This article was produced in partnership with WHOOP.
If you’re shopping for the fitness lover in your life, the WHOOP strap really can’t be beat. Fitness is often a numbers game: How fast did you run? How far did you ride? How many pounds did you lift? What gets lost in pursuit of those numbers, though, is how well you recover. After all, that’s where the magic happens—when the body’s immune system repairs the micro tears in the muscles caused by exercise, which helps build them back stronger than before.
As recovery has become one of the fitness industry’s biggest buzzwords, technology has risen to meet the occasion. Wearables (the top fitness trend of 2020, according to an annual report by the American College of Sports Medicine) no longer track just steps and calories burned, but recovery time, energy reserves, and stress levels to provide a more holistic look at health and fitness.
And while many have started including recovery metrics, WHOOP has always been about optimizing recovery to make gains, perfect for someone who loves tracking their fitness but may need a reminder to chill when it counts. The fact that athletes like Michael Phelps and LeBron James wear the band, and it’s the official wearable of the NFL Players Association, well, that just makes it even more lust-worthy.
WHOOP measures three key metrics: strain, sleep, and recovery.
Strain translates to the cardiovascular load—tracked via 24/7 heart rate monitoring displayed on a scale of 0 to 20—achieved during a workout or over the course of the day. Exercise can be a good stressor, but piling on additional stress (whether it’s from overtraining, work, parenting, or just the state of the world) can tip someone into detrimental territory. Wherever that number falls at a given moment, the app’s Strain Coach provides personalized insight into how much additional strain is optimal for the body to take on, with goals that can be monitored in real-time during a workout.
On the flip side of strain is recovery. WHOOP quantifies recovery by tracking how the body adapts to strain via heart rate variability, resting heart rate, and sleep performance. Every day, the device provides a daily recovery score (on a scale of 0 to 100 percent) to clue the wearer in to how ready their body is to perform.
And then there’s sleep. Quality shuteye may be the single most important factor in exercise recovery, according to new research from the International Journal of Sports Medicine. Not only does the WHOOP strap track standard metrics like sleep stages, disturbances, time spent in bed, and how long falling asleep takes, it uses that personalized data to determine how much sleep someone needs each night to make up for missed shuteye or extra stress. The whole idea is to prevent the accrual of sleep debt, which can cause lingering side effects that might affect performance.
Even without a wearable, most people know how hard they train. But fitness is about so much more than what happens in a workout. This is the perfect gift for anyone looking to get into working out for the first time, as well as advanced athletes who are training for a race or competition (even if that’s virtual this year). Beyond fitness, the WHOOP strap is also excellent for people with stressful jobs. Currently, the company is working with doctors, nurses, and frontline staff to analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them in the field. Burnout has become a serious problem for people worldwide, whether they’re in the medical field or just balancing work-from-home duties with child-rearing.
The goal is to help people create a better work-life balance that will benefit their mental and physical health. The WHOOP app can provide actionable tips like specific sleep times and warnings when recovery hasn’t been achieved so someone can make a more concerted effort to recuperate—whether that be to take a walk, meditate, or read. We can’t think of a better gift to give ahead of the new year.
[WHOOP Strap 3.0, from $180 for six-month membership; after, it’s $30/month, whoop.com]