When WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed was a college squash player at Harvard, he struggled with overtraining. In his first post on The Locker, Will wrote “Like many athletes, I believed I could just keep pushing. I overtrained every season. My body couldn’t keep up with its stresses and my relentless mindset.” Will’s experience as an athlete made him question why we don’t have a better understanding of our own bodies, and put him on the path to founding WHOOP.
When David Almeida, a 37-year-old vitreoretinal eye surgeon in St. Paul, Minnesota, heard Will’s story, he knew that WHOOP was for him.
“I’m a pretty serious competitive squash player on the side,” David told WHOOP. “I’ve been playing squash for about 10 years, the last five years really competitively. I just kind of picked it up when I was in medical school. It was convenient to play when you had a little bit of downtime, and you could get great exercise from it. I started playing with friends, and then from there I really got obsessed with it.”
As both a doctor and a high-level athlete, David has always felt the need to monitor his physiology and performance as best he can. “I went through all the iterations of other fitness trackers and was getting kind of frustrated,” he said. “Whether it be step counting, or something else, I didn’t know what to make of some of the metrics that they showed me. I saw an article about a new one going on sale to the public that was designed by a squash player. I said ‘Oh man, if a squash player is behind this, this is going to be the one for me!’”
“I was really compelled by the idea of Strain and Recovery,” he added. “And I already had some insight into heart rate variability (HRV) from my medical training, so that piqued my interest as well.”
David began using WHOOP last winter and he’s consistently achieved new levels of success on the squash court ever since. “I’ve been playing much better since I got the WHOOP,” he noted. “I just won the Madison Spring Open in Madison, Wisconsin at the most competitive level that they have. I also won the New York Grand Open back in January.”
What has WHOOP done to make such a difference in David’s game?
“There’s a very simple answer,” he said. “It has prevented me from overtraining. Before, I would constantly get stuck in cycles of overtraining. I always thought that to get better I needed to hit more or I needed to train more, rather than training or hitting smarter. Some days I would feel really raggedy, but I would think to myself ‘Whatever’ and still train hard. My outcomes weren’t matching the time I was putting in. Since I’ve had the WHOOP, when my Recovery is low I temper my workouts the best I can. I only go really hard when I’m in the green. I’ve found that I’m getting much more out of it and my preparation is significantly better for tournament weekends.”
Take a look at six data points in David’s training over the month before his tournament win in Madison:
- With a string of green Recoveries, David takes on his highest Strain for the month.
- Consecutive red Recoveries can be an early indication of overtraining. David lowers his Strain so his body can bounce back.
- David maintains his training load through a period of yellow Recoveries, showing that his body is still adequately able to respond to training stimulus.
- A poor Recovery following a trip to Las Vegas leads him to significantly reduce his Strain.
- David lowers his Strain a few days before his tournament and makes adjustments to ensure he’s well Recovered leading up to it.
- As expected, David’s Recovery drops as he grinds through the tournament.
Additionally, David showed a positive trend in HRV in the three weeks leading up to the tournament. This trend, in combination with stable resting heart rates, is an indication that David is increasing his fitness.
Likely due to the intensity of his matches, his HRV took a hit over the course of the tournament from April 21st through 23rd. On the final morning of the event, David emerged victorious with a 62% Recovery, a byproduct of his decreased HRV. However, David also offered another explanation:
“Funny story,” he chuckled. “I brought my two oldest sons, Max and Leo, with me on that trip, they are six and three years old. We made a boys weekend out of it. Those two guys kept me awake most of the night with their shenanigans, but it was a lot of fun.”
Outside of squash, CrossFit is the other main component of David’s workout regimen. He employs a personal trainer in St. Paul named Sherri Smith, who’s also a WHOOP user. “We do 3-4 intense CrossFit sessions per week and tailor my workouts based on my Recovery,” he explained. “We incorporate WHOOP into every aspect of training, including lowering the Strain of my workouts on poor Recovery days and on days leading up to tournaments. I also travel a lot for work and that usually affects my Recovery, so we adjust my workouts accordingly.”
David elaborated on how CrossFit helps him improve his squash game: “I try to find correlations between heart rate zone and the Strain of various exercise circuits. I look for circuits or groups of exercises that require a significant cardiovascular burden as a means to increase my endurance on the squash court. Ideally, I want to take on the most strain possible without compromising my current state, or my Recovery tomorrow.”
For example, on May 11th, David logged two activities, CrossFit and Squash. His heart rate zones are very similar for each:
CrossFit allows David to exercise different muscle groups in his body while mimicking the cardiovascular load of a squash match, building his endurance for his sport.
After sharing the details of what he does to optimize performance at this stage of his career, David also speculated on what WHOOP might’ve been able to do for him in his younger days:
“It would’ve helped me for sure in medical school. I remember those overnight shifts when I worked 24-30 hours. You don’t feel yourself, you know you’re not yourself, it would’ve been very useful to know what the WHOOP was telling me back then in terms of Recovery and ability to function through the day at a high level.”
Takeaways for WHOOP Users
Each of these fall under the bubble of preventing overtraining:
- When you look at your trend overview in the web app, do your high Strain days correlate with high Recovery? (Data point No. 1 above.)
- Do you alter your workout routine after traveling? (No. 4 above.)
- What can you do to lower your Strain and improve Recovery in the days prior to big games or competitions? (No. 5, David cut back from his usual two workouts per day to one.)
- Are there exercises or training methods in other sports that can help you improve your conditioning in your primary sport? (David uses CrossFit to improve at squash.)
- Do you notice week-plus trends in the web app of declining heart rate variability and rising resting heart rate? This can be a sign of overtraining. (In the above example, the opposite was true, an indication that David made the most of his training in preparation for his tournament.)