By Eric Paley
Will Ahmed was captain of the Harvard Squash team in 2011 and has always been obsessed with fitness and athletic performance. His coach candidly described him as one of the less naturally talented players on the team, but he was named captain because of his innate leadership skills and his willingness to work harder than everyone else.
But was consistently working harder than everyone else the right way to train? Perhaps working so hard meant he was in the best physical shape of anyone on the team, or maybe he was overtraining which led to fatigue on game days. These questions bothered Will.
With the growth in popularity of the quantified self movement, Will became curious to better understand his fitness in a more scientific way. Unfortunately, counting daily steps or miles has little interest or relevance to the physiology of an athlete. Daily body weight measurements are more interesting, but somewhat misleading; building muscle increases weight, but burning fat lowers it. While body fat percentage measurements are also somewhat useful, they are highly inaccurate and not indicative of daily performance.
Will became convinced that the answer to monitoring his day-to-day physiology and his readiness for game days could only be attained by analyzing his heart. By understanding the progression and variation of his heart rate, Will could get a better understanding of his workout strain, his recovery, his general fitness and his performance on game day.
Will started to wear a chest-strap heart rate monitor to get this data, but he discovered the raw data was messy and highly incomplete. The device wasn’t comfortable enough to wear outside of training periods, which meant that it only provided data for when Will was training, and nothing on recovery, general fitness and game day performance. Moreover, the training data was confusing. What baseline was he comparing it to and what did all those ups and downs actually mean for how well he was training? How could he compare from workout to workout how he was doing? How did his results stack up against his teammates or his competition?
Will Ahmed teamed up with John Capodilupo to answer these questions. John is the son of two physiologists and an award winning Harvard math whiz. John met Will at the end of his sophomore year and has since taken time off from Harvard to lead the technology side of solving this puzzle. Sitting across from the two them is a little like peering into the right and left side of a startup’s brain.
In founding Whoop, Will and John’s goal is to simplify the understanding of heart rate data, on a beat-by-beat basis, to reveal how that data integrates with other physiological sensors, and to create a device so comfortable that it could be used for 24-hour monitoring to track not only training, but recovery, general fitness and game day performance.
We invested in Whoop because we think it is the next frontier of quantified self; answering questions beyond what anyone has yet answered about physiology. We too are convinced that the heart holds unique insights about general health and fitness. We think access to accurate 24 hour beat-by-beat heart rate data is something that will ultimately be of interest not only to performance athletes, but anyone who wants to understand their health, the impact of their life choices, and how they are progressing physically over time.