I Tried the Fanciest Fitness Tracker On the Market
The bottom line: It ain't cheap, but it could be worth it if you want more data about your health and fitness habits.
These days, there are tons of fitness tracker options on the market. Many of them are affordably priced and provide heart-rate monitoring and step counting. But if you're looking for a little more information about your overall health and fitness, you will probably come across WHOOP, a tracker favored by professional athletes in the MLB and NFL, as well as the CrossFit community.
With data tracking that includes continuous heart-rate monitoring, sleep, recovery, and more, WHOOP, along with its accompanying app, arguably provides the most in-depth analysis of your health data that is available to the everyday exerciser.
Until recently, the tracker would have set you back a cool $500. But last month, the company revamped their pricing and now offers the tracker via a membership. Customers pay $30 per month for a minimum of 6 months for a strap and access to the app, where all the collected data is analyzed and presented.
As a health writer and part-time trainer, I was curious about what kind of insight into my fitness and training schedule WHOOP might be able to give me. Though I have a well-designed workout routine, I wondered if WHOOP's data might help me pick my intense training days more strategically, so I could PR on days when my body was ready to perform and take it easy on days when I needed to prioritize recovery. In the name of good journalism, I decided to test it out. Here's what I discovered.
There are ~a lot~ of good things about WHOOP.
Resting Heart Rate and Heart-Rate Variability Tracking
WHOOP automatically tracks your resting heart rate (RHR) as well as your heart-rate variability (HRV).
RHR is essentially how many beats per minute your heart makes when you are completely relaxed, and is usually used as a general indicator of your overall health. Lower RHRs are usually associated with a higher level of fitness and better cardiovascular health. (And FYI, Americans have the highest resting heart rates. Eek!)
HRV is a measure of the time variance between heart beats and is often used by exercise physiologists to help athletes plan their training schedules. Higher HRVs are usually associated with better fitness and overall health. When HRV increases from your baseline, it generally means you're ready to take on a tough workout. If it goes down, it could be a good idea to take a rest day.
Ideally, you want to see your RHR lowering and your HRV getting higher as you work out and then allow for recovery, and you can actually watch this happening (or not happening) over time in WHOOP's app. On days when your RHR is down and your HRV is up, the app recommends training harder, as it's a sign your body is primed to perform. After taking the app's recommendations about when to do more-intense training days, I did find that I was more likely to have a great workout. (Related: How to Use Heart Rate Zones to Train for Max Exercise Benefits)
Though many trackers record your heart rate during workouts, I found that WHOOP was more accurate than others I've tried. When I double-checked my heart rate manually, I always came out with the same number that the band was measuring, and I didn't have any issues with sweat or movement affecting the sensor reading. I think it's safe to say that you can go super hard in any workout, and the band will still reliably measure your heart rate.
WHOOP takes all the collected heart-rate data and puts it toward a "strain" score for the day, which is essentially a measure of how hard you worked on a scale from 1 to 21.
The app also gives you an estimate of how many calories you burn throughout the day based on your height, weight, and heart rate. While this might not be 100 percent accurate since everyone's metabolism is a little different, it's a great guideline for anyone wondering how much they should be eating to fuel their workouts, lose weight, or maintain their current physique.
It can also help you quantify the impact of healthy lifestyle choices like walking to work, biking instead of taking public transit, or opting to take the stairs. You'll be able to see exactly how many more calories you burn when you do these things, as well as how they may affect your recovery between workouts.
I was able to see that my bike commute caused about half as much strain as my gym workouts, which definitely contributed to my overall energy output for the day.
Sleep Tracking and Recovery
We know that sleep and recovery are essential components of fitness. That means getting enough sleep and taking rest days when needed. WHOOP analyzes your strain score and other data to not only let you know how much sleep you need each evening depending on how active you were that day, but also measures the quality of your sleep and makes a recommendation about how hard to push yourself based on that sleep. (Heads up: Here's what you need to know about how sleep and exercise are connected.)
Via the app, you can see how much time you spend in bed vs. how much time you actually spend sleeping, how many sleep disturbances you had during the night, how much time you spent in each sleep stage, and more. I loved being able to see all this information and understand more about how my sleep was affecting my performance. I was surprised to find that for me, sleep quality matters a lot more than sleep quantity.
The app also lets you know how "recovered" you are each day based on your HRV and sleep performance, which helps you decide how much strain you want to take on. (Related: The Best Workout Recovery Method for Your Schedule)
Depth of Analytics
Not only does the app keep you updated about your daily information, but it also allows you to take a look at average trends, which I found incredibly useful. For example, while I don't hit my recommended sleep amount every night (I wish!), I do clock in at an average of seven hours. That's not bad, and helps me finally put to rest that lingering question about whether or not I need to be sleeping more.
You can see how many calories you burn on average per day, graphs of your RHR and RHV over time, visual representations of how consistent your sleep schedule is, and more. I loved spending time getting a little nerdy about my health info, and looking for places where I could improve.
Ease of Use
One of my favorite things about WHOOP is that you can wear it and do absolutely nothing else and still have all your data for the day recorded. You can basically put it on and forget about it, if you want.
You *can* let the WHOOP app know you're about to start a workout or head to bed, but you don't have to. It actually just figures it out on its own based on your heart rate and how much you're moving around. The band also records up to three days of data without being connected to your phone, which means that if you're going off the grid or taking a break from your phone for a weekend, you can still use it.
You also don't have to take the strap off to charge it, which is kind of a game-changer. Instead of missing out on the data from the time it takes to charge it, all you have to do is slide the rechargeable battery on top of the strap. The battery needs to be recharged once every three days in my experience, which is not bad at all compared to other trackers I've used. (Related: This Could Finally Be the Secret to Committing to Your Fitness Tracker)
Lastly, the strap is waterproof, so you can wear it in the shower, in the pool-wherever.
No tracker is perfect for every person, so here are a few things to consider that could be seen as downsides to WHOOP.
No Step Counting
If you care about counting steps, WHOOP isn't for you. That being said, continuous heart-rate tracking is also an excellent measure of how active you were throughout the day, so for me, this was NBD.
Depending on what you're looking for in a tracker, you might be disappointed to find out that WHOOP does not have a screen. For a higher-priced tracker, some people find this shocking.
But let's be real: You probably have your phone on you most of the time anyway, and the app shows you your stats way more clearly than any smartwatch screen would ever be able to.
The only time I really want to see real-time stats from my tracker is while I'm actually working out, so sometimes I'll leave my phone open and perched somewhere visible so I can check my heart rate.
Still, if you're looking for a smartwatch/tracker combo that also allows you to respond to texts, control your headphones, and more-WHOOP probably isn't for you.
Depending on what you're looking for in a tracker and what other models you're considering, WHOOP may or may not be out of your price range. If you're considering a smartwatch with tracking capabilities, then WHOOP is likely in line with what you were already expecting to spend. The new membership option definitely makes it more accessible, but $30/month certainly adds up over time.
The Bottom Line
After using it for three weeks, I'm a fan of WHOOP. Not only has it helped me pick my training days and rearrange my rest days based on data, but it's actually given me a lot of insight into unexpected areas, like how well I'm sleeping in general and how much I should *actually* be eating. I also got to see how my body was impacted by taking a much-needed rest day through better quality sleep and HRV changes.
Initially, I was skeptical about whether WHOOP made sense for average fitness enthusiasts as opposed to professional athletes. But my takeaway was that if you like to get into the nitty-gritty of your health and fitness choices, you'll probably love using it.
If you want to be able to gauge how impactful the diet, sleep, recovery, and training changes you're making actually are, WHOOP is an awesome way to do that, because you'll be able to see how they're affecting your RHR, HRV, sleep, and recovery.
If you try out Whole30, for example, and keep the rest of your habit the same, you can look for clues in your sleep, recovery, and strain scores to find out whether changes are happening in your body. Are you sleeping better? Working out harder? Needing fewer rest days?
If you try a new workout class, you can see how much harder or easier it was than what you normally do for a workout. For anyone who is results-focused, that's pretty cool to be able to see so concretely.
More basic fitness trackers definitely get the job done, but if you're looking for one that goes above and beyond, this is it.