Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Recovery is everything. And if you’re not tracking it these days, are you even a triathlete? Knowing your heart rate variability (HRV) score, your blood oxygen levels, your resting heart rate and the average number of minutes spent in REM sleep each night all seem to be increasingly common data points that many multisport athletes trade in the hot tub before swim practice. Hot tub chit-chat aside, this data gives an excellent insight into what is happening in our bodies in response to training, life stress, and, well, pretty much everything we’re doing. It’s no surprise then, that there is now a choice of recovery-oriented wearables. The Whoop 4.0 is a well-known one, which we’ve lined up here against a newer entrant on the scene, the Apollo Neuro. Now, before we get too much further, we should make it very clear that this isn’t an entirely fair “apples-to-apples” test, as the two watches, while definitely recovery-focused, have different purposes.
RELATED: How Do I Know If My Recovery Sucks?
Whoop 4.0 vs. Appolo Neuro: Facts and Similarities
The Whoop 4.0 is a biometric tracking device that captures a slew of data, from HRV to skin temperature, which it then uses to give you daily strain, recovery, and sleep scores (more on that later). By contrast, the Apollo Neuro calls itself a “therapeutic wearable,” designed to improve your sleep, recovery, focus, and calm by sending silent, soothing vibrations to your nervous system. Its website states it’s “like a wearable hug for your not-so-nervous system.” Like the Whoop, it can be worn around your wrist, but can also be worn around your ankle or attached to clothing. While it is very much focused on aiding and improving recovery, it’s doing so from a different perspective: it’s not capturing the recovery data, but aiming to help improve it.
The Whoop captures the following metrics: heart rate, HRV, blood oxygen saturation, skin temperature, sleep (duration and cycles), strain (a measurement of combined training and life stress—more on this later), and recovery (a % score based on training and sleep). All of this information can be accessed by the Whoop app, which is a treasure trove of data, even by tri-nerd standards.
The Apollo Neuro captures none of the above, but is coming at recovery from a different perspective, aiming to soothe your nervous system with its vibrations, which should then equate to better sleep, HRV, and a sense of calm. It, too, has an app, from which you can set up the device and select the mode you wish to use. There are seven different modes to choose from, from “Relax and Unwind” to “Social and Open,” and the different modes determine the intensity at which the device vibrates.
Whoop 4.0: Deep Dive
If you’re a fan of data (and you’re on Triathlete reading a gear review, so we’ll assume you are), then you’re going to be whooping over the Whoop. It seems to have been designed with the Type-A Tri Nerd in mind. Forget doom-scrolling. The average Tri Nerd will likely spend more hours in Whoop-scrolling mode, such is the level and depth of data it kicks out each day. While there are many data points to monitor, there are really three key pieces of information (or “scores”) to pay attention to each day: strain, recovery, and sleep. The strain score reflects sources of stress (from training and life) and compares this to sleep data to give an overall view of how well set up your body is to tolerate strain that day. It runs on a proprietary scale of zero to 21, with zero to nine indicating light strain, 10 to 13 indicating moderate strain, 14-17 indicating high strain, and 18-21 highlighting overreaching.
Similar to the strain score, Whoop’s recovery score takes into account your HRV, resting heart rate and sleep data to give you a green, amber or red light for the day ahead. A green light means you’re ready to hit a hard workout or a strenuous day. Amber means your body is maintaining health and can likely still handle a moderately strenuous day. Red means exactly that: it’s signaling time to rest and recover because you’re under stress or could be getting ill.
Whoop’s sleep score is probably my favorite part of the app and delivers in-depth tracking of each night of sleep. It tracks all four sleep stages: slow wave sleep (SWS), REM, light, and awake, telling you how long you slept for and how efficient your sleep was. Based on the previous day’s activity and stress, the Whoop Sleep Coach will give you guidelines on how much sleep you need the next day as well as the best time to go to bed. If you’re someone who often lets bedtime creep later and later then this can be a great function to help get you focused and more disciplined. It has undoubtedly helped me get to bed earlier—and increase my overall time asleep—over the past couple of months since first starting to test it.
But it’s not all Whooptastic. There are some downsides. The Whoop 4.0 is not cheap. The company revised its pricing structure earlier this year, and instead of charging for the device, it now only offers different subscriptions. You can choose from a monthly membership plan ($30 a month for a minimum of 12 months), an annual plan ($300 for the year), or a 24-month plan ($480 upfront). This gives full access to the Whoop app and automatic upgrades to the hardware as they are rolled out.
While the strap is lightweight and easy to wear, it does mean wearing a wristband 24/7, and as it doesn’t capture any GPS or power data it typically means you’re wearing two watches when you workout (hello again, Tri Nerd). You’ll also likely want to get a HydroSleeve, a silicone waterproof band designed to be worn over the device when you’re swimming to help keep it in place. There were a few times when the device popped off my wrist, so be sure you’ve got it securely fastened. Battery life is impressive (lasting easily three to four days between charges) and it connects to a tidy little battery pack to charge.
Apollo Neuro: Deep Dive
After reading about all of the metrics that the Whoop delivers every day, the data nerd will need to manage their expectations when it comes to the Apollo, as there is very little tangible information produced by it. Instead, it’s more of a fair test to think of the Apollo as a device that’ll help produce better recovery scores (sleep, HRV, resting heart rate, etc.). So how does it work?
Developed by neuroscientists and physicians, the premise behind the Apollo is that it helps soothe your nervous system with its vibrations. Using what it calls “scientifically proven touch therapy,” it’s regarded as a non-invasive stress relief tool that helps strengthen and rebalance your autonomic nervous system, working to build your resilience to stress. There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (commonly referred to as “fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”)—and it’s the balance of the two that the Apollo seeks to help.
The Apollo technology originated from Dr. David Rabin MD at the University of Pittsburgh’s cognitive affective neuroscience laboratory. Having dedicated his career to the effects of stress on our well-being, Dr. Rabin had recognized that making changes to our behavior to mitigate stress is incredibly hard to do if we’re already under stress. In short, if you’re stuck in “fight or flight” mode, you might know you need to relax and unwind in order to bring your parasympathetic nervous system online, but it can be hard to do. That’s where the Apollo comes in.
At first glance, the Apollo doesn’t look too different to a wrist watch and it’s easy and comfortable to wear. Set up takes no time at all and once you’re in the app you can choose from one of seven modes:
- Energy and Wake Up
- Social and Open
- Clear and Focused
- Rebuild and Recover
- Meditation and Mindfulness
- Relax and Unwind
- Sleep and Renew
You can set a schedule so that the device automatically starts on a certain mode at a set time. Each mode operates at a set intensity, e.g., the Clear and Focused mode operates at 25% intensity. You can change this—and the duration for which it’ll run—but there are plenty of reminders that you don’t need to set the intensity super high to feel the effects. Yes, we’ll say that once more for all the triathletes in the room: More is not necessarily better. That said, there is a recommendation that you wear the device for at least three hours a day for five days a week, both during the day and at night. You just don’t need to crank the thing to 100 to get the benefits; it’s advised that you only feel the vibrations for the first few minutes and after that you should barely notice it.
Unlike the Whoop, there are no metrics that pop up each morning to tell you how much your sleep or HRV are improving, so there is far more of a subjective element involved in using the Apollo compared to the Whoop. That said, there is no shortage of scientific information on the Apollo’s website that illustrates the many benefits of wearing it. For example, it states the Apollo has been part of six different clinical trials, in which participants have noticed numerous benefits, most notably: 40% less feelings of stress and anxiety, 11% increase in HRV, 25% better focus and calm, a 14% increase in REM sleep, and a 19% increase in deep sleep.
After using it for the past two months on a consistent basis, I can vouch for many of the above benefits. Maybe it’s me, but there is something oddly comforting about the vibrations on your wrist, and I am a huge fan of the Meditation and Mindfulness mode to help wind down before bed. I’ve been wearing the Whoop at the same time (yes, I know, I’m a Tri Nerd), and have seen my HRV improving over time, as well as my REM and deep sleep, but I cannot attribute that solely to using the Apollo. In fact, I’d argue that simply wearing both has made me more mindful about stress, recovery, bedtime, and all of the many factors that affect these things.
The Apollo is new to the market, it’s still relatively unheard of, at least among endurance athletes, and there will be an element of subjectivity for anyone using it, i.e., the benefits are not necessarily overt and tangible, especially to begin with, so we understand this device might not be for everyone. It’s also not cheap, retailing at $399, which includes one band and one clip. Bands come in three sizes and six colors. Battery life is on the shorter side—six to eight hours of continuous use—and it can seem to run down quickly.
Whoop 4.0 vs. Apollo Neuro: The Winner
The Whoop 4.0 and the Apollo Neuro are both fun (and functional) gadgets packed with their own unique cool functions. If you’re someone who’s very data-oriented, then it’s probably no contest here: the Whoop 4.0 is for you. That said, if you’re an athlete who balances a busy life—training, family, work, all the things—and you struggle to “come down” at the end of the day or switch off your brain when it’s time to sleep, you might just find the Apollo Neuro is your better investment. While we don’t have our own robust scientific data to back it up, it can certainly lead to improved sleep and recovery—you just might need the Whoop to help you see that.