Photos Courtesy of Ben Owens

Ed. Note—most triathletes, professional and amateur alike, train plenty hard. Both populations, however, have a hard time saying "I need a break!" when they are tired. In recent years, wearable tech has stepped in to fix the problem. Rach McBride, our very own Purple Tiger, walks us through their Whoop heart rate variability wrist strap and explains how you can use one to improve you training, racing, and quality of life.

With all the wearable tech out there tracking all sorts of physiological data, an athlete can get overwhelmed quickly and simply say "hmmm, this isn't for me." I am definitely not the biggest data-driven athlete. I prefer to spend my time on the fun swim/bike/run stuff rather than staring at my devices looking at numbers. For the past several years, however, I've been a bit concerned about my sleep quality. I know that many devices can now track sleep quality and use heart-rate variability data to determine recovery, so twelve months ago I started wearing a Whoop strap to start getting some real data on these metrics. 

Little did I know my Whoop and the Whoop research team would be teaching me so much more, even in the realm of COVID. Here are the three most surprising ways I’m using my Whoop now outside of managing training load:

Early Warning Signs of COVID

Whoop tracks respiratory rate (number of breaths you take in a minute) which is a metric that should not change very much – maybe 1-2 breaths/min. However, what the research team at Whoop has found that a dramatic increase in respiratory rate (3+ breaths/min) can signal a COVID infection often before any other symptoms arise. I keep a close eye on my respiratory rate daily for any warning signs. It actually feels like a bit of a super power in the fight against the spread of COVID – early detection means I can take precautions, isolate myself, and save potentially exposing others out in public.

Booze Really Makes and Impact

Even one to two drinks in an evening, and I see the effects the next day of a much lower recovery score due to elevated resting heartrate, decreased heart rate variability, and poor sleep quality. Take this screen shot from a recent light training week: Monday eve had some wine, Tuesday – my recovery plummets by almost 60%, Wednesday had literally only a 30min easy jog, but 2 glasses of wine, and I’m back in the yellow Thursday.  (You don’t even want to see what it looked like over the holidays! Hah!) Check out more details here.

Sleep Accountability

My Whoop is crystal clear at telling me when I am not showing up with good sleep habits, which encourages me to pay attention and do better. I know I wake up at about the same time every day no matter what. So if I’m not going to bed in good time, it just shortens my hours of sleep. When I see this wide gap between sleep need and hours of actual sleep, it’s a big wake up call to do better – not to mention my recovery score was in the red all this week pictured. No wonder! 

For high performance athletes, every last 1% is important. But I also know that if I don’t take care of myself, I am much more irritable, depressed, and generally not the best person to be around! It affects my capacity as a partner, my ability to manage conflict, and regulation of my emotions. A healthy physiological system – high HRV - allows us to manage everyday stress better and ultimately live better and for longer.* My Whoop gives me gives me concrete, visual reminders to keep me accountable to being the best person, let alone athlete, I can be. If something here sounds interesting, you can get $30 off your Whoop subscription (that's a free Whoop band!) through my link: https://join.whoop.com/Rach

Want to hear more from me and a lot of other great folks in the endurance world? I’ll be joining a panel at the Endurance Athlete Summit this February 5-7. They are also generously donating a portion of their profits to Bikes Without Borders. Register here!

*reading Gabor Mate’s book When the Body Says No really hit this home for me!