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January 2021

Whoop’s Tech Brings Tracking to a New Level

By Scott Kauffman

When it comes to wearable devices, Fitbit appeared to be the band of choice for active health-conscious consumers after its first groundbreaking Bluetooth device entered the market in late 2009. As other companies began introducing more appealing and/or data-driven twists on the technology (read: Apple Watch), however, Fitbit, which initially allowed users to track movement, sleep and calories burned, started to see its market dominance erode over the past decade.

One of the newest high-profile entries in the wireless wearable world is Whoop. And while some might argue the latest option in this product category is just another iteration of Fitbit’s original idea/technology, rather than anything truly innovative, PGA Tour golfer Nick Watney would beg to differ.

Indeed, at a time when many people are still concerned about the effects of Covid-19, Whoop appears to offer a compelling solution to help detect the existence of this mysterious coronavirus and prevent it from being spread. Watney experienced this first-hand last June while competing in the RBC Heritage tournament on Hilton Head Island and was sold on the device ever since.

Watney spoke publicly about his illness that forced him to withdraw from the tournament on a podcast hosted by WHOOP, the health-monitoring device that now supports six of golf’s leading professional circuits and counts major champions Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas as early-round investors. Other high-profile athletes backing the company during a $100 million round of financing announced by Whoop last October are NBA all-star Kevin Durant and football stars Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Mahomes and Eli Manning.

What made Whoop a game-changer for Watney and so many other early believers like the NFL Players Association is the band’s ability to monitor and communicate one’s oxygen levels or breaths per minute. According to Watney, the Whoop device detected a dramatic change in his breathing on the night after the tournament’s first round – showing a rate of more than 18 breaths per minute versus the usual 14 his device normally recorded.

“I took a screenshot of the [breaths per minute] data,” Watney shared on the podcast, “and sent it to my wife and said, ‘This is very alarming,’ just because I had read [an email from WHOOP] when WHOOP had analyzed data from users that had come down with COVID. It was something that jumped out.”

Watney contacted PGA Tour officials and was tested for COVID-19. Nevertheless, because he was not symptomatic other than the Whoop data he shared, Watney was allowed to go to Harbour Town’s practice range. Watney recalls he “social-distanced while warming up” and about 20 minutes prior to teeing up for his second round, the Tour called and told him his test came back positive and he needed to leave as “soon as he can.”

In the aftermath of Watney being present at the course while waiting for what was ultimately a positive test result, the PGA Tour changed its policy the following week at the Travelers Championship event, prohibiting anyone from being on the course until test results were conclusive. Several days later, Whoop released findings of a collaborative study with CQUniversity in Australia showing Whoop’s algorithm detected 20 percent of Covid-19 illnesses in the two days prior to the onset of symptoms.

Soon after, while the study was under peer review, the PGA Tour purchased more than 1,000 Whoop devices and the company started working with larger groups of Tour players at the Travelers tournament. Of course, the Whoop strap monitors much more health-related metrics than just respiratory rates, including heart rate variability, resting heart rate and sleep staging.

Company spokesperson Alex Jacobs said customers receive free hardware after joining Whoop’s subscription coaching platform designed to “optimize behavior across pillars like strain, recovery, and sleep” alongside a community of other high performers. Cost begins at $30 per month.

On the Whoop podcast, Watney said he and his wife remember talking about that dramatic personal turn of events in June, wondering if there was a “silver lining to this” and asking “Can something good come out of this?”

“It was a bit scary,” Watney added, “but if people can learn more and this helps anybody else, that can be a good thing, obviously.”

In the post-Covid conditions that continue to consume our lives, any little innovative step or not that helps relieve the stress from this pandemic is welcome relief on any scorecard.

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