WHOOP’s New AI Coach Actually Makes the App More UsefulReading Time: 6 minutes
The app can explain your Strain scores and help you navigate features—with only a few hallucinations.
You know I have a dim view of AI coaches. They don’t understand the things a real coach understands, like how to plan for long-term progress. So I was skeptical of Whoop’s new ‘AI coach’ feature—until I realized its secret strength is explaining the app and its metrics to you.
Whoop is the smart wristband that measures the ‘Strain’ (as they call it) of your workouts, and credits you with a number for your ‘Recovery’ after each night’s sleep. The idea is to provide athletes (including recreational athletes, such as yourself) with metrics to guide how they train and recover. I find these types of devices useful when I take their metrics with a grain of salt, although I would never completely hand over control of my training to them.
The AI Coach operates as a chatbot. Whoop says it can suggest workouts, find patterns in your personal data, and talk to you about training, nutrition, and more. That’s a lot for one bot to handle, especially when you remember that these types of chatbots are essentially text generators—not experts that truly understand athletic training.
But here’s the cool thing. The folks at Whoop seem to have fed the AI Coach two very important sets of data. One is the collection of all your metrics from the app, so you can ask it questions about your own training and recovery history. The other very cool thing is that it knows the app’s features very well—for the most part. (We’ll see a slightly hilarious exception below.) If you ask it questions on certain topics, it will suggest articles on the Whoop website that go into more (human-written) detail about the subjects you’d like to learn more about.
Here are a few things that I was able to do with the AI coach, that I actually find useful.
The app already recommends a certain amount of Strain for you, based on your recovery level. For example, if you’re well-recovered, it will encourage you to take on longer or harder workouts than if you underslept.
But the Strain measurement is a bit weird. It’s not as simple as a number of minutes to log; you don’t really know what Strain an activity will be until after you do it. So the cool thing here is that you can ask the AI Coach for recommendations on how to meet your daily Strain. The AI Coach can actually look into your own data to report back on how much Strain you tend to get out of different exercise sessions.
For example, I asked it for workout ideas, and it replied that I might consider ‘Box fitness [that is, Crossfit-style workouts] for 50 minutes. This typically gets you to a strain of 5.3 with an average HR of 86 bpm.’
As cool as that sounds, my recommended Strain is 16.2 today. Even though the AI didn’t recommend going for an easy run, I asked about it anyway. It suggested a 45-minute run would result in a Strain of 10.7 to 10.9, and told me about several runs I’d done in that range and what my exact heart rate, calorie burn, and Strain readings were from each of them.
I asked the AI Coach one of those uncomfortable questions that Whoop’s PR folks don’t always know how to answer: If I’m not going to change my workouts based on Whoop data (because my workouts come from a real, human coach), what good are all these numbers?
It actually had some excellent advice, which agrees pretty well with what I wrote here about the best ways to use recovery data. It suggested using the recovery score to gauge how I’m doing on sleep, nutrition, and stress management, and it pointed out that I can still use the Journal feature to track how things like alcohol and caffeine affect my sleep. As for Strain, it said, ‘You might not be able to change your workout routine, but it can still be insightful to see how your body responds to different types of training.’ Good bot.
It also linked me to an article I hadn’t seen before, about a trial that Whoop did with some top-tier running coaches to compare people who adjusted their workouts based on Whoop metrics to people who didn’t. The plan was pretty cool: People had a set program to follow, but each workout came in three flavors depending on the athlete’s recovery score. You wouldn’t skip a workout if your recovery was in the red, but you might be asked to do a 40-minute workout instead of a 50-minute one. In the end, though, improvements from both groups were similar.
When Whoop first came out with the Strength Trainer, an area of the app that tracks your weightlifting workouts set by set, I struggled to use it correctly. In fact, I still do. I logged a portion of a clean-and-jerk workout with it yesterday, and accidentally entered one of my 55-kilogram sets as 550 kilos. (Nobody, not even Lasha, has ever clean and jerked 550 kilos.)
But at least when I asked it about whether I could edit that workout after the fact, it gave me an honest (and friendly) no. ‘But don’t fret! This one-time error shouldn’t significantly impact your overall metrics or trends. Just remember to enter the correct weight next time during your workout. Keep up the good work!’
Impressed by the answer about Strength Trainer, I thought I’d ask it a question that I’d never gotten a really good answer to. Is there any good way to log barbell complexes, a common feature of weightlifting training?
For example, my workout yesterday asked me to do a lift-off (sort of a partial deadlift, so let’s pretend it’s a deadlift for this discussion), followed by a clean, followed by a jerk. That’s one rep, and I was doing sets of three. So: deadlift, clean, jerk, deadlift, clean, jerk, deadlift, clean, jerk. Whoop allows you to log ‘clean and jerk’ as one exercise since that’s very common, but I couldn’t figure out a way to log the whole complex. Instead, I ended up just logging it as a clean and jerk, and hoping the app would figure it out.
When I asked the AI Coach if there was a way to log a complex, it happily told me that, yes, there was! Just set it up as three deadlifts, three cleans, and three jerks.
That doesn’t make sense. You need to hit a button on the app to switch between exercises. I’m not exactly going to hit a button on the app when I have a bar on my shoulders after the clean. ‘Ah, got it, Beth!’ it said. ‘Apologies for the confusion. You’re right, it’s not practical to start and stop sets on the app in the middle of the complex. In this case you should log the entire complex as one set. Here’s how…’
I briefly got my hopes up before I realized it was just repeating the same impossible instructions as before. After a few rounds of this, it finally admitted that there is, in fact, no way to do what it was telling me to do. ‘Ah, my apologies for the confusion, Beth. Currently, the Strength Trainer feature on WHOOP doesn’t support logging multiple exercises within a single set. WHOOP is designed to log each set of an exercise individually.’
My robot friend, you could have just said ‘no, you can’t do that,’ instead of gaslighting me for five screens of text. At this point, it popped up a few buttons for pre-written questions, one of which was ‘Can I log a barbell complex as one exercise?’ Yes! That is my question! I clicked that, and got an answer. You can select the exercise that is most similar, and make do (which is what I had done) or create a new exercise and name it after your complex. The instructions were somewhat garbled, presenting these two options as if they were one thing. So I ultimately got my answer, but only because I knew which answers were wrong and kept pressing. This AI hallucinates just like any other.
Since the AI Coach seems to be built on a ChatGPT-like chatbot, I thought I’d ask it some more entertaining questions. ‘You and I are both 18th century pirates,’ I told it. ‘I would like to find some treasure. Where should I sail? Remember to answer like a pirate.’
Sadly, my AI Coach was incorrigibly on-topic:
Ahoy, Beth! While WHOOP might be a dab hand at navigatin’ your fitness journey, it be not so well-versed in the art of treasure huntin’ on the high seas, arr! Stick to your fitness goals, and the real treasure ye’ll find is improved health and well-being. Now, hoist the main sail, it’s time to hit the deck for some burpees!
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