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The number one rule of parenting, I’ve learned the hard way, is to never do anything once that you’re not willing to do a million times more. Young children crave routine and repetition, and they can find patterns where you never meant to introduce one. A well-intentioned gesture, such as carrying a tired toddler home on your shoulders one afternoon, may be requested—nay, loudly and vocally demanded—for all future park trips.
I bring my son to his preschool every morning and, in a refrain repeated around the world and across generations, motivating him to get ready and out the door can be challenging. We’re sometimes a little late. One morning last fall, I decided to make up time by running with the stroller for our half-mile journey.
I now run with the stroller every morning to school.
A half-mile isn’t far, of course, but we’re not working with a stroller designed for running—or, in this case, interval sprinting because we walk when crossing the street. Sometimes my infant daughter comes along for the ride too, so I’m pushing 70 pounds of children in an off-label use of our double-stroller.
I share this preamble as a way of introducing #DadStrain, a concept that became tangible with data when I began wearing a Whoop strap in late December. I wanted the strap because I expected to learn more about the exertion of my usual workouts—typically a four-mile run, four or five times per week—and how my body recovered, given the vagaries of sleep consistency with the aforementioned young children. What surprised me the most about my personal data, however, was how physically straining parenting can be.
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Any mother and father can attest to how draining kids can be, especially in families with multiple children because you can no longer double team or alternate the work. (Another rule of parenting: with kids, one plus one equals way more than twice the job.) You either resort to man-to-man or zone defense.
Whoop quantifies strain, its metric for cardiovascular load, and my readings have been regularly higher than anticipated. In fact, my highest strain in the first three months of wearing Whoop—a 15.3 on a 0-to-21 scale—occurred on a day when I didn’t even exercise. Well, not deliberately. We did visit multiple playgrounds on a warm spring Saturday. I tend to rack up a few strain points each school morning just at drop-off.
I love that SportTechie was a fully remote workplace even before the pandemic because I have so much more time around my children and never miss big moments or developmental milestones—but it also leads to more aggregate strain.
The premise of Whoop is continuous monitoring, so it’s on my wrist pretty much 24/7. In the past, I’d occasionally worn an arm band with a Polar OH1+ heart rate sensor but only when intentionally exercising, so I had no concept of what the physical toll was of chasing my kids around.
My 4-year-old is an adrenaline junkie, a trait he did not inherit from his parents, and he always wants to be pushed on the swing to the limit, where he almost flips around the top. And he never tires of this.
While I knew there was some effort on my part to manage this, imagine my surprise when Whoop alerted me that it had automatically detected a workout. (Whoop includes several dozen activity types, from HIIT and mountain biking to pickleball and manual labor, but it doesn’t yet classify one as “parenting.”) I had spent 16 minutes at 70-80% of my max heart rate just trying to push my son into orbit. In all, I burned 390 calories during a 36-minute playground trip, with my heart rate maxing out at 161. A fellow parent spied my sweaty shirt and asked whether I spilled water on myself. If you don’t want to pay for a gym membership, I can loan you my children.
The Whoop strap has had plenty of validation from third-party researchers as a leading product, but no wearable device is perfectly accurate. I’m often amused in the morning when my auto-detected night of sleep is listed as eight or more hours—far longer than I’ve actually spent in bed. After a couple instances of this, I realized the source of the confusion: this happened on nights when I spent an hour or two peacefully watching television. My Whoop clearly couldn’t comprehend that I’d be awake and at rest, given the frenetic nature of most days.
Whoop has provided another crucial benefit as a COVID-19 watchdog. The data it collects—particularly nighttime respiratory rate—can indicate a potential infection. (PGA Tour golfer Nick Watney was a high-profile example, whereby a jump in his respiratory rate prompted him to take a COVID-19 test before the second round of the RBC Heritage last June; otherwise asymptomatic, Watney tested positive and withdrew from the tournament, sparing the field from possible exposure.) I’m now fully vaccinated but tracking that largely steady metric offered some peace of mind over the past few months, albeit intermixed with occasional pangs of anxiety at the sight of slightly elevated numbers in what was a tech-driven form of med-students syndrome.
Whoop, which SportTechie honored as the Outstanding Technology of 2020, is the go-to wearable for elite athletes. The NFLPA, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour distribute the straps to all of their members while numerous MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL and Olympic athletes all choose to become customers on their own. Famously, LeBron James and Michael Phelps were two of Whoop’s first 100 users.
All this is to say that Whoop might be a little overkill for a soon-to-be suburban dad whose current training regimen consists of periodic runs just for physical and mental health. After leaving the city in a few months, I’ll have more opportunities to bike, swim and return to other sports—shoot hoops, play softball, maybe pick up tennis—and gauging the strain of those activities will be informative for a tech and data nerd like myself.
So Whoop probably doesn’t feel like a forever device for me. It provides immense value for more competitive athletes; the insights I receive are more interesting than actionable. When I wake up with an 11% recovery, as I did recently, I can’t shift my strenuous workout to the next day; my kids apparently still need to be fed and cared for. And God help us if we skip the swings or don’t run to school one morning.
My formal sporting days ended in high school, but competition can be found everywhere. Our editorial director, Matt Gagne, also began wearing a Whoop around the same time. He has slightly older children, so we formed our own group where we could share and compare our personal data.
So who was the #DadStrain champ? Well, Whoop uses AI to individualize strain scores based on each user’s capacity, rendering direct comparisons challenging. Instead, the game quickly devolved into who was sleeping less—and that, I can assure you, is a contest with no winners.
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