I’ve been in the market for a fitness tracker for a while now — it felt like a responsible choice during a pandemic that’s made gyms nearly obsolete — and I couldn’t stop hearing about the Whoop Strap.
Podcast commercials, news stories, internet ads, everything was pointing me toward Whoop.
You might’ve seen Whoop around, too. If you like golf, for instance, the PGA Tour purchased a Whoop for every golfer and caddie in an effort to help detect potential COVID-19 symptoms. Or you might’ve heard that other famous athletes like Michael Phelps use it.
I reached out to Whoop for a review unit to give it a whirl and see what the experience is like, since most folks have heard of or tried other similar products like the Apple Watch or a FitBit Versa.
I’ve used the Whoop Strap 3.0 for nearly two months now. Here’s the TL;DR: It’s an unquestionably detailed and impressive fitness tracker; it’s a good-looking product; I can see why some folks love it, but it might not be the thing for me. In some ways, it’s just too much for my needs. I’m probably a pretty average user: I jog, I go on walks, I cycle. I do my best to get decent sleep and move around while mostly stuck inside my home. The Whoop Strap 3.0 basically wrote a thesis about my body. For the more casual user, it might be information overload.
The Whoop device
The Whoop tracker is different than most anything else on the market. Let’s get into how that’s the case.
First: It’s a simple band that’s mostly fabric. It has no display, no clock, no step-counter, nada, nada, nada. The Whoop band clasps on your wrist and the massive amount of data it collects (more on that later) gets sent straight to Whoop’s app, which is available for iOS and Android. I actually really loved the look: It’s simple and sharp. It doesn’t scream “Look at this high-tech thing on my wrist.” There are also a ton of different colors and styles to choose from.
Image: Mashable / Tim Marcin
The cost is different, too. Whoop is membership-based and costs $30 per month. That’s right, the Strap itself is now technically free with a membership. That’s not how things used to work. As Mashable wrote in a 2017 Whoop Strap review, an earlier iteration of the tracker cost $500.
The Whoop is 100 percent waterproof and you never — actually never — have to take it off. I wore it in the shower, swimming in bay water, on sweaty long runs. Everywhere, everything, no problem. It recharges via a battery that slides over the strap while it’s still on your wrist. (You just better be sure you battery is charged when the strap is near death. Did I forget to do that? Of course, but I am quite forgetful.)
So what does this tracker actually…track. The short answer: The Whoop measures nearly everything. It auto-detects and registers every minute of your sleep. It auto-detects and auto-sorts workouts and physical activity. It tracks how many calories you’ve burned. It measures your recovery and daily strain, which factors in sleep, your heart rate variability, your physical output, and a whole mess of other complicated things.
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. It’d be tough to explain everything the Whoop does, but you should know this thing is more detailed than you’re probably imagining. To me, that felt slightly overwhelming. It’s easy to see why pro athletes would be drawn to this sort of thing: Their bodies are part of their profession, so the more info, the better. For me, I want baselines and benchmarks, but knowing every last bit of info made it hard for me to focus on simple goals. It’s hard to figure out what to do to make your resting heart rate better, for instance, but it’s simple to up the mileage you move in a day.
It’s the gold standard in sleep tracking because of the amount of data it collects. Its sensors are collecting data 100 times per second.
Here look at the data from my sleep one night, which happened to be a pretty good evening of rest for me.
Image: Tim Marcin / Whoop app screenshot
I can see my time in bed (8 hours, 3 minutes), time actually slept (6 hours, 59 minutes), disturbances (18), sleep efficiency (89 percent), respiratory rate, latency, and how much time I spent in each sleep stage. For instance, I can see I got nearly two hours of REM sleep and 1.5 hours of SWS sleep. The Whoop folks told me SWS sleep is an especially important part of recovery, which is their metric that effectively tells you how ready you are to work out.
It’s often interesting to see how much sleep you got vs. how much time you spent in bed. For me, so much is wasted during disturbances and latency (which basically is how long it takes you to fall asleep). And of course, very often, my Whoop was really unhappy with my sleep levels. But, you know, the world is crumbling so who could blame me?
And let me be clear: The Whoop app has graphs on graphs on graphs on graphs. You can zoom in on an exact moment of your sleep and see what’s up; ditto for heart rate. You can compare any given stat to its 30-day average. You can see a bar graph of every day’s strain. Seriously, if you love math or you’re into massive troves of data, holy hell are you in luck. You can spend hours diving deep into every last thing going on with your body.
Image: Tim Marcin / Whoop app screenshot
At times, though, this amount of information was overwhelming to me. The app can really feel like labyrinth of data and visualizations. There’s so much to look at, so much to click through, that often I found myself ignoring the app altogether. It could be tedious to parse through all that info. Where do you even begin?
So, what about workouts? I mean, if you’re looking for a fitness tracker, you almost certainly want to track workouts and athletic performance. The Whoop is quite good at that. You don’t have to really do anything, it’ll pick your workout up on its own because, you know, it’s constantly measuring your heart rate. A month in, after the Whoop had really homed in on my body’s trends, it was comfortably able to register even a brisk walk as a physical activity. Here’s what a workout looks like in the app.
Image: Tim Marcin / Screenshot Whoop app
The app does all this on its own, and you can go check any date and see what your workouts looked like that day. For every workout, you can also fill out how you felt that day, how well things went, or if you were injured.
If you’re a runner, one thing to note is that the app does not track your route via GPS. Still, I was pretty shocked the Whoop could tell when I was cycling, walking, running, or whatever, then immediately categorize it and process the data.
I found it nice to have every exercise stored away, and it was pretty cool to see my performance over time, in detail. It’s helpful to see how you’re improving or struggling over time. I mostly stayed the same, but that’s cool too.
Image: Tim Marcin / Screenshot Whoop app
Do you notice what I haven’t talked about yet? A step count. Whoop argues that step counts are kind of meaningless as a measurement of overall health. And sure, reaching 10,000 steps in a day isn’t an end in itself and neither is standing for a certain amount of time. But part of me definitely missed having those easy benchmarks. There’s a part of your brain that simply loves hitting nice, even numbers or closing rings on an Apple Watch.
Whoop will be your sleep coach or your workout coach, but it all feels more like a demand to suck less. One note from the early days with mine reads,”oh man, guess my sleep sucks.” That was after the app told me I needed at least seven hours the next just to get by. You get the data, but there are no easy benchmarks to give a sense of accomplishment, just lots of numbers to fuss over.
All the other things it tracks
Besides the vast amounts of data, the auto-generated graphs of changes over time, and the different design, Whoop has a few other unique features that may be selling points for some people.
Strain and recovery
Basically, each day you’re given a strain score that reflects how much strain you’ve taken on that day. You’re also given a recovery score. If you haven’t reached optimal recovery, the app’s strain coach will tell you to take it easy and vice versa.
HRV, or heart rate variability, is a measurement unique to Whoop. It’s a super-sensitive piece of data and is key in determining recovery. Basically, it’s a good judge of how well your body is functioning and if it’s working hard behind the scenes.
This is a pretty stable stat and, honestly, didn’t mean much to me while testing the Whoop. But it can be a way to spot early symptoms of certain health problems, like COVID-19. PGA Tour golfer Nick Watney noticed his numbers were off and found out he had the coronavirus before he had any symptoms. So, that’s obviously a big feature for some.
Daily diary and monthly reports
Every day, after you wake up, you’re supposed to fill out a diary where you answer certain questions. (You choose the questions.) From there, you can see how your sleep quality and recovery are affected by daily life choices. You get a weekly and monthly report showing how certain actions have affected your body. The folks at Whoop told me people really start to notice how alcohol affects your body. And (sigh) yes, it ain’t good. My diary was pretty clear that my sleep suffers when I drink. Not anything super revelatory, sure, but It’s wild to see just how much it affects your sleep via a hard measurement.
Image: Tim marcin / Whoop Screenshot
Basically Whoop Live lets you film your workout and have your live Whoop stats displayed as you go. You could even share it with friends. For a Whoop user who is a fitness influencer this might be super helpful. For me, I’m just trying to get through my workout.
So, there’s all this stuff — pages of graphs, lots of stats, impossibly minute details. But…I didn’t totally love the experience. I certainly didn’t hate it, but it all felt like too much. I think if you’re already super in shape, if you already track your calorie intake and workouts maniacally, and you’re trying to reach peak performance, then the Whoop is for you. If you’re a super data-driven person, the Whoop is for you. If you’re quite curious about your sleep, then the Whoop is for you.
To be clear, It’s a useful, very cool tool. It just might not be the right activity tracker for people who have a more casual relationship with fitness. I’ve discovered I don’t necessarily want what felt like a full-body readout. I wanted something to check in on, but the Whoop gives you data you could very easily obsess over.
There is not anything necessarily bad about the Whoop, but I’d rather have something less intense. Personally I’d love to see if I managed a few thousand more steps in my small apartment on Tuesday vs. Monday. I am fully aware that is not a perfect way to measure physical activity, but it is a nice way to see how much I’m getting around is isolation. Seeing my sleep suffer, answering daily questions about my anxiety, I didn’t love that so much. It was less like taking control, more like being reminded. Maybe things would be different if we weren’t in a pandemic, but I wanted to try the Whoop out for the pandemic.
I personally would not pay $30 per month for a Whoop. But I totally see the person who would. In fact, back in a different time — when I was a college soccer player or when I was training for a marathon – I think I would have loved the Whoop Strap. I might give it another go some day. But right now, I could really use the serotonin boost from hitting those 10,000 steps.