The Citgo sign. A North Star for the lost BU student. A backdrop for historic Fenway Park. An icon of Kenmore Square. However, in the fall of 2021, the red LEDs flashing through the Boston night sky had a new neighbor: five letters on top of One Kenmore Square. This caused many to wonder: What is WHOOP?
Boston University Athletics helped answer that question, announcing a partnership on Nov. 1, 2022 with Whoop Unite, offering the brand’s wearable technology and holistic-health program to student-athletes.
“The WHOOP Unite partnership with BU Athletics is hyper-focused on the student-athletes, empowering them to be the best version of themselves, both in their sport and in the classroom,” a WHOOP spokesperson wrote in an email.
Just over four months into the program, many athletic trainers, such as Jordan Ulrich, BU’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, are crunching numbers in Microsoft Excel. WHOOP’s weekly reports collect data on recovery, sleep performance, total sleep hours, resting heart rate, heart rate variability and daily practice and game strain.
“We’ve been able to dictate ‘maybe today in practice we should back up a little bit’ or ‘we’re in a really good spot where we can push it a little bit harder,” Ulrich said. “It’s definitely benefited everyone from individual athletes to myself, strength and conditioning and athletic training, all the way up to the coaches.”
Boston University athletes were given the choice to opt into the WHOOP program with one of two levels. Level one allows athletes to participate in WHOOP while keeping their data private, and level two shares the data with strength coaches and athletic trainers, Ulrich said.
Ulrich said one of his teams, the women’s basketball team, was initially skeptical, with 10 of 12 athletes opting into WHOOP and only a few participating in level two. Ulrich had to reassure the athletes that the information shared with the athletic staff does not include specific information. 10 players now share their data.
“It doesn’t tell me X athlete went to bed at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. That’s not our business,” Ulrich said. “It took the athletes buying into [the idea] that this is going to help them, and there is no punishment that can come from sharing the data.”
BU joins other athletic programs in partnership with the company, including Florida State University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Tennessee and BU’s Green Line neighbor Boston College.
Tennessee’s athletic department became the first to offer the Strap 3.0 to its entire athletic program in 2020.
Greg Adamson, the associate director of Olympic sports performance at the University of Tennessee, said the visibility of the program’s metrics has helped better prepare Tennessee’s athletes.
“We talk about a holistic approach to taking care of today’s student-athlete,” Adamson said. “Having something that allows you to know whether or not you’re getting the right amount of sleep … or proper nutrition and hydration is helping you prepare for those rigors of the next day.”
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, wearable technology, such as the Fitbit, started to gain traction. Adamson said the evolution of this technology and the impact of these measurements is important to changing habits.
“I don’t think anybody saw, a decade later, the importance or validity of numbers such as heart rate variability and what that says about your stress level,” he said. “If I can’t measure how stressed I am, I may not really know how to manage that stress.”
WHOOP emphasizes the importance of sleep through the technology available in its band, tracking sleep down to the minute and determining how much sleep the wearer needs, according to the website.
Christopher Kline, associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh, said quality sleep for student-athletes is “absolutely essential if they want to achieve optimum performance.”
“Educating athletes on the importance of sleep and getting them to pay attention to optimizing their sleep could play significant benefits in terms of their athletic performance, but also even their academic performance,” Kline said.
Sleep is also key for improving mental health, with a “bidirectional” relationship to both stress and anxiety, Kline said.
Cue the WHOOP Journal — a way for people to track different behaviors as a way to “become more mindful of their habits,” according to the WHOOP Student-Athlete Holistic Wellness ebook. The Journal allows athletes to monitor their recovery, sleep, nutrition, medication, lifestyle, mental health and more.
“Hopefully [the journal] can kind of influence them and make them more aware of all their feelings and stress and what they’re going through on a day-to-day basis,” Ulrich said.
Ultimately, the habits student-athletes build through WHOOP are not just to improve habits now, but to create lasting healthier life choices.
“Long term [it’s important to] not just better habits while you’re a student-athlete, but better habits 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years from now,” Adamson said. “Whether they’re a mom, dad, CEO, wife, husband, brother, sister, they’re operating at a higher level of understanding that with each habit they develop … it’s gonna have a ripple effect on the next thing.”
Pity the WHOOP product is so inaccurate…