The Equipment Insider

Whoop: Company's fitness tracker a reason to celebrate

Whoop’s latest device, Strap 3.0, has helped Tour players stay ahead of COVID-19 and perform at their best

Fitness plays a key role in maximizing performance in golf, just as it does with any other sport. Tiger Woods made that abundantly clear to the masses more than two decades ago. If you watch TV coverage of any PGA Tour event today, you’ll notice a commonality that links the vast majority of players: by and large, they’re all in excellent shape.

The methods that players take to get in shape and to maintain that level of conditioning are as varied as their individual swings, but when it comes to tracking their bodies’ performance, many players are relying on the same revolutionary piece of technology for insight, feedback and guidance. They’re wearing a Whoop Strap.

“Data is power,” said Nick Watney, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who has used Whoop for more than a year. “Being able to collect it and analyze it, that’s how you improve.”

In June, just before the second round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links, Watney tested positive for COVID-19. He had tested negative before the tournament, and he had no symptoms of the virus. When he checked his Whoop data on Friday morning, he saw that his respiratory rate had spiked overnight, going from around 14 breaths per minute to more than 18. That was the alarming bit of evidence that persuaded Watney to get retested.

“Respiratory rate is one of those things that doesn’t really fluctuate up and down as a number,” said A.J. Baker, Whoop’s performance marketing manager. “Typically, it’s pretty uniform. So, when we do see these huge spikes, it’s the sign of something meaningful.”

Less than a week after Watney’s positive test result, the PGA Tour acquired 1,000 Whoop Straps (and the requisite memberships for data collection) and distributed them to Tour players and their caddies ahead of the Travelers Championship. It was an initiative taken to improve the safety of those golfers and members of their support teams, as well as to make the environment of a Tour event safer each week.

Whoop Strap
Nick Watney's COVID-19 diagnosis at the RBC Heritage Classic in June was aided by his wearing a Whoop Strap. Less than a week after Watney’s positive test result, the PGA Tour acquired 1,000 Whoop Straps and distributed them to Tour players and their caddies. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and other players on Tour had been using them for quite some time.

Whoop starts at $30 a month, and the strap/hardware comes with the membership.

Safety measures surrounding COVID-19 may have dictated that every player on tour receive a Whoop Strap, but many players — including Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — had been using them for the better part of a year, some even longer than that. As Baker acknowledged, the numerous metrics that the device tracks allow users to assess the quality of their sleep, the extent of their body’s recovery from the previous day, and the level of strain that their behaviors and actions are putting on their body.

Other wearable fitness trackers exist on the market, the most popular of which are created by Fitbit. Some of those models provide similar insight to what a Whoop Strap can offer, such as outlining the amount of time that a user spends in light, deep and REM sleep stages; however, Whoop distinguishes itself by offering a more detailed analysis of a body’s overall state, largely by tracking a person’s heart-rate variability. In all, a Whoop Strap monitors and tracks almost two dozen different metrics, and it allows users to input more than 50 behavior and lifestyle choices, which allows users to understand how those actions affect their physical well-being.

“For these guys,” Baker said of PGA Tour players, “more than anything it’s about being incredibly aware of how your body is responding to things and what you have to do in order to build the optimum level of performance every single day.”

Of course, you don’t need to be a PGA Tour player to reap the benefits that a Whoop Strap can provide. In fact, a strap worn around the arm of a mid- to high-handicapper likely offers a greater potential for improved performance.

“It might highlight a lot of things that have been glaring issues that they [average golfers] just haven’t noticed because that’s the way that they’ve lived for so long,” Baker said. “Whether it’s poor sleep, or a bad diet, or general bad habits like staring at your phone at night or having a couple of beers here and there, they all impact things completely differently – and they impact each person differently – but they could be the thing holding you back from getting to the next level, both as a golfer and as a person.”

According to Baker, a new user’s introduction to Whoop and subsequent loyalty to its usage can best be described as a domino effect. It starts with positive results that come from making changes to one behavior, usually sleep. As Baker noted, most people don’t know whether they’re good sleepers because what happens while we sleep is disconnected from our consciousness. But because a Whoop Strap provides quantifiable data that reveals the quality of a user’s sleep (as well as the efficiency and consistency of that sleep), Whoop users can assess their abilities to get meaningful rest. More important, they can make strides to improve it.

“Once you start to feel the impact of what getting an hour more of sleep every single night really does for you and how your body feels, how your body restores itself, then it becomes priority No. 1,” Baker said, “which leads you to looking into [improving] other things.”

Earlier this year, the Health Sciences Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at the University of Arizona validated Whoop’s ability to track sleep staging accurately. “The accuracy of Whoop in measuring heart rate, heart-rate variability and sleep staging of slow wave and REM, or dream sleep, was excellent when compared to polysomnography, which is the gold-standard in sleep tracking,” said Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, a professor of medicine at the university and the director of its Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences.

The center also concluded that users who wear a WHOOP Strap ultimately sleep better, because they make quality sleep a priority based on the feedback that the device provides.

Can a Whoop Strap make you a better golfer? The simple answer is, yes. It offers professionals and weekend hackers alike the potential to be better players, so long as those golfers commit to necessary lifestyle changes. A Whoop Strap isn’t going to cure you of the swing flaws that have hampered your game for years, but it is going to help you to live healthier, and it will assist you in your quest to better overall fitness. That alone will open the door to physical improvement on the course.

However, where a Whoop Strap can affect an amateur golfer the most is between the ears. If you tee it up with any regularity, you understand the role that confidence plays in making good swings, which subsequently leads to hitting quality shots. To wake up in the morning and to see a positive recovery score – to look at quantifiable data that affirm your body is properly rested and primed to perform at a high level – is to be filled with confidence. And bringing that newfound confidence to the course automatically gives you a better chance to play well.

As Baker said, “Everybody who puts Whoop on can find value in it in some way.”

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