The market for fitness trackers has exploded in recent years – and they are no longer confined to the wrists of the pros.
Amateur athletes and the health conscious have also realised the benefits, using wearable tech to record their activities and apps to analyse the data.
One of the hottest products right now is the Whoop strap. From basketball superstar LeBron James, to the EF Pro Cycling team, the list of VIP users keeps growing – and it’s become more talked about than ever after pro golfer Nick Watney found out he was Covid-19 positive after he noticed a change in his data.
Whoop is a fitness wearable and app. Unlike others on the market, it doesn’t just track workouts while you’re doing them. Instead, it’s like a coach in your pocket, collecting physiological data and helping you keep track of the impact of your everyday life so you can make well-informed decisions about your recovery and training.
It does this via a small, comfortable strap that goes on your wrist or arm and measures heart rate and movement via two LEDs and an accelerometer.
Instead of buying a Whoop band outright, you pay a monthly subscription. There is no separate cost for the strap, although there is a minimum subscription of six months, with the price (£30 per month) decreasing if you sign up for longer.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Whoop strap and subscription
How does the Whoop strap work?
You might be familiar with other fitness wearables or apps, which typically allow you to record activities and measure things like heart rate and cadence for the duration of your workout. If you want to see your progression, you look back through the data.
With Whoop, the easy-to-use app records data 24/7 and breaks it down into three key areas – strain, recovery and sleep. The thinking behind this is simple: your previous tracked activities are not the only influence on how ready you are to train the next day.
Will Ahmed, Whoop’s CEO, launched the brand after struggling to manage his training while captaining the men’s squash team at university.
“I used to overtrain almost every season, which is the ultimate betrayal, because you’re putting so much effort into getting fitter and stronger, and then all of a sudden you fall off a cliff because you’ve just pushed your body well past what it’s capable of,” he tells the brand’s podcast. “I got very interested in what I could measure about my body to prevent me from doing that.”
So, what’s strain and why does Whoop measure it?
Whoop’s “strain” function quantifies how hard your body and mind are working each day. As we mentioned above, it is designed to capture all effort – so your workouts are included alongside everyday activities, whether that’s parenting or going to appointments.
Using your bespoke data, the app gives you a “strain score” out of 21 each day so you know just how hard you’ve been working. It uses this data, alongside your sleep and recovery stats, to work out your ‘optimal’ strain score so you can shape your training accordingly.
The brand claims its data sparks behavioural change, finding that after only four months users reported fewer injuries. We found it also gave us a real push to do a little more exercise on some quieter days in order to reach the “optimal” range.
How does recovery fit in?
The recovery function is, in our view, the product’s biggest USP. Designed to give you insights into your body and mind’s readiness, it measures something other apps rarely look at – heart rate variability (HRV).
HRV is the variation in time between each heartbeat. A low HRV can indicate that your body is working hard so if you’re not doing something active, this can signal that you’re stressed, dehydrated or sick.
On the flipside, the greater the HRV, “the more ‘ready’ your body is to execute at a high level,” the brand says.
Put simply, the recovery data gives you an insight into how much petrol you have in the tank. It’s not realistic for your tank to be full every day – but you can see when you’re running low and may want to change your approach to training.
A word of warning for those planning a big day after a big night out – we found it absolutely plummets when you’ve had a few drinks.
And how does Whoop measure sleep?
Numerous apps and devices will measure your slumber – but Whoop takes it to a whole new level, not only recommending the ideal amount of sleep you need to recover or improve performance, but also allowing you to analyse things like sleep disturbances and efficiency.
It works by auto-detecting your sleep in the morning, prompting you to open the app and see what the “coach” is saying on optimal strain and recovery. It’s also worth checking the app when you’ve done most of your activity for the day, as it tells you how much sleep you’ll need that night.
Our favourite function is the journal, which helps you actually change your sleeping patterns rather than simply telling you you’re not getting enough. It does this by asking you a series of questions each morning (which you can tailor to your own lifestyle), which analyse the relationship between sleep and your habits.
These can include basic questions about hydration, eating before bed, and drinking alcohol, as well as whether you have read before bed, allowed your cat in the room or had sex.
After a while, Whoop uses this data to help you work out that, for example, you get a deeper sleep if you read before bed, or that your slumber is interrupted more if there’s a cat sleeping on your head.
What else do I need to know?
You don’t need to worry about your Whoop strap running out of battery – it lasts for five days and comes with a battery pack that slides on so you can charge on-the-go.
Plus, the strap is waterproof and comes in a variety of colours, so you can pick your favourite or switch between them, although some options come at an additional cost.
Buy now £30.00, Whoop.com
The verdict: Whoop
Whoop really does provide much more useful insight than many other wearables we’ve tried. It is innovative, modern and exciting, offering a new way of considering the strain you are placing on your body.
Given the level of data it looks at, some of the best coaching insights take a few weeks to come through. We recommend spending some time early on setting up the journal so you can make the most out of it as soon as possible.
It is also worth noting that the subscription model is unusual, and it isn’t cheap, working out as a minimum spend of £180. You’ll want to think about whether the product is right for you – or whether it’ll just be another direct debit disappearing from your account.
But if you want to take a more holistic approach to your training, if you’re prone to injury or overtraining, if you have a goal in mind you’ve struggled to meet before or if you work a stressful job and find it hard to recover on your days off, then Whoop won’t only help – it will help you transform.
Say goodbye to post-workout soreness with the best massage guns for relieving aches