This article was produced in partnership with WHOOP.
We’re hardwired to think getting fitter, faster, and stronger requires high-octane efforts all the time. If you’re not limping around post-leg day, it’s not contributing to your gains. If you’re not gassed by the end of your runs, you won’t hit a personal best. But if there’s one thing you should work toward in 2021, it’s training smarter. With a wearable like WHOOP Strap 3.0, you can monopolize your health and fitness data to see how your daily workout intensity in conjunction with work and life stress impacts your body’s ability to recover. It’s like having a personal trainer on your wrist.
How WHOOP Measures Daily Strain and Recovery
WHOOP scientists pored over a million different days of “Strain” and “Recovery” metrics from users to see exactly how they impacted peoples’ heart rate variability (HRV) the following day. Quick primer: HRV measures fluctuations in time between heartbeats. At rest, it can swing between, say, 55 and 65 beats per minute, since inhaling speeds up your heart rate while exhaling slows it down. A lower HRV means your body is struggling to handle stress and fatigue, while a higher HRV means your body is well-equipped to handle exertion. Since heart rate is the only objective measure of recovery, it’s WHOOP’s main deciding factor in how intensely you should be training on a day-to-day basis. To help users discern data, WHOOP scientists created the Strain metric to quantify overall stress put on your body. Based on your recovery each morning, WHOOP provides a target strain goal based on what your body is signaling it can handle for the day.
Now that’s not to say you always want to be in the green. If you’re training for a triathlon, you’re likely going to have training blocks of intense exercise where you’re overreaching, in which you’re prioritizing fitness gains over full recovery. That’s necessary for your short-term goal. When you near race day, you’ll taper and enter a restoring phase to help your body recuperate before the big event. That’s also necessary for your short-term goal; if it’s a long-term pattern, however, you’ll begin to detrain and lose endurance and/or muscle mass, depending on what you’ve been training for. Likewise, if you’re hitting your max effort every single day, without taking time to fully recover, that can culminate in overtraining, injury, and exhaustion.
On the app, there are two rings that indicate your strain and recovery for the day—a quick overview of your insights. Bigger efforts can be anywhere from a 14-19+ on the Strain scale, and it’s indicated as a blue line that inches closer to being “completed” depending on how close you get to your target strain (again, everything is relative; it’s not necessarily good or bad to hit the max). Your recovery is similarly presented as a circle within your Strain ring, although it’s color-coded to reflect the above Training Zones. Toggle to Strain, Recovery, and Sleep for a deeper dive into your analytics for the day and month (shown below).
Because WHOOP is combining yesterday’s Strain metrics with the night’s duration and quality of sleep, some athletes can naturally perform at a higher caliber—clocking more workouts at a higher intensity without teetering into the Overreaching zone if they’re also prioritizing optimal recovery. Sleep recharges your body. It regulates growth hormone to help build and repair muscle by healing those microtears caused during exercise; and regulates cortisol, the stress hormone, which can lead to inflammation in the body and inhibit recovery.
Can a Strap Replace a Personal Trainer? It Can—If You Know How to Leverage Your WHOOP Data
1. Do a Deep Dive Into Your Recovery
When most individuals work with personal trainers, they’re not always honest about their diet, stress, sleeping habits, and how much they drink throughout the week. But WHOOP provides a subjective view of how your body is faring internally in ways a personal trainer could never infer. Based on recovery, having a target strain goal makes it easier to understand when you should aim to have a more intense workout or focus on rest and active recovery. The app creates a holistic picture that connects the dots between data and lifestyle behaviors so you can draw parallels and uncover what’s hindering your recovery.
For example, in the monthly performance assessment (you can look over the year too), WHOOP breaks down your quality of sleep over the last 30 days. If your restorative sleep is on a downward trend, make a concerted effort to close the gap between the sleep you’re getting and what your body optimally needs. A coach or trainer would tell you to perfect your sleep hygiene, but won’t know what that means for you. Look at your nightly journal. If alcohol is wrecking your recovery, rethink how and when you drink. Maybe you save the beers for your recovery day, rather than the night before a strenuous workout. (Also check out these science-backed natural sleep aids experts swear by.) Take sleep as seriously as you do your workouts, and you’ll unlock new levels of athletic potential.
2. Use Strain to Measure Stress in and out of Training
Most wearables track calories, steps, distance, and pace. But workouts impact us all differently based on how fit we are and our body’s ability to perform. With the Strain metric, WHOOP helps quantify how strenuous your workout and day is based on your fitness level. For example, running a 5K for an advanced runner might register as a light strain of 7-9, but it might be closer to a 14-17 for someone new to running. The distance is still the same, but the effort required from the body is different in each case. WHOOP is unique in that it helps quantify this type of stress on an individual level. You’ll learn which of those are true for you by clocking different types of workouts at varying intensities and durations.
3. Take Actionable Strides From Journal Findings
The great thing about the app is it gives you the chance to journal. In the morning, you’ll indicate if you consumed caffeine (how much and when), alcohol (how much), took prescription sleep medicine, viewed a screened device before falling asleep (how long), read a book, and shared your bed with a partner. If you find too much coffee late in the day keeps you up, scale back or cut yourself off at noon. If you find your smartphone or laptop is making it harder to fall asleep, nix the electronics an hour before bed. The WHOOP Strap 3.0 and app are less fixated on hitting arbitrary goals like getting in 10,000 steps, and more focused on interpreting empirical data. Make parallels. If you’re able to fall asleep faster when you listen to a meditation before bed, make it a nightly habit.
4. Lean In to Heart Rate Variability
When your HRV increases, indicating you’re more recovered, you can engage in more demanding sessions, which can be longer in duration or higher in intensity. Likewise, when HRV decreases, you can prioritize low-intensity sessions. Studies have shown this type of intuitive programming yields greater fitness gains than following a fixed program that doesn’t factor in your individual needs. This is where WHOOP outshines a personal trainer. Your coach might have a specific order of workouts for the week that might not be the most conducive to your fitness gains. However, WHOOP can help you fine-tune your training programs to prevent burnout via HRV. As gym culture drastically shifts, putting more of the onus into our hands, isn’t it time you take greater autonomy over your health and fitness? WHOOP thinks so—and we agree.