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Whoop Strap 3.0 review: A great fitness tracker for high performers and serious exercise fans

Find out what you get for the $30 monthly subscription price.

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The Whoop 3.0 is a fitness wearable that tracks your workouts, sleep, recovery and gives you advice on how to improve.

Whoop

Tracking your health and fitness is pretty useless if you don't use the info to actually learn something or change your habits for the better. And sometimes, that means knowing when you need to stop and rest. Which is why I was curious to try the Whoop Strap 3.0, the only fitness tracker I know of that will tell you when to not workout. It's also the only wearable that you pay $30 monthly to use, rather than buying it outright.

In the sea of fitness trackers and smart wearables, options are far from limited. But what makes the Whoop Strap 3.0 stand out is its reputation with fitness trainers and athletes, including LeBron James. That's in part because the Whoop Strap 3.0 -- the latest iteration of Whoop's trackers -- provides more in-depth health metrics such as heart rate variability (HRV), a feature that few other wearables can do at the moment. It uses your HRV, average resting heart rate and sleep patterns to tell you when to push yourself through a tough workout and when to take a rest day and recover.

Whoop is designed specifically to help you improve your exercise performance, recover better, get more sleep and feel empowered about your health and fitness habits. Here, I test how well it does that and if it's worth the $30 per month subscription fee.

Read more: The best vitamin subscription services for a healthy 2020 

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The Whoop Strap 3.0

Mercey Livingston/CNET

What is it?

The Whoop Strap 3.0 is a fitness tracker that measures your sleep, workout intensity and how your body recovers from your workouts, and provides advice on how to improve all of those areas. Whoop relies on HRV, heart rate and other metrics to assess sleep quality, workout strain and recovery, using LEDs and photoplethysmography to get those measurements. Think of it like a coach that explains to you every way you can improve your athletic performance, rather than a fitness cheerleader (you won't get push notifications suggesting you "keep going!" or "reach your step goal!").

The wearable does not have a display because it's not designed to be used as a regular watch or as an extension of your phone by giving you notifications, like the Apple Watch ($399 at Apple). The design is sleek and straightforward, with stretchy knit elastic bands you can change out. The band is water resistant; you can wear it while swimming or showering and it dries quickly.

When it comes to fitness trackers, a deal-breaker for me is short battery life, and luckily Whoop lasts for five days on a single charge. Plus, the charger is a battery pack that slides on top of the band, so you don't have to take it off when it's charging.

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The Whoop app tells you about your sleep, recovery and strain.

Whoop

The Whoop app is split into three key areas: sleep, recovery and strain.

Sleep

Whoop's sleep-tracking function analyzes how long you sleep, how long you spend in each sleep stage and how restful your sleep is. The app also has a "Sleep Coach" that tells you the suggested number of hours you should sleep based on how you want to feel or train the next day. It makes the recommendation based on your previous sleep patterns, and it does not always tell you to get the standard eight hours, like you may expect. 

Your sleep data is shown as a percentage of what you need to perform at the optimal level. All of the sleep suggestions are made based on your usual sleep schedule, your training load that week and your recovery on previous days.

Recovery

Whoop tells you when your HRV, RHR or sleep quality is declining, signaling that you need more rest or need to back off on training intensely. It gives you a recovery score every day, based on how well you slept, what you did the day before and other metrics like HRV and resting heart rate.

Your recovery percentage number is either green (which means you're ready to take on a tough workout), yellow (which means you've recovered some but maybe not enough to train intensely), or red (which means your heart rate, sleep and other metrics are showing your body is still in a recovery state, and that you should take a rest day).

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Whoop

Strain

How much energy you exert during a workout can tell you not only how difficult your workouts are, but also how your body is responding to stress, work and even travel. Strain is not considered a "good" or "bad" thing, but Whoop's recommended amount of strain you exert each day is directly related to how well your body recovered the night before. 

Strain is measured on a score of 1 to 21, and Whoop has a "Strain Coach" feature within the app that tells you what your optimal score for that day is. You can also see your Strain level in real time while working out in the app so that you know when to push harder or back off.

On days when my recovery number was low, my strain recommendation was usually around an 8. My typical workout usually reaches 14 on the strain scale. So if I want to make sure I recover well and don't overtrain, I would try to keep exertion and activities under an 8. The goal of the strain recommendation is to give you an idea of what amount of effort is needed to improve your fitness level without burning out. 

How much is it?

The Whoop is unique compared to other fitness trackers in that you have to become a member to use the Strap 3.0 and the app. You can't make a one-time purchase to use it. The membership costs $30 a month, and you get the tracker and band when you join at no extra cost (unless you want to purchase extra or specialty bands.) 

There is a six-month commitment when you purchase the Whoop membership. So if you cancel, you still have to pay for six months of services and you can keep the tracker, but it won't work. You also get a 30-day grace period to return once you start the membership. 

What's the hype?

Whoop claims its users have lower resting heart rates, better heart rate variability, and that they notice improvements in their sleep. Users also, according to the company, typically report 60% fewer injuries because it discourages overtraining. 

There are plenty of fitness trackers and apps on the market that promise to help you reach your goals, Most of them can measure your heart rate, track your steps and keep track of your exercise patterns, but not many can tell you how your body is doing on a physiological level (which depends on multiple factors like sleep, stress, nutrition and hydration) like Whoop. 

How I tested the Whoop Strap 3.0

I used the Whoop Strap 3.0 for four weeks at the same time as my Fitbit Versa 2 ($200 at Walmart) to compare the fitness and heart-rate metrics. I wore the Fitbit on my left wrist and the Whoop on my right.

Since Whoop doesn't have a visual display, I wanted to keep my Fitbit Versa on because I use it as a watch and to monitor texts and calls when I'm away from my phone. I've almost always used a Fitbit exclusively as a fitness tracker, and wanted to see if Whoop could completely replace my Fitbit, or be used in addition to it. 

Unlike the Fitbit, Whoop does not track your daily steps or miles walked, which I sometimes like to keep track of. So I still currently use the Fitbit to track my daily miles and steps to keep tabs on my overall movement.

What I liked

It takes about two weeks of using the Whoop Strap 3.0 to get your baseline stats, and once you have that, you start getting more personalized information and recommendations in the app. But one week into using the Whoop Strap 3.0, I was hooked.

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Whoop gives you a summary of your workout that shows calories burned, average HR, max HR and the strain score.

Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

By far, my favorite features are the recovery score and strain levels. It's fascinating to see how it can tell you when your body is stressed and needs more recovery -- and that this can happen even when you feel fine. 

For example, one day I woke up feeling semi-energized and ready to head to a workout class, but I noticed my HRV and recovery were pretty bad. The day before was pretty stressful; I did a challenging cardio workout, walked several miles around New York City, and I had a drink that night (alcohol is said to be one of the biggest culprits in tanking your HRV).

I also like Whoop's "Sleep Coach" because it tells me how much sleep to get each night. You can select the recommendation based on if you want to "Get by, Perform, or Peak" the next day in terms of performance. In addition to in-depth sleep metrics, the app also polls you on different habits to better tailor the advice. For example, Whoop told me that I spend 15% more time in deep sleep when I reported that I read a book before bed.

In terms of fitness tracking, Whoop's stats tell you how many calories you burned, your average HR, your max HR and usually some other insight at the top that changes (sometimes it will compare the current workout to your last). 

After I manually entered my first few workouts, it was able to automatically detect when I started a new workout, similar to the Apple Watch. It also knows the type of activity that I did and automatically enters that in the app (although you can change it if you need to).

What I didn't like

There's not much about Whoop I didn't like. I will say it was a bit confusing for me to set up the strap, but once I checked out the app instructions and watched the YouTube video, I was all set.

The band can be a little tricky to snap on and off (I usually will loosen it and slide it over my wrist to remove it, but you're supposed to keep it pretty tight). 

The charger attaches directly to the band, which is cool since you don't have to take it off to charge. However, the first few times I tried to charge the Whoop, I found it difficult to figure out how to slide the charger attachment on to the band while wearing it.

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How does the Whoop Strap 3.0 compare to the Fitbit Versa 2?

Sarah Tew/CNET

How does the Whoop compare to a Fitbit Versa 2?

Since I used both the Fitbit Versa 2 and the Whoop Strap 3.0 at the same time, I compared the data that each tracker gave me for my workouts, sleep and heart rate. Ultimately, I wanted to see which tracker was a better value by providing useful data that I wouldn't otherwise know, and tips for what to do with that data. 

When tracking a workout, I noticed each tracker gave me different stats. During one exercise session, the Fitbit Versa reported that I burned 492 calories, my average HR was 148, my max HR 200 and walked 5,171 steps. For the same workout, the Whoop reported I burned 688 calories, my average HR was 140 and my max HR was 184. The stats are pretty similar, but the calorie difference is significant. One reason may be because I manually stop the workout in Fitbit, but Whoop measures the entire time your HR stays elevated, which can be long after your workout.

The Fitbit also doesn't provide advice on when to recover or how hard to push during your next workout. I reached out to Fitbit for comment on whether any of its wearables can measure HRV or offer advice on workout recovery and did not get a response as of when this was published.

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The Fitbit Versa 2 focuses on step count and heart rate.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Finally, Whoop's sleep metrics were more useful to me than the sleep data the Fitbit provides. Both the Whoop Strap 3.0 and Fitbit Versa tell you how long you spend in each sleep stage during the night. But Whoop also tells you how many hours of sleep you should get each night. 

If you're looking for a watch that tells you your heart rate, calories burned, steps, distance and basic sleep tracking, Fitbit's features and data will meet your needs. And if you want a fitness tracker that notifies you of calls and text messages, the Fitbit Versa 2 has the upper hand as well. I wasn't unhappy with my Fitbit before the Whoop Strap 3.0, but now that I've seen the Whoop's stats, I feel like I've graduated to a next-level, more advanced tracker. 

Despite my preference for the Whoop, I'm still wearing both since I like the watch as well as text and call alerts on my Fitbit Versa display. I also feel like Fitbit's stats on daily steps and distance give me a better picture of how active I've been outside of my workouts.

Should you buy a Whoop Strap 3.0 fitness tracker?

If you feel like other fitness trackers aren't giving you the kinds of data and insights you want to improve your workout performance, the Whoop is a worthy option. It's especially useful for pro athletes and anyone who frequently participates in challenging fitness activities -- like a marathon.

At the same time, if you're someone who is prone to burnout or has a high-stress, fast-paced life, the Whoop could really help you improve your health and understand how your lifestyle can help or harm you. I see HRV as an impressive tool to keep tabs not only on your fitness and recovery, but your overall health, which is pretty powerful information to have. But you have to also be willing to spend $30 every month to use it, or else it's nothing more than a bracelet.

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Whoop

For people who casually workout each week or aren't training for some kind of athletic feat, I think the membership model can seem like a big financial commitment. That's $360 per year, which is considerably more expensive than buying another watch for less up front and using it for two or more years.

While the features and functions in the app are advanced, they are only something that athletes, high performers who work and travel a lot or advanced fitness fanatics would be into. You'll only get the full value of Whoop if you are motivated by getting detailed data about your workouts and sleep, using it to help you improve your health and fitness. If you're not interested in putting in a bit of work to understand your data, you're better off getting a Fitbit or an Apple Watch.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.