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Podcast No. 5: Kristen Holmes, WHOOP VP of Performance and NCAA Champion Coach

By Will Ahmed

Podcast No. 5: Kristen Holmes, WHOOP VP of Performance and NCAA Champion Coach

On the latest episode of our podcast, my guest is Kristen Holmes, Vice President of Performance here at WHOOP.

Listen on:

Kristen works with thousands of the best professional and NCAA athletes in the world. If you’re favorite athlete is having trouble sleeping, she’s the one they call to help understand and interpret their WHOOP data. Along with that, Kristen is an amazing athlete and coach in her own right. She’s a former member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team, as well as one of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history, having won 12 league titles in 13 seasons and the first national championship ever for Princeton University and the Ivy League. Today we talk about her career, her role at WHOOP, the advice she gives athletes in terms of performance, recovery, and in particular sleep, the research she’s done and the studies she’s been a part of, and all the various tips and tricks she’s discovered over the years to optimize her own performance and get the most out of her WHOOP data. For WHOOP users out there, or really anyone looking to monitor their body, I think you’ll find Kristen’s insight to be extremely beneficial.

Show Notes:

3:47 - Sports Background. “Coaching was in my soul.” How she got into field hockey and then became a coach, in part due to her love of all the “tactical components” of the game. “I always kind of had that coaching mind … even as an athlete I was always actively coaching.” 9:09 - New Coaching Mindset. “I think I was one of the better technical and tactical coaches in the country, always kind of pushing the limits there, but then I realized physiology and psychology were equally if not more important.” She turned to research and performance science and started focusing on “everything underneath that’s happening before they get to the practice field.” 11:24 - Performance Education. How was she able to make Princeton competitive with other elite programs? “Where we had an advantage was I’d developed this pretty robust performance education platform. … There’s a consistent education that allows you to replicate high-level performance.” Kristen had a formula she wanted to share, the blueprint to position performance as a choice. 15:10 - Physiological and Psychological Factors that influence performance with college athletes. Among other things, sleep behavior is “the most important behavioral experience we have as human beings.” Additionally, “your behavior should always reflect what you say you value.” 21:40 - Sleep’s Effect on Mental Health. “35% of the mental health issues on campus are directly correlated to sleep debt. I think if universities want to really create a healthy environment they need to just rethink sleep entirely.” Will says “One of my goals for WHOOP is that we will be distributed from head-to-toe within schools.” 24:00 - How She Came to WHOOP. The story of how Will and Kristen met, she was going to become “Director of Performance” at Princeton. 28:19 - “$#!%, They’ve Made It.” She was attempting to build her own similar technology when she was introduced to WHOOP. 31:05 - Role with Elite Athletes. What are we really trying to do here? “Educate teams and athletes.” 32:45 - Getting Players and Coaches to Buy In. With players, “making it voluntary is a good place to start … pretty much every athlete wants to get on the platform once they understand the benefits.” And from a coaching standpoint, “there’s nothing ‘big brother’ about this, it’s about having information that will help keep your athletes available week-to-week.” Plus, what happens after they buy in? The behavior changes are incredible when athlete’s see their data. 38:22 - Making Optimal Choices. “All the choices that you have basically across the day, they’re either going to serve to upgrade your performance, or downgrade, and that’s where it comes back to performance being a choice. As long as you’re aware of what the optimal choice is, there’s no reason you can’t be the best version of yourself pretty consistently.” 39:20 - Power of Data. Kristen shares a pair of stories where WHOOP data helped uncover major issues athletes were having that otherwise went undiscovered. 42:03 - Study Results with military operators, those who had exposure to their WHOOP data spent significantly more time in bed (and more time in REM and deep sleep) than those who did not, and also improved up to 27% in all the physical metrics they tracked. 45:39 - Moneyball 2.0? It’s not just talent, but also a player’s physiological status that determines performance. Is recovery the difference between being an All-Star and a role player? Kristen discusses an NBA star who improved his stats after paying close attention to his WHOOP metrics, as well as an NHL player who made similar strides. Will elaborates on how Team USA swimmers used their data in Rio. 52:22 - The Amazing Thing About LeBron. He was willing to try WHOOP to get that extra edge even though he was at the top of his game (thanks to his trainer Mike Mancias advocating for it). The same was true of Michael Phelps. The world’s best are always still looking to get better. 54:04 - How Kristen Optimizes Herself. She begins by detailing her bedtime routine and everything she does to sleep better. 55:10 - Blocking Blue Light. She wears special glasses (made by Swanwick) to cut out blue light up to three hours before bed. What is the benefit of this? 56:35 - Sleep Environment. She changed her sleep habits when she realized “I was putting my health at risk and not being as good of a mom or coach as I could be.” She keeps her room at 64 degrees, wears socks “half on,” puts phone on airplane mode and wears a mask, “the XpresSpa one from the airport ... light is going to wake you up, it just will.” 1:02:51 - Journaling. Its value before bed and when waking up. She tries to always express gratitude, “the lens at which you look at the world shifts.” 1:04:10 - Sleep Consistency. Why it’s so important. The WHOOP Sleep Planner also now incorporates it. 1:06:57 - Meditation. Kristen and Will each share how it helps them, she practices mindfulness meditation 3-5 times a day. “Use it to mitigate stress accumulation throughout the day.” She also details an experiment she conducted on herself to see its effects on her WHOOP data. 1:11:30 - Functional Overreaching. What is it? “I’ve gotten substantially fitter applying these principles to my own training.” 1:13:11 - Strauss Zelnick. Will explains why Kristen reminds him of last week’s guest. “We see that with professional athletes on the system who are in their 30s and get better.” 1:14:40 - “Why am I Eating?” Her thoughts on nutrition, including three questions she asks herself. 1:17:00 - Mindful Breathing. Another key part of her daily routine. 1:20:53 - Breakfast? Tim Ferris’ book Tools of Titans describes how many women eat breakfast while men often don’t. Kristen’s breakfast behavior is surprising. She does enjoy Brain Octane. 1:23:15 - Nutrition and WHOOP. Will discusses how he expects nutrition will eventually be incorporated into the app, and that he sees it as an input, not an output. 1:28:12 - Travel Tips. She likes to stay on east coast time when traveling across time zones, did a case study on the success of a national-title-winning team that practiced this behavior. 1:30:56 - Recovery Tactics her athletes like and don’t like, how to best use them, and the results we’ve seen in WHOOP data. 1:37:29 - Her Influencers? She’s a fan of Tim Ferris, Ben Greenfield, Joe Rogan and more. 1:40:33 - Value of a Kindle. Will says “Maybe the best $100 you can spend … I’m reading a lot more as a result.” 1:43:10 - Larry Bird. The athlete she admires most. 1:43:39 - One Big Thing. “The less you sleep the quicker you die, and there’s a mountain of evidence to support that.” Learn how WHOOP Unite can help your team's performance on and off the field.