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The Strain You May Be Overlooking


The Strain You May Be Overlooking

Originally published June 6, 2017

After an 82-game regular season and more than six weeks of playoffs, the NBA Finals are now underway. As he’s done in each of the past several years, LeBron James put away his phone and cut social media out of his daily life as soon as the postseason began. Not only is James eliminating distractions, he may also be reducing strain.

One of the key elements of WHOOP is the concept of Day Strain. Beyond your workouts, everything you do over the course of a day puts some level of cardiovascular load on your body, even things that don’t require much physical exertion. Emotional strain takes its toll as well.

For example, competing at a sport’s highest level on the world’s biggest stage is obviously a strenuous task. What may not be as obvious, however, is the strain invested fans undergo simply by watching.

I’ve been a die-hard fan of the Boston Celtics my entire life, and a season-ticket holder for the past 10 years. I took a close look at my WHOOP data during two recent playoff games in their second-round series against the Washington Wizards.

On Monday, May 15, I attended the Celtics’ 115-105 Game 7 win that propelled them to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a dramatic, hard-fought contest with the outcome in doubt until the final minutes. As an experiment, I logged the game as an activity on WHOOP and recorded a Strain of 8.5 during the three-and-a-half-hour span (for comparison, the average Strain for WHOOP users playing 2-3 hours of basketball is 13.3):

Granted, some of that Strain was caused by walking around the arena, but the majority of it was due to me passionately rooting for my team. As you can see, my heart rate rose throughout the second half, then peaked at the end of the game (10:45 pm ET) when Boston emerged victorious.

It may not come as a surprise that the standing, cheering and clapping associated with attending a sporting event creates Strain, but what about the experience of watching at home on television?

That’s exactly what I was doing for Game 6 of the series three nights earlier, when the Celtics missed an opportunity to advance and lost by a single point on a last-second shot. Again I logged watching the game as an activity, this time getting a Strain of 7.9 for the three hours I was sitting on my couch in front of the TV (although I did climb stairs while doing some laundry in the basement).

Despite the fact that I jumped up and down and yelled a few times from my living room, physically I was less active while viewing the game at home. However, the emotional investment I had in my team remained unchanged.

Similarly, our VP of Business Development Jack Seitz was interested in quantifying the Strain on his body during one of his son’s little league games. Jack logged an 8.2 Strain over a two-hour span while watching his son pitch:

A father getting to see his son play is the epitome of emotional investment in sports. And as you can see, Jack’s heart rate was elevated for its highest stretch of the day during that time.

Along the same lines, our Founder and CEO Will Ahmed wrote about how launching the WHOOP Strap 2.0 was more difficult to recover from than running the Boston Marathon. The mental and emotional strain of releasing his product affected his daily recoveries for the following week.

In 2014, Ronald Fischer and others published a study that examined “Affect and Physiological Responses in an Extreme Collective Ritual.” They measured the heart rates and self-reported states of both participants and observers in fire-walking ceremonies (walking barefoot across hot coals or embers) of a Hindu community in a small island off the coast of Madagascar. The fire-walkers had the greatest increase in heart rates, but observers with familial bonds to the fire-walkers reported feeling more fatigued afterwards than the fire-walkers themselves. Quoting from the abstract, “witnessing the ritualistic suffering of loved ones may be more exhausting than experiencing suffering oneself.”

I’m not saying that intently watching an NBA Finals game takes more out of a person than playing one (and had the fire-walkers been wearing WHOOP, they almost certainly would’ve had higher Strains than their observing family members). But, this does help quantify why dedicated stars cut out all types of distractions during the peak of their season. Innocuous activities that people become invested in–whether it’s watching a team they love, getting into social media spats, or going through other trying emotional activities–create real strain on the human body. That is strain you want to quantify, understand, and manage when living a performance lifestyle.

Takeaways For WHOOP Users

  • Check your Day Strain before exercising. Consider changing your workout if your Strain is higher or lower than usual.
  • Prior to a big game or competition, can you avoid things in your daily activities that involve high emotions or cause unnecessary levels of stress?
  • If you normally work out in the mornings, it may make sense to take into account events during the day (maybe a presentation at work?) that you will be emotionally invested in.

RELATED: Can NBA Players Get Needed Rest Without Missing Games?

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