a lot.  On the bike it is pretty easy to measure strain/effort/stress with either a power meter, heart rate monitor, or combination of the two.  Life stress and strain is a little more difficult to quantify.  Putting on four races in January and February took an unmeasured toll on my mind and body that I wasn’t quite ready for.  Talking to my coach Lynda Wallenfels, she asked if I had ever heard of the Whoop fitness tracker.  I had not but was intrigued by the concept of this wearable after doing a little reading.

Calling the Whoop strap a fitness tracker is a bit of a misnomer as the primary focus of the device is recovery.  There is no screen.  It does not measure steps.  What is does have is a wrist based optical heart rate monitor that is always on measuring three primary metrics. I have tried a lot of different wearables over the years like Fitbits and most recently a Garmin Fenix 5 which are all very activity centric. Whoop is very different in this respect.

First and most obvious is just your heart rate which is used to calculate what they refer to as “strain”.  I have found it to be pretty spot on correlated to average heart rate captured during cycling workouts with a chest strap.  Some people with smaller wrists or a poor strap fit have found it to be inaccurate during some rough cycling activities like mountain biking or gravel rides but this hasn’t been the case for me.

Second it tracks your HRV (heart rate variability) and RHR (resting heart rate) during the last slow wave sleep period every night to calculate your recovery score.  I have playing with HRV for a number of years as a recovery metric but using an app and a strap is just a tough routine to get into and there are a lot of variables measuring this when you wake in the morning.  Whoop grabbing this data for you while you sleep is pretty convenient and consistent.

So….what does all of this mean and how has it changed any of my behaviors?  Here are my initial thoughts.

  • I have always a pretty good sleeper and my favorite saying is “eight is great”.  Whoop has made me even more cognizant of getting good sleep and the impact of bedroom hygiene on sleep quality.  Limit screen time, read a book.  This is when I tend to get the best sleep.

  • Alcohol consumption really jacks with your RHR, HRV, and subsequent recovery. I am not a huge drinker but I have been much more aware of drinking a refreshing IPA on big training weekends when recovery in crucial to getting the next day’s work in.

  • CBD before bed has a marked impact on my Whoop recovery score and sleep quality. I have been playing with a few different tinctures and ultimately when I incorporate CBD into my pre-sleep routine I have a more sound night sleep resulting in better recovery metrics.

Last weekend I had three consecutive days of 300 TSS rides which put me pretty deep in the fatigue hole but surprisingly my HRV was high and RHR was low in subsequent days while my TrainingPeaks TSB was -62 on the following Monday.  I put in an hour ride on Tuesday before flying out to RTP and it felt really good.  No leg soreness and lots of depth.

If nothing else, a tool like Whoop can make you a little more cognizant of the importance and impact of quality recovery during tough training blocks.

Let me know your thoughts or questions. I will likely edit this post with additional thoughts and replies so check back often.

Jason Shearer