During an era of fitness wearable proliferation, WHOOP is making waves in rugby union with Lions Conor Murray and Anthony Watson signing up as WHOOP Athletes.
Some of the highest-profile athletes in the world are already using WHOOP – including both Olympian Michael Phelps and NBA superstar Lebron James.
What is Whoop?
First released in 2016, WHOOP is a personalized fitness wearable that provides coaching insights based on your recovery, sleep, and daily activity. The wrist-worn strap is designed to always be on and collects data at an unrivaled rate, resulting in massive amounts of data collected every day.
Professional athletes can’t get enough of the massive amount of data that WHOOP provides its users.
Where’s the benefit to rugby players?
Elite-level rugby players are among the fittest and strongest athletes in the world when it comes to field sports. A mix of power, speed and technical ability are all required to perform at the highest level.
However, the most important area for rugby players in the modern game is undoubtedly recovery with more training than ever before -whether that be in the gym or on the field – being added to their hectic schedules.
At 32-years-old, Murray is nevertheless showing no signs of stopping, and getting his recovery just right has played a key role. The scrum-half has learned that a good day of training starts the night before and that nailing his sleep and recovery routines have been crucial in helping him to maintain his high standards in training and games.
He also found out some interesting information when touring with the Lions. It turned out that International travel does take a massive toll on players bodies as after Murray’s overnight flight to South Africa saw his WHOOP Recovery score dropped to single digit figures before bouncing back.
In that regard, the Munsterman who has been using the app for more than two years, believes WHOOP is a real game-changer.
“With rugby and the contact element, we do go through quite a lot of strain on the big training days, so knowing what I’ve done that day and how it might impact my sleep or recovery is huge,” said the Ireland scrum-half, who has won 91 caps for his country since making his debut in 2011.
“Since using WHOOP, I’ve got a better understanding of how I need to recover in order to get my body in prime shape to train twice through contact during the week and play a game on the weekend.
“In rugby, a lot of emphasis is on recovery and recovering well. When we have big training days my WHOOP strain tends to be quite high, so that kick starts my recovery program, whether it’s recovery pumps, ice baths, or just getting my sleep hygiene right. You see the value of this through the recovery data on WHOOP.”
The Three Pillars
Sounds complicated? Well, it isn’t. All the data is accumulated in a mobile app where WHOOP breaks down performance in three simple visualized metrics: Strain, Recovery, and Sleep.
Strain is a proprietary WHOOP metric and is a measure of cumulative cardiovascular load, i.e. how hard an individual’s heart is working either during an activity or over the course of the day. It is measured on a scale of 0-21, with 21 being the maximum that an individual can achieve. Strain is calculated by the duration of time you spend in each of your personal heart rate zones, established from your max heart rate. Each heart rate percentile range has a different weight to how much Strain will increase. In general, the Strain scale is divided into 4 categories as shown below.
There are a number of Strain scores displayed in the attached graphic, with the score at the top (18.7) being a measure of the total Day Strain, while each of the values beside the activities are referred to as Workout Strain, and are a subset of the overall total Day Strain. As WHOOP measures cardiovascular load, we would expect to see that very light activities (e.g. a light walk in the morning) accumulate very little, if any, Strain. Weightlifting sessions don’t tend to lead to high Strain scores as it for the most part works a different system, while intense pitch-based sessions would lead to higher Strain scores as they involve a heavier cardiovascular component.
It is important to note that Strain is personalized and accounts for differences in fitness and ability – for example, if an out-of-shape amateur rugby player and Conor Murray did the exact same session, we would expect to see different Strain scores given their differences in fitness levels.
Recovery is a measure of one’s daily readiness to perform both in training and everyday life. WHOOP measures an individual’s recovery score on a scale of 0-100%, broken into green, yellow and red zones. Once again this metric is completely personalized and is measured off an individual’s own Resting Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Respiratory Rate, and Sleep Performance. WHOOP calculates your body’s Recovery score using metrics pulled while you sleep and reports this score the following morning when you wake. We would expect to see after a tough training day on the pitch or a heavy session in the gym that a player’s recovery would take a dip the next day, even if they got enough sleep and were fueled/hydrated properly. In addition to that, other factors like stress, fitness levels, behavioural choices or injury/illness will affect an individuals Recovery score.
One of the key drivers of an individuals’ Recovery score is Heart Rate Variability which at a basic level is a leading health indicator that measures your autonomic nervous system – think of it like a view into what’s going on ‘under the hood’ of your body. More information on it can be found here.
Sleep is the final key pillar of WHOOP. In addition to tracking sleep duration, WHOOP also provides a detailed analysis of sleep metrics like Sleep Efficiency (actual hours of sleep vs time in bed), Sleep Consistency (regularity of sleep/wake cycle) and Sleep Quality (time spent in REM and Slow Wave Sleep – the two restorative stages of sleep). Crucial for improving recovery, boosting the immune system and making fitness gains, WHOOP not only tracks and measures sleep but also coaches individuals around how much sleep they actually need on a given night, when to go to bed and how to get better quality sleep.
Being able to track how your body is performing athletically but also in repair and recovery could transform how you regard your fitness routine.
To join WHOOP and get your first month free, go to https://www.whoop.com/