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My Journey with Wearable Technology
It's just a number
I have never been the most tech-savvy. I was still using paper maps 5 years after the GPS became mainstream. The iPhone 6 had debuted before I parted with my Blackberry and just 2 years ago I learned how to post on Instagram. Wearable technology is no different. I always felt like "I don't need a device to tell me I didn't sleep well last night".
It wasn't just that I was tech-challenged. There was "the numbers thing". For much of my career, I have been surrounded by data and am quite comfortable interpreting it. But I also had this habit of attaching "self-worth" to certain numbers- such as the workout timer in the CrossFit box, the weights on the barbell, whether I could do the CrossFit WOD “Rx”, my USTA tennis ranking and the list goes on.
Through years of time spent with my amazing coach, @Erika_Snyder, we worked on this- much like many others try to change their relationship with the scale or their pant size. But I wasn't quite there yet. I asked Erika what she thought about using a “wearable” and one thing she said really resonated with me. "I don't need yet another set of numbers to tell me how imperfect I am". This hit home, so I put the WHOOP! strap idea on the back burner.
About a year later, I was in a much better place with my relationship with numbers. Through COVID and some major shoulder issues, my work with Erika focused on process, mechanics, pain-free movement, and rebuilding from the ground up so that I could rock my push-ups again and make gains with my heavy lifts. Even the legendary strength coach, Mike Burgener spoke about the benefits of using subjective measures such as rate of perceived exertion (RPE) as an alternative to set numbers (i.e. percentages of the 1 rep maximum) during a recent interview with Morning Chalk Up.
As a result of shifting my focus and experiencing tremendous results, I became much more comfortable letting go of the attachment to numbers. I also had a new fitness goal, which was to increase my aerobic capacity so I could become a better runner.
As a “sprint interval” type of athlete who always lived comfortably in the anaerobic energy systems, aerobic capacity was a clear deficiency that I saw as my “Next Frontier” beyond age 50, while still staying balanced in my heavy lifting and CrossFit training. The goal was (and is!) to become competitive again in singles tennis and to participate in the CrossFit Open and possibly other recreational-level CrossFit competitions.
So with a specific fitness goal in mind and being in a much better place with “the numbers thing”, I pulled the WHOOP! strap off the back burner and took the plunge. Excited about my new purchase and my “Next Frontier”, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it before I started using it.
Like a neon sign, this article caught my eye: "Does your wearable data make you anxious? Here’s how to change that”. I suddenly didn’t feel so ridiculous anymore. Data obsession is really a thing! It was the best first article to read because it helped me frame my relationship with my WHOOP! strap and exactly how I was going to use this data.
As with any relationship, it starts with boundaries. First, the WHOOP! strap will not be defining my day. WHOOP calculates recovery as soon as it detects that I am awake. But I ignore the alert “Your Recovery has been Processed” until I have had time to be up and about and assess for myself how recovered I feel. I complete my WHOOP! activity journal for the day prior and then look at my recovery data. Depending on the feedback, it may validate my choice of an active recovery day or reassure me that the long run is a good idea. If it has me in the “green” but I feel like crap, I let how I feel dictate the day and wonder what other factors are at play that WHOOP! may not be picking up on.
Self-awareness, not self-deprecation. Herein lies the crossroad. I could look at this data in two ways. WHOOP! says I’m 90% recovered but I feel like crap. Rather than letting WHOOP! tell me that I’m going to push to the moon and call me a “slacker” for feeling otherwise, I instead will say, “Ok. There’s a discrepancy. Why is that? What else is happening in my life that WHOOP! is not picking up on?”. Approaching data discrepancies this way raises self-awareness of the environment around you rather than creating a negative judgment based on “a number”.
The point is, WHOOP! does not tell me how I should feel, or what I should do. All it does is add color and insight into my own best judgment and how various workouts, stress, sleep and other environmental factors impact my physiology.
What have I learned about myself? Fast forward 4 months later.
Even a leisurely run with a low RPE jacks my HR into zone 5 (90-100% max HR) for most of the run. This taught me that I need to spend more time in zones 2 and 3 for long distances to build my aerobic capacity. It did not teach me that I suck at running.
Big squat days require more recovery - so, I added yoga, foam-rolling, and an earlier bedtime on those days. It did not teach me that I suck at squatting.
Long zone 2 and 3 days are very well-tolerated and the next day I can usually go all-out with CrossFit training. This has helped me arrange my workouts for the week.
Emotional stress has a huge impact on my recovery. During the day I add some breathwork if I’m feeling stressed. However, when my son, Nick, got his driver’s license, there was not enough breathwork in the world that I could do to manage the stress (We just survived our first week!). So I reached out to friends and of course, Erika, for support. I learned that it’s ok to ask for help.
I get my most restorative sleep early in the night. When I need extra recovery, I go to bed earlier. Because at 4am I’m awake no matter what time I go to bed.
Red wine is kryptonite. Prosecco is not. (Thank goodness!)
Framing the relationship that I was going to have with my wearable and setting the terms upfront before starting to use it was key for not letting the numbers get the best of me. Knowing that I control how I use the data rather than the data controlling me was the end result of this strategy.
No matter what technology you use to gather data, make that device your friend, not your enemy. If you are not yet ready for that “friendship” take some time to arrive at a better place. Had I purchased the WHOOP! strap before I was ready, it would have been a disaster. Fortunately, with the help of a great Coach and my willingness to look at myself objectively, I developed the self-awareness to realize this.
A 3-step approach. All these resources -whether it’s a wearable device, lifting class, trainer, coach, or social media group - serve as the “toolbox” to your fittest, healthiest self. The beauty of it is that there is a treasure trove of resources for whatever you need. Step one starts with self-awareness of what you need (even if it means seeking help to figure out what you need). Step 2 is making these resources your friend, not your enemy. Step 3 is the realization that you, singularly, are in control of your fitness destiny.