Whoop vs. Oura Ring: Which One Should You Get?
I tested both devices for a month, culminating in the Tokyo Marathon (and its recovery).
Running is inherently based on numbers: mile paces, interval splits, finish times, etc. But it’s harder to quantify recovery, one of the most important aspects of the sport.
If exercise is the stress that breaks down your muscle fibers, recovery is when your body repairs and rebuilds those muscle fibers so they can adapt to a higher workload in your next workout. Without proper post-workout recovery, you just keep accumulating fatigue, which breaks your body down further and can lead to illness, injury, and burnout. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could calibrate recovery needs the same way we prescribe workouts?
Many fitness trackers have built-in recovery features now (lol at Garmin regularly telling me I need 72 hours of rest), but when Whoop launched in 2015, it was the first wrist-based wearable solely geared towards post-workout recovery. The first generation of the Oura Ring, another recovery-focused device, came out that same year. One of the most common questions I get on social media is which one I’d recommend, so I wore the latest iterations during the Tokyo Marathon (and training—I started wearing the WHOOP 4.0 January 1, and the third-generation Oura Ring February 10) to see how they compare.
Which one is more expensive?
Both devices are subscription-driven. The Whoop 4.0 strap comes free with a membership, which costs $30 month by month (a 12-month commitment is required) or $239 or $399 for 12 or 24 month. An Oura Ring costs $299 or $349 upfront, which includes just one month of complimentary membership; after that, it’s $5.99 a month.
So a year of WHOOP would net out to max $360, while the Oura Ring adds up to $365—a pretty similar investment. But after that first year, you’re looking at $72 for the Ring and another $360 for WHOOP (unless you buy the two-year membership). Personally, I find it a lot easier to swallow a one-time cost plus a very low subscription price versus a pricey monthly membership.
So what kind of data do you get?
While both devices do allow you to track workouts from the app (and will automatically recognize periods of elevated heart rate and higher-than-average movement as workouts), that’s not the main reason most people use them, so I’m going to focus on the other data points you get.
WHOOP tracks three different proprietary “metrics”—cardiovascular strain, recovery, and sleep—via live heart rate, resting heart rate, heart rate variability (AKA the amount of time between your heartbeats), respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, and skin temperature data recorded by the onboard sensors. Strain measures your stress levels (whether from a workout or tough day at work) on a scale of 0 to 21; recovery denotes how ready your body is to take on strain, using a color-coded scale from zero to 100 percent (red is bad, green is good); and the sleep metric determines how much shut-eye you need each night to make up for excess stress or missed sleep.
Plus, in the mornings, the app prompts you to fill out the daily journal—which includes more than 100 behaviors—to see how certain habits may affect your overall health in the customized weekly and monthly performance assessments.
Oura tracks sleep, readiness, and activity using metrics like resting heart rate, heart rate variability, body temperature, respiratory rate, and steps. They’re each rated on a scale of 1 to 100: Readiness ranks how well you’ve recovered mentally and physically (see how my “recovery” and “readiness” compared the morning after the marathon above), activity is how active you’ve been in a single day and over the past seven days, and sleep measures things like total sleep, efficiency, restfulness, REM sleep, and deep sleep.
The higher your score in each area, the better off you are. While sleep and activity are pretty straightforward, readiness is essentially equivalent to the Whoop’s recovery score; it gleans info from those other two categories to tell you how ready you are to handle stress on any given day. Oura also provides weekly reports with key insights, but they’re not as in-depth as Whoop’s.
But how accurate is the data?
Both the Whoop and the Oura Ring use photoplethysmography (PPG) to measure your heart rate and heart rate variability (that means they have a sensor that uses a light source at the surface of your skin to measure variations in your blood volume at any given moment). And both devices use heart rate and heart rate variability—along with body temperature, and breathing rate measurements—to determine things like stress levels and which stage of sleep you're in.
Compared with an electrocardiogram, the gold standard assessment for heart rate, WHOOP underestimated heart rate by an average of 0.3 beats per minute and heart rate variability by an average of 4.5 ms (which, ICYWW, stands for the root mean square of the standard deviation of successive heartbeats) in a 2022 study published in the journal Sensors. Oura overestimated HR by an average of 0.1 beats per minute, and underestimated HRV by an average of 10.2 ms.
If those numbers went totally over your head, the study authors declared that the Whoop 3.0 was in almost perfect agreement with the ECG for measures of both heart rate and heart rate variability—which is important, because a lot of the information you see in the app is based on that data.
In the same study, the Whoop 3.0 correctly identified 86 percent of all epochs (a way of scoring sleep data) compared to polysomnography, the golden standard for assessing sleep, while the second-generation Oura Ring correctly identified 89 percent of all sleep epochs—both of which indicate a moderate level of agreement. And while Whoop underestimated total sleep time by an average of 12.2 minutes, Oura overestimated total sleep time by an average of 1.5 minutes. (FWIW, my Oura Ring consistently recorded more sleep than the Whoop; if you look at the example above, you can see where the stage recording differs.) Both devices, according to the study authors, can stand to improve their estimation of sleep.
FWIW, a 2018 trial published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine journal compared the effectiveness of the Oura Ring against polysomnography and determined that it detected sleep accurately against polysomnography 96 percent of the time, but cautioned that discrepancies were greater when wearing the device on your ring finger.
The Oura Ring site stresses the importance of correct sizing (you even get a sizing kit before your order is shipped so you can determine the right fit, which is not the same as a standard fashion ring), and Whoop has a video demo-ing proper strap fitting so you can get accurate readings.
So what did I think of each one in action?
Here’s the most important thing to me: I like that neither the Whoop nor the Oura Ring has a screen, which kept me from becoming totally obsessed with the data and trying to hit certain markers throughout the day. While I was wearing these, I didn’t feel like I needed to wear my fitness tracker unless I was actually tracking a workout.
From the perspective of a data nerd, I loved how deep the Whoop went beyond a single day. Because so much about fitness or health tracking is about trends versus a sole data point (like one bad night of sleep), I enjoyed digging into the monthly trends (see below) for my strain, recovery, and sleep. I also liked the ability to record my habits—like how long I spent on my phone in bed or whether I took my B12 supplement or how anxious I felt in a day—and see how that added up over the course of a month. In my opinion, fitness or health tracking without adding context to your data points isn’t super helpful in the long run; it’s a passive way of tracking, which makes it hard to employ actionable changes.
At the same time, I think the amount of data Whoop provides can be seriously overwhelming for more casual or amateur exercisers. And it’s especially easy to get caught up in the recovery feedback, with the red or yellow colors ringing alarm bells and psyching you out, say, before a race (I actually hid both the Whoop and Oura Ring apps in a random folder on my iPhone so I wouldn’t be tempted to see my sleep or recovery data in the days before the Tokyo Marathon). I also didn’t love having to wear two separate wristbands while working out, because I wasn’t going to run without my COROS watch (Whoop now sells clothes with pockets for the sensor, but the options are limited).
The Oura Ring, on the other, was super simple to wear with or without my running watch, and the simple gold design could almost pass for jewelry (it’s a lot thicker than a standard ring, although not in an uncomfortable way). It doesn’t offer the wealth of insights you can get from Whoop, but it does give you all of the essentials in an intuitive app, along with the ability to see a high-level overview of your weekly or monthly trends for any given metric.
I also found the way in which the app provided feedback to be much more approachable. For example, after having several drinks one night, the app ranked my readiness at 74 and said “Your resting heart rate was above average, which means that you may not have fully recovered. To help initiate recovery, take it easy today!”
Everyone approaches health tracking differently, and your fitness level, goals, and budget will play a big role in helping you figure out whether the Whoop or the Oura Ring is right for you. The good news: Both are scientifically sound (as much as any wearable can be outside of a lab). Just don’t blindly follow the data; make sure you’re looking at the overall trends and listening to your body above all else.
The Way You Run Can Turn a Super Shoe Into One With a Negative Drop
As a runner who loves shoes with astronomical stack heights and maximal cushioning, I was super into this YouTube video posted by Doctors of Running dissecting footwear and foot strike type. It was sparked by a Twitter thread that explained how a tall shoe with a low drop—the difference between the amount of foam in the heel compared to the amount in the forefoot of a shoe—could lead to a situation where the foam in the heel is being compressed so significantly, the drop becomes negative (0mm or less) as you run. And that can put unnecessary stress on your calf muscles. A firmer foam could negate the issue, but I definitely prefer the feeling of a higher drop, especially for longer distances.
Forme Power Bra
I’ve been testing the Forme Power Bra—an FDA-registered posture corrector—for a few weeks now and I really like it. I spend a lot of time hunched over my phone or computer (which is not so great for my running form…or life in general), and I could really feel the way this sports bra pulled my shoulders back into proper alignment from the second I put it on. It uses six varied tension fabrics and eight double-fabric panels to correct and balance in your spinal posture, which the brand claims can reduce injury, pain, and stiffness, improve mobility and balance, help you recover quicker, and boost your endurance. I can’t say I’ve noticed those performance benefits yet, but I definitely stand and sit taller while wearing it and I can only hope that will transfer.
The Longest Race by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon
I devoured this memoir from Kara Goucher (it was just delivered on Wednesday). In looking back at her running career, Goucher is unflinching in her takedown of Nike’s toxic culture. I got choked up a few times reading it, trying to imagine being treated the way she was while being at the top of the sport. What I can’t imagine is having the strength to take on such a massive company in the name of promoting fair sport and equal treatment of female athletes. But as she outlines her running history, what’s equally clear is Goucher’s journey from being non-confrontational—a trait she admits regretting during instances of verbal abuse, weight loss pressure, and potential cheating—to finding power in her voice. I found it to be an overwhelmingly sad indictment of certain aspects of the sport, but I think the hopeful takeaway is that as more women speak out, future female athletes won’t have to go through what they did.
Running Does Not Increase the Risk for Hip and Knee Arthritis
Next time someone asks “but isn’t all that running bad for your knees?” you can categorically tell them no. A new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, surveyed nearly 4,000 Chicago Marathon participants—who had been running for an average of 14.7 years—and found that the prevalence of hip and/or knee arthritis was a mere 7.3 percent. The total number of years running, number of marathons completed, weekly mileage, and mean running pace proved not to be significant risk factors for arthritis. AND YET: Over 24 percent of the runners surveyed said doctors had advised them to stop or reduce their running to avoid the risk of hip and/or knee arthritis. Maybe this research can finally put that myth to bed?
COROS Launches Personal Training Support
Last week, COROS launched COROS Coaches, a new one-on-one coaching service that’s totally free to watch/Pod owners. If you have training or racing qs, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get a prompt to join the company’s Training Hub. After that, a real (meaning: human) coach will get access to your data so they can respond within one to three business days. I haven’t personally tried this service yet, but I love that it combines data (the sheer amount of which can feel overwhelming), with educated feedback from experienced experts.