Last month, WHOOP had the opportunity to speak at a conference in Stuttgart, Germany hosted by the NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ). The workshop was entitled Human Performance Programs in Special Operations Forces. From an official press release, its goal was “to develop templates and metrics that can be used to start a new or enhance an existing Human Performance Program.”
Representatives of military special ops groups from more than 25 countries were in attendance, as well as researchers, scientists, physicians, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches and exercise physiologists. WHOOP was the only technology company to speak, as well as the only presenter without a military affiliation.
“It was a wonderful opportunity and an honor to be able to listen to the top exercise physiologists and researchers talk about the issues they are trying to solve around human performance,” said Kristen Holmes-Winn, Vice President of Performance Optimization at WHOOP. Elite Performance Manager Gary Power echoed a similar sentiment: “We were speaking to people who are very high up in special operations command from countries all over the world. It was truly an honor for us to be there.”
More from the NSHQ press release:
“Just as professional athletes are supported by an integrated Professional Sports Model that utilizes performance programs tailored towards accomplishing the mission at peak levels, special operators represent a significant investment and must perform as tactical athletes. Ultimately SOF [special operation forces] should exhibit human performance characteristics, (speed, mobility, strength, intellect, endurance as well as mental and physical resilience), significantly above those of the enemy.”
Simply put, the same things that optimize performance in elite athletes also apply to special ops forces.
While many of the current programs for tactical athletes involve high-level strength and conditioning coaches, technology is being underutilized. “They are trying to understand what metrics are going to be useful to their operators and to the people who are making decisions on how they train, how they sleep, how they eat, how they should be recovering,” Holmes-Winn said. “At the moment, they don’t have a practical way to monitor the physiology of their tactical athletes. They’re looking for technology that can be worn all the time and can measure the things that they are interested in understanding more fully.”
Heart rate variability (HRV), in particular, was a hot-button topic at the conference, according to Holmes-Winn: “there has been significant research in the last 10 years that suggests reduced resting HRV is associated with increased vulnerability to distress, delayed physiology recovery following stress exposure, and diminished emotion regulation. As such, HRV has really climbed the ladder as a potentially potent biomarker of general stress and health. Bottom line, the folks in the room are serious about understanding the readiness of their tactical athletes and measuring HRV is a key piece of the puzzle.”
WHOOP was the final speaker at the three-day event. “One of the things I saw in a lot of the speeches leading up to ours was that they were positioning very well for WHOOP,” Power said.
One presenter discussed the inaccuracies of calculating HRV from a chest strap after workouts. WHOOP, on the other hand, measures HRV from the wrist during the last five minutes of slow-wave sleep, a much more reliable method.
Another of the presentations highlighted the dangers surrounding combat readiness for sleep-deprived tactical athletes. “You can only manage something that you measure, which is where WHOOP comes in,” Power noted.
After learning about the science behind WHOOP and the valuable data it can provide, the workshop’s participants showed great enthusiasm for the product. “The interest level was huge. As soon as our presentation ended we had people coming up to us left and right looking to demo the Straps,” said Power.
“It was amazing to be in an environment that is so high stakes,” added Holmes-Winn. “Seeing how WHOOP might be able to help them make better decisions and better prepare their tactical athletes was a special thing to be a part of.”