WHOOP – Ground Breaking Strength Training? Or Damp Squib?
WHOOP’s new strength training feature promises groundbreaking insights into muscular strain, never before seen in a wearable. Yet, whilst the new addition to WHOOP looks awesome and generally works well, it’s somewhat limited and perhaps even confusing in certain aspects.
Must Read: Detailed WHOOP Review – is it accurate?
What is it?
The underlying science is Velocity Based Training (VBT)
The WHOOP smartphone app lets you design a complete strength workout comprising multiple sets, steps, and supersets. The app guides you through each routine and gives you a new type of strain score at the end.
The WHOOP band still tracks your heart rate, but now, its onboard gyroscope and accelerometer are used to better quantify the true effect of each rep. Note that those two sensors combined are referred to as the Inertial Motion Unit or IMU.
So, just to be clear, this new ability only comes into play when following a known strength routine on the app.
Muscular Strain – Truly Scoring Strength Workouts?
Before this week, no other mainstream wearable, including WHOOP, properly scored your strength workouts. Even if you used a super-accurate chest strap to measure your heart rate, the heart rate simply does not give a proportionate insight into the true strain on your body. Sure, it gives some strain, but it does not account for the stressful impact on muscles, bones, joints, and tissues.
Polar’s power-based Training Load Pro calculations include an element of estimated muscular strain, Garmin & Coros both produce muscle heatmaps for strength workouts and Biostrap attempts to auto-recognise strength moves with internal sensors. None are quite the same as WHOOP.
To assess the true impact WHOOP gather a variety of bits of information
- Movement profiles of different exercises vary and affect different muscle groups in different ways. WHOOP determines the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and each exercise profile
- Weight – In your set, you will define the weight used
- Reps – WHOOP measures these where it can
- Intensity – The speed of movement (velocity) is also collected.
Faster reps, more reps and heavier reps each increase the muscular strain.
Thus, the total physical work done for each rep is determined and allocated to the appropriate muscle groups.
Some secret sauce happens here, and WHOOP determines both the normal cardiovascular strain and the new muscular strain.
What appears not to be collected right now is the range of movement from one rep to the next, nor the quality of each rep in terms of its idealised 3D motion.
Remember, there are limitations. If you are wearing WHOOP on your left wrist and doing right-arm biceps curls, then WHOOP isn’t going to record a whole lot of motion data that describes the curl.
What to expect: I’m definitely not the most muscular of people. I see a low muscular strain for the weights I do in WHOOP. Like 3% of the total strain. If you are an Olympic weightlifter, then your muscular score will be significantly higher, but I don’t know if the magnitude difference you will see will be 33% or 93% for muscular strain.
What You Need to Do – Building a Workout
WHOOP’s graphic sums up the process you go through on the app pretty well. As you can see, it’s relatively intuitive to use.
There are some nice graphics as you execute the workout showing your heart rate and stats after you’ve finished showing the strain breakdown and also how your heart rate track maps onto the times when you executed individual sets.
The newly modified WHOOP strain metrics are also accounted for elsewhere in the WHOOP ecosystem for example it feeds into sleep recommendations.
But is it any good?
For a first pass, this is an okay feature from WHOOP. However, considering that many WHOOP users are gym-goers, lifters and cross-fitters, WHOOP definitely needs to go further.
As a somewhat weedy endurance athlete (!), here are my thoughts:
The whole process looks nice, and there is an extensive workout library to build from with good imagery to help you identify the right name for the workout you plan to do. However, choosing an individual workout to add to your set is quite a manual process. I couldn’t see how to either assign a favourite workout or copy a set to repeat it.
Executing the workout required repeated and numerous interactions with the smartphone app. WHOOP would definitely benefit from the ability to recognize a tap gesture to end and/or advance between reps. As it is now, I was putting my smartphone to one side, lifting something, and then returning. WHOOP presumably was detecting the reps but didn’t seem to recognize my movement (or lack of it) as a stop or start to the set.
I only did fairly simple sets, and WHOOP was okay there. I could easily imagine that complex sets would be cumbersome to both build and annoying to execute.
Then, what does the end number mean? Elsewhere I’ve seen some whoop users bemoaning the old, maximal 21 strain score. “Why couldn’t it be 20 or 100?” was the criticism. Fair enough but at least we knew what 21 means. What does a new 21 mean? Then what is the relevance of a strain score for a bench press plus the strain score for squats? Is it really an additive measure? Then is there any meaning to changed strain scores over time? Does WHOOP track the range of motion and velocity of each of your exercises?
Finally, the science behind VBT requires, I believe, that each rep is executed at a maximal velocity. Jo Public simply won’t do that. Does that mean that the science then doesn’t apply?
Whilst heart rate alone can never quantify muscular strain, WHOOP’s HRV absolutely did and does correctly measure your body’s reaction to muscular strain.
WHOOP claims to have extensively validated its muscular strain results, and we have to take it at its word. When we factor in its acquisition of PUSH, the company has presumably expended significant financial resources, so we can only hope the data capture and calculations have good technical and scientific foundations. There is no way to easily test this.
WHOOP’s novel intentions for muscular strain seem groundbreaking and offer lifters, cross-fitters, and the like the main hope of getting the most accurate assessment of their strain.
However, the new section of the app is very much a Gen 1 product that needs ease-of-use refinements for workout building and execution. I suspect the former is already in progress; however, to better automate workouts without having to continuously interact with the smartphone app might be technically challenging for WHOOP. Time will tell.
Thanks to: Daniel Haenle Admin of WHOOP Athletes Group
This content is not sponsored. It’s mostly me behind the labour of love which is this site and I appreciate everyone who follows, subscribes or Buys Me A Coffee ❤️ Alternatively please buy the reviewed product from my partners. Thank you! FTC: Affiliate Disclosure: Links pay commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.