Is this the tech that’s going to win England the Euros?

The Oura ring, £292
The England team has spent thousands on Oura rings for the squad ahead of its Euro 2024 campaign

From head to toe, football players are used to being decked out with tech that monitors every second of their performance on the pitch. Watches are put on their wrists, straps around their chests and trackers on their ankles, all to provide data that coaches and analysts use to help them perform better.

But a device spotted on England players, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guéhi, ahead of the Euros kicking off this weekend is equally as hawk-eyed about what’s happening off the pitch. By meticulously tracking their biometrics around the clock, it can help tailor training, improve sleep and lower stress to give the team the edge.

The Oura ring looks like a plain, thick silver, gold or titanium band. But it is actually a health tracker and continuously records heart and breathing rate, temperature and movement – data that is crunched through a linked app to provide tips for better health.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo wearing an Oura ring at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, on March 23, 2022
Distinctive aura: Cristiano Ronaldo is a fan of the wearable tech and is still playing elite sport aged 39 - Miguel Riopa

While the rings launched back in 2016, it was when they were worn by basketball players in the NBA in 2020 (both as a way to improve performance but also to spot Covid outbreaks as the ring detects fevers) that they took off in the US.

They have since developed a cult-like following among the health-conscious who have cash to spend, with the ring, now in its third generation, ranging from £299 to £549 and an annual subscription for Oura membership, needed to unlock all the data it collects, costing £70. Fans of the fashionable tech include Prince Harry, Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cristiano Ronaldo. On social media, users obsess over their sleep and stress scores and confess to making dramatic lifestyle changes, like cutting out alcohol or overhauling how they sleep, for better results.

Oura, the Finnish health tech firm behind the rings, may be hoping to start a similar craze in the UK after England players were seen wearing the rings while training in Germany this week, just days after the devices launched in John Lewis, marking the first time the rings have been available in shops in the UK.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex wearing a Oura Health fitness tracker ring and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex walk at South Melbourne Beach on October 18, 2018
Ringing the changes: Prince Harry sports Oura tech with the Duchess of Sussex - Getty

How Oura rings work

Inside the ring, there are three sensors: tiny infrared lights that measure heart and breathing rate, while an accelerometer tracks movement and a body temperature monitor spots fevers and forecasts women’s menstrual cycles.

While an Apple Watch, Garmin or Fitbit record much of the same data, Oura insists being a ring sets it apart. The location (the index finger is recommended) means it captures signals directly from the heart to provide better data than can be gathered on the wrist, it claims.

The Oura app, which is linked with the ring, organises the data it collects into health “focus areas” including sleep, stress, activity and “readiness” (which takes into account recent sleeping patterns, activity and body temperature).

A daily score out of 100 is generated for each. A score of 85 or higher is seen as optimal and users receive a crown icon on the app if they achieve this.

If a score falls below this level, the app provides tailored advice, such as taking a recovery day or doing low-impact exercise if sleep has been poor, or to practise breathing exercises or take a nap if stressed.

Why Oura rings could improve performance

Dr Amos Ogunkoya, a sports specialist and the first-team doctor for an elite football team, who has had an Oura ring for two years, is optimistic. He thinks the ring could help give Southgate’s side the edge.

For footballers and coaches, it provides 24/7 information, including what behaviours are linked with poor performance and recovery, such as going to sleep too late, eating certain foods or having dinner too late in the evening, he says. Southgate has become renowned for focusing on these holistic aspects of training.

“Habits that you think are innocuous affect recovery. We’re talking about small percentages in elite athletes. One or two per cent [difference in performance] is the difference between a gold medal or finishing last in the Olympics – that’s huge,” Dr Ogunkoya says.

Oura Ring Gen3
The Oura provides 24/7 information linked to your smartphone including what behaviours are linked with poor performance

The ring can also help inform players’ exercise plans, flagging days when they have a high Oura score, so they can push themselves harder, and days when they should focus on recovery, he says.

“The Oura ring is not a trend because of the fact that it’s in fashion. It’s a trend because it improves outcomes,” Dr Ogunkoya says.

“Anything that gives you an edge really catches on quickly. And people start using it even without being told. It’s not a fad. I think it’s here to stay. It’s a progression in sports science.”

Speaking last year, England defender John Stones said checking his Oura Ring was “the first thing” he does when he gets up in the morning, describing the tech as “addictive”.

The psychology behind the ring

But it’s not just athletes that can benefit from the Oura ring, or wearable tech in general – it can encourage everyone to move more and build healthier habits, Dr Ogunkoya argues. “It’s the observer effect. People behave in a healthy way when they think they are being observed.”

Ian Walker, who is based between Hong Kong and London, has had Oura rings for four years. “My friends have one, my wife has one. It becomes a bit of a community when you spot other people wearing them. I’m always asked about it.”

Primarily, he bought the ring to track his sleep. While he wears other devices, such as a chest strap to monitor his heart rate and a Garmin watch when exercising, the ring is the only one he wears constantly and offers more in-depth insight into his daily health.

The app has recommended good, healthy tips, like not drinking too much caffeine or alcohol and wearing a sleep mask, he says. “It helps to nudge me a little bit,” Walker adds.

“I sometimes wonder, am I tired, or am I being lazy?” he says. “Then it’s helpful to look at the sleep tracker and see if you had a really good night’s sleep and can get out of bed, or if you only slept for three-and-a-half hours and you do need to take it easy.”

How Oura rings compare with fitness trackers

However, Oura rings aren’t a silver bullet for health tracking, says Stuart Gray, a professor of muscle and metabolic health at the University of Glasgow. While they’re “not bad” at monitoring sleep compared to other tech, their exercise tracking isn’t the best, he says.

Some users have also complained of their scores changing dramatically when updates are introduced and suffering from low moods if their daily health scores fall. Others have found that the ring mistakenly logs that they’ve gone for a swim when they’ve actually just had a shower. It’s also one of the most expensive on the market, with similar devices from Ultrahuman (£325) and Circular (from around £170) working out cheaper.

Despite this, with just one month until the Euros final on July 14, the team will likely be hoping that insights from their Oura rings could be the factor that pushes them to a win.