Get off your damn phone! Why everyone should be using Apple Watch Ultra in the gym

Apple Watch Ultra on arm with workout details on it
(Image credit: Tshaka Armstrong)

Yeah, you read that right! Sorry iPhone-wielding lifters and runners — it really is time you made the jump to Apple Watch Ultra. Or any recent Apple Watch, for that matter.

Look, one of the most important factors involved in just getting to the gym with any consistency is finding a time and a groove that works best for you. But adding an iPhone into that mix may not be helpful in the way you'd think it is — not least for those fellow gym-goers around you.

You can read study after study exploring what the best time of day to work out is, but if that time of day doesn’t work for you, it’s the worst time of day. For me, the most consistent I’ve been in years is my lunch break workouts. I’m at work five days a week. No kids. No side hustle busy-ness. Just an early morning shift with an hour lunch. So I’m moving like a man on a mission when I get to the gym and sometimes, some of ya’ll get in my way because you’re on your phones too damn long between sets. 

Look, I get it. We’re all distracted these days and if you’re going to read texts while behind the wheel of a few thousand pound death machine (your car when you’re not paying attention), then I have to expect you’ll be lollygagging on the flat bench. 

But, enough about me and my annoyances. This article is all about you and your gains because you’re killing them and in my infinite benevolence, I want to help you FOCUS and maximize your #GAINZ!!!!!!!!! And not just because you’re doing it for the ‘Gram, but because you want to do this for life. And by “for life,” I mean, “for living.” 

So that when you get up there in years, getting up from the couch won’t require ten minutes, rocking back and forth, and a bevy of guttural grunts and groans. You won’t find any “gym bro” advice here.

Common problems, Watch-based solutions

An Apple Watch Ultra on Tshaka's arm, and details about fitness

(Image credit: Tshaka Armstrong)

I’m currently using an Apple Watch Ultra; LTE connectivity active. With its 2000 nit lit massive display, solid battery life, and 32GB of storage, it’s the ideal hardware that enables me to leave the phone at home and not have to squint in the gym. That said, you can follow my advice with a GPS Apple Watch Series 8, or Apple Watch SE, whatever you’re rocking! Just leave the phone in your gym bag darn it! This is all about minimizing distractions, or eliminating them altogether. 

Fitness focused

Settings and options for fitness

(Image credit: Tshaka Armstrong)

Since the entire reason for this article is FOCUS, this is a good place to begin. In iOS and WatchOS 9, the built-in Fitness Focus mode is fire. I can choose which apps ping me during workouts and it’s a no-brainer because I can set my Focus mode to be GPS activated so that it automatically kicks in when I hit the gym, and deactivates when I leave. 

And, you may not know this, but the built-in “Fitness Focus” mode can also activate that mode automatically ANY TIME you start a workout. So why not have both parameters set? Now add to that the fact you can choose which apps and which people are allowed to send you notifications while that focus mode is activated and you are one your way to increasing that mind/muscle connection distraction-free. GAINZZZZ!!!!

In iOS and WatchOS, the built-in Fitness Focus mode is fire.

Focus mode protip: With your wireless earbuds connected, in Control Center on your Apple Watch Ultra, tapping the alarm bell with a crinkle-cut potato chip on it turns on Announce Notifications. Now when you run, or while you’re working out, Siri will tell you when you’re in the right heart rate zone, your miles and splits, and more. She’ll read your notifications to you, those you’ve allowed, and if someone, or some app, is getting on your nerves you can tell Siri to temporarily silence those notifications. Et voila! Focus restored.

Live in the moment

Tshaka wearing earth Beats Fit Pro

(Image credit: Tshaka Armstrong)

My absolute favorite workout earbuds were Apple’s Beats Powerbeats Pro. Unseated by the Beats Fit Pro now, I’m all Zen when lifting with Active Noise Canceling activated. I leave Transparency mode on when I’m warming up. Then, like Sylvester Stallone turning his hat backwards in Over The Top, with the Traditional Strength Training Workout active I swipe left to the Apple Watch Ultra’s music screen, hit the Airplay icon, and activate Noise Canceling. The bustle of the gym fades into the ether and it’s just me and my PB goals. 

Just me sitting there with those 100lb dumbbells on my thighs, eyes closed, telling myself “You’re going to do six reps. Six reps. Six reps. You got this.” I lay back with Pharoah Monch’s “Simon Says” playing hype man to my efforts: “Get the f#$% up! Simons says, ‘Get the f$%^ up!’” And I focus on my form, moving the weight properly. The tempo of the push. Smooth, controlled, concentric, and eccentric. Moving 100 like it was 70. I’m in the moment. The music and adaptive noise canceling tech ensure that I’m the only one in the gym at that moment. Just me and the weights. None of the day’s problems. No work concerns. No scantily clad baddies. Just the now. Me, my body, and the movement. GAINZZZ!!! 

What gets measured, gets done

Tshaka Armstrong doing a box sqaut

(Image credit: Tshaka Armstrong)

While Apple Watch and Apple Health’s running metrics, like VO2 Max as I showcased previously, are excellent for cardio progress and tracking specific data points for heart strength increases, tracking progressive overload with free weights isn’t exactly a strong point in WatchOS. 

But that’s where the third-party Strong App and those like it come into play. Before I even hit the gym, I’ve built my workout in the Strong App on my iPhone first, and synced that app to my Apple Watch’s exemplary Strong companion app. This way, I’m not in the gym thinking about which exercise to do next, how many reps, or what weight I used last time. It’s all there. In the app. Complete with a rest timer so I’m resting exactly how long I need to between sets and not lingering in “catch my breath limbo” for five minutes when I should’ve jumped into the next set in two.

Einstein was right. Time is relative and you may find you’ve been resting longer than you thought. One of the keys to solid growth is intensity and this timer will help ensure you maintain it. There are other really good weightlifting journal apps like Strongly, Jetfit, or Gymbook, but I’ve been using Strong for years now and absolutely love it. The Strong app and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength training program are what led me to a near 400lb deadlift before COVID hit. One month more and I would’ve easily hit that goal. Then the world changed and gyms shut down for almost three years in Los Angeles.

DON’T play it again, Sam!

The music that used to move you, to help you move, no longer does. Stop fiddling in the middle of workouts and try these options:

Use your music service’s Editor generated playlists, or user-generated playlists to keep things fresh. Apple Music has some great playlists which can easily fill the bill quickly for an hour-long workout. 

I Miss Golden Age Hip-Hop, various Dolby Atmos genre-driven playlists, pick your favorite artist and load up their Essential Songs playlist; there are options abound. One of Spotify’s strengths is user-generated playlists and if you’re into that streaming service, it works on Apple Watch and you can just copy your playlists to your watch for offline playback, though you’ll need to be a Spotify premium user to do so.

And here’s one option I’ve actually found to be quite helpful, Reddit. There’s an entire sub dedicated to workout music and playlists. You can grab some of those, or just use them for inspiration for your own on whichever music service you subscribe to which works with Apple Watch.

So, that’s how I do it. You’re welcome. Maintaining focus. Canceling out the noise and potential distractions at the gym. Keeping that music pumping like the blood through these guns and buns. How do you do it? Hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and share your best tips on both. And stay off your damn phones!

Tshaka Armstrong

Tshaka Armstrong is a nerd. Co-Founder of the non-profit digital literacy organization, Digital Shepherds, he’s also been a broadcast technology reporter, writer and producer. In addition to being an award-winning broadcast storyteller, he’s also covered tech online and in print for everything from paintball gear technology, to parenting gadgets, and film industry tech for Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to writing for iMore, he’s a video contributor for Android Central and posts everything else to his own YouTube channel and socials. He blathers on about his many curiosities on social media everywhere as @tshakaarmstrong.