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Podcast No. 51: Unlocking Human Performance

December 3, 2019

What is WHOOP & What Can It Do For You?

By Will Ahmed

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You may have noticed that last week we put out the 50th episode of the WHOOP Podcast. It’s now been exactly one year since this podcast debuted, and it’s been quite a ride. WHOOP has grown tremendously in the past 12 months, and with so many new members on board I thought it’d be a great time to reflect on how we got started and what WHOOP can do for you today.

We recorded this episode at the Spartan World Championships earlier this year with Jeff Doidge and Matt Legge, Co-Founders of ATP Science. They turn the tables and interview me all about WHOOP. We talk about the company’s mission and how it began, how WHOOP works and what it measures, the many insights we’ve gained from the data so far, and how we’re using this to help you better understand your body and optimize your performance.

Show Notes:

3:35 – Our Mission at WHOOP. “To unlock human performance. We believe that every individual has an inner potential that you can tap into if you can better understand their body and their behaviors. … We summarize your sleep, your recovery and your strain, and we look at everything through that lens.”

4:50 – Preventing Overtraining. “It turns out about 70% of athletes over train.”

5:36 – What Data Does WHOOP Collect? “The sensor itself is measuring heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), skin conductivity, ambient temperature and accelerometry. At any given moment were using some or all of those inputs to give you output on sleep, recovery and strain. … A simple way to think about it is it’s replacing a chest strap (for heart rate monitoring), an electrocardiogram (to measure HRV) and a PSG machine (to get sleep lab quality sleep data).”

6:44 – Activity Auto Detection. “You can figure out ‘What’s my average strain’ if I go for a 5-mile run vs a 10-mile run vs cycling vs basketball vs tennis, etc.”

7:16 – Recovery. “That’s probably the single most important thing that we’ve brought to market. It’s a daily score from 0-100%, either red, yellow or green, that’s summarizing how ready your body is to perform. If you’re peaking, take on a lot of strain, if you’re run down, do less.”

8:45 – Quantifying Strain. “Over the course of the day, WHOOP measures the strain on your body [in real time]. It can be from stress, activity, exercise, etc.”

9:45 – When Did WHOOP Launch? It was founded in the summer of 2012 at Harvard. “In the first year we built some really goofy looking prototypes, but the data that came off of them was the first of its kind,” Will says. “We started working with the best athletes in the world, I mean that quite literally, two of our first 100 users were LeBron James and Michael Phelps.”

11:24 – Getting the World’s Best to Wear WHOOP. “The secret to getting to anyone high-profile is ‘Who’s the person that that person listens to that a bunch of people don’t already know?’” In the case of LeBron, it was his athletic trainer Mike Mancias. “If you can improve a high performer by 1%, you’ve just changed the equation for that person.”

13:16 – Viewing the Data in the WHOOP app. “All of the data is sent directly to your phone.”

13:30 – In-Game Use. “We have a lot of athletes wearing this during games and no one even knows.”

14:59 – Tracking Sleep. “I think sleep is the missing part of the equation for most high-performing people.”

15:49 – Sleep Efficiency. “The biggest thing is, if you spend 8 hours in bed, you’re not actually getting 8 hours of sleep.”

17:03 – Stages of Sleep. “REM and slow wave (deep) are way more important than just periods of light sleep. … If you get 3-4 hours of REM and slow wave sleep, you have a profoundly different experience the next day than if you get 1-2. And most people have no idea how much they’re getting because they’re not measuring it.”

18:43 – Tips to Sleep Better. Improve the environment, make it dark and cold. With supplements, “not everything is right for everyone,” but Will likes magnesium and melatonin. Stay off your phone in bed, “It’s affecting your eyes, it’s affecting your brain.”

20:58 – Sleep Consistency. “Going to bed and waking up at the same time. … We looked at 10 million sleep data sets, and we found that sleep consistency makes your resting heart rate lower and your heart rate variability higher.”

23:16 – Mental Fatigue Affecting Recovery. “The first time WHOOP launched a product to the public, my body was more run down after that than it was after running the Boston Marathon.”

26:19 – Who Are WHOOP Members? “What’s been awesome for us is we went from the best athletes in the world to just about anyone.”

27:03 – How WHOOP Knows Your Recovery. “Heart rate variability is probably the most important thing,” Will explains. “We measure this phenomenon during slow wave sleep and compare your baseline averages to where you’re at today.”

29:41 – Impact of Alcohol. “Alcohol dramatically affects your sleep, and dramatically affects your heart rate variability the next day.” We also discovered the effects of a hangover can last 4-5 days.

31:05 – Caffeine. “Everyone metabolizes caffeine a little bit differently. Generally speaking, drinking it after 2-3 pm will start to affect your sleep.”

33:13 – CBD. “It’s at such an early phase right now, there’s not a lot of data out there.” Anecdotally, a lot of WHOOP members claim it helps them, and they see it in their data.

34:53 – Food Allergies. “I think they can play a sneaky role in your data, most people don’t actually know what they are allergic too.”

36:26 – Diets. “You have to figure out what’s right for you. The first thing to consider is what is your goal.”

39:04 – How to Get WHOOP. “It’s a membership, the hardware comes free with it. You can sign up for as little as $30 down. The promise we’re making to you is that you’re going to see the benefit over time.”

40:55 – Studies & Research. “We’re involved with drug trials, we’re doing stuff with patients with diabetes, a recent Alzheimer’s study, a lot of different things. … We want to give back to the medical community, we want to play a role in helping people understand their bodies and improve human performance.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.