As we head into the off-season and reflect on this year's performance, it is crucial to think, 'what can I do or add next season to be better?' My number one response to this question without knowing anything about a person's training or results would be, "have you heard of WHOOP?"
To be clear, I am not sponsored by or affiliated with WHOOP or any other wearables company in any way. I have paid full price for my membership since I first experimented with WHOOP in August 2020. Over two years later, I continue to wear and check WHOOP daily in addition to my Garmin Instinct (more on why I wear both later).
What is WHOOP? Well, let's start with what it is not. WHOOP is not a smartwatch. It does not tell time, alert you of notifications, or count steps. WHOOP does not count laps or tell pace and doesn't even have a display screen.
Why would this "old school FitBit" be helpful for triathlon training? The feedback that it provides is invaluable. WHOOP is a technology company that uses software and hardware to measure human performance.
To think of WHOOP accurately, throw out your ideas of what a smartwatch or fitness tracker "should be" and consider two things:
"If my coach could measure my readiness each day, what would they want to know?"
"What is the effect of (fill in the blank) on my training, performance, and recovery?"
Okay, now that we are in the right frame of mind, let's dive into the power of WHOOP. The essence of WHOOP boils down to a recovery score. To me, the recovery score has two dimensions, the measurable and the 'we made it measurable.'
The measurable: The device measures several data points, including sleep performance, resting heart rate, HRV, Day Strain, and respiratory rate, to provide the user a recovery score, which is given as a percentage (e.g., 79% as seen above).
WHOOP takes these measurements collected from a user's sleep and provides a recovery score in the morning. But, just telling an athlete, "hey, you are 52% recovered today," does not really provide much to them. Honestly, it might have them thinking, "I am operating at just above half today…I should take a rest day?" Luckily WHOOP does not leave it up to an athlete's interpretation but gives insight into each recovery and even the data points it measures. For example:
Today, I have a recovery score of 94%. Yay! WHOOP tells me, "Based on your 94% recovery, 11.8 to 19.8 "Day Strain" will balance exertion and recovery today. Exceeding 19.8 will promote fitness goals." WHOOP then measures my workouts and strain accumulated throughout the day to calculate a Day Strain number. Being well-recovered allows my body to take full advantage of the training I have today. If my recovery score were closer to 50%, the amount of suggested Day Strain would be much lower. Accumulating a lower amount of Day Strain allows my body a better opportunity to recover for the following day.
According to WHOOP, my HRV is 55 today, which is high for me. [Yes, HRV is highly individualized, but this is low for someone my age and athletic background. Thanks to WHOOP, I can keep tabs on my HRV, and there will probably be a blog post about it in the future.] Today, my WHOOP app tells me, "HRV continues to be above its typical range. This positive sign correlates with increased physical readiness to take on the strain of training."
WHOOP provides the data and gives insight into how an athlete can interpret the data to apply it to their training. Throughout the app, tips and tidbits help you take full advantage of the information WHOOP provides.
"We made it measurable": When implemented, the journal is the most powerful tool WHOOP has to offer. This allows the user to track almost anything they want.
Let's say an athlete uses a melatonin supplement to aid sleep performance. The athlete can track the milligrams they took in the journal. WHOOP measures the user's input against recovery and publishes this information to the user in the monthly report. The monthly report will show the correlation between recovery score and the use of the melatonin supplement. When athletes take advantage of this tool, they can discover what helps aid their recovery and hinders recovery, giving them the information they need to help propel their performance.
Now, while WHOOP provides the information, the athlete is the one that must implement any changes based on what they learn from WHOOP. Simply purchasing a WHOOP will not make anyone a better athlete. Still, those who learn and use the information to adjust training and life will see improvement.
If WHOOP is so awesome, why not get rid of my Garmin Instinct? While WHOOP is excellent at recovery and measuring correlation to recovery, it does not provide workout metrics that triathletes are used to seeing during and after each session.
Garmin Instinct (or another similar model) provides GPS capabilities, pacing, lap counting, and detailed information for each activity. This information is also vital to an athlete and/or coach as it is essential to see how each session went. At the end of the day, Garmin is awesome at in-session metrics, and WHOOP is excellent at recovery. Both have a place in an athlete's toolbox and should be used!
Happy off-season and WHOOP WHOOP!!
Coach Sydney brings more than 20 years of swimming experience to Team MPI as both a swimmer and coach. As a swimmer, she was a Colorado State Champion, State Record Holder, and All American. She moved on to compete for the University of North Texas, an NCAA Division I team, qualifying for National Invite and Conference USA Championships. As a coach, Sydney has coaching experience at the NCAA Division I level with UNT