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How the Apple Watch will be your personal trainer

Each of those features — individually or in combination — appeal to different people. For some, the ability to track activity and heart rate to measure walking, running, and stair climbing; to log rowing machines and exercise bikes; and to be not only reminded to stand up and move around, but rewarded for it: This will all be especially compelling. In that role, the Apple Watch can not only help quantify our lives; it can become a virtual personal trainer.

Activity monitoring

Our bodies feed on motion as much as they do food. Without motion, our muscles atrophy, we lose flexibility, and we develop chronic dysfunctions. In short, the less we do, the less we're able to do. It's a vicious cycle. That's what makes the Apple Watch's Activity app so valuable. The Watch offers three rings in its Activity app to show how your day is progressing.

The Stand ring shows how often you've gotten up. Our legs evolved to lift us — to literally defy gravity. Sitting down all day is like being in space. It deprives us of the resistance we need to keep us strong, to keep us standing now and into the future. The Apple Watch not only reminds you to stand — 10 minutes before the hour, every waking hour, for at least a minute that hour — but keeps track of how often you've done it. That helps build good habits, and good habits help build good health.

The Move ring takes us from standing to walking. It shows you how many active calories you've burned during the day. Start by setting a goal, and each week the Apple Watch suggests a new and improved goal. It's based on activity the Apple Watch has been tracking — your recent history — so the suggestions aren't just calculated; they're considered. You can tweak it manually, of course, but the idea is that each goal is progressive yet attainable. That's the best way to improve.

The Exercise ring shows how much brisk activity you've engaged in. Brisk can be a fast-paced walk, a jog, or a run. 30 minutes is the goal. You can do it all at once as part of a dedicated workout, or a little bit at a time. Here, the amount of time doesn't change on a daily or weekly basis, but over time it'll likely require greater intensity to hit the "brisk" point and sustain for the 30 minutes. Again, it's a smart way to build cardio.

The more you do, the more each ring gets filled.

Fill a ring completely and you've accomplished your goal for the day. There's a weekly summary on your Watch; visit the companion Activity app on the iPhone, and you'll find your complete history. Metrics create accountability, and that feeds back into motivation.

Working out

The Workout app provides real-time information on the cardio training you're doing, while you're doing it. Data includes elapsed time, distance, calories, pace, and speed. Better still, it's not just for jogging or running, but for outdoor equipment like cycling, indoor equipment like rowing and the elliptical, and more.

Many fitness bands and devices simply don't track activity performed on exercise equipment, which either forces you to change activities that are otherwise beneficial, or leads to an incomplete picture of what you're doing. By using the accelerometer, gyroscope, and heart rate monitor, the Apple Watch tracks and provides detailed summaries on a vast range of workouts — with or without equipment, inside or outside — without most of those blindspots.

Since the Apple Watch is also water resistant — rated IPX7 under IEC standard 60529 — so it should withstand sweat, rain, splashes, washing up, and if you want to follow in CEO Tim Cook's footsteps, even showering after a workout shouldn't be a problem. The Watch isn't built for swimming or diving, but all land-based activities are fine.

What's more, Workout will show you when you're halfway to a goal and when you've achieved it, as well as your last, best training session of each type. That's just the kind of right motivation, at the right time, that makes the difference.

Achievements unlocked

When you reach a new level of fitness, either breaking a personal record or attaining a personal milestone, the Apple Watch rewards you with an achievement badge. They're stored in the Activity app and are just a way for you to not only know how well you're progressing, but get some positive, visual affirmation. Success can be habit-forming, and rewards are a way to make success habitual.

Just doing it

All of the information gleaned by the Apple Watch and its built-in apps can also be fed into the Health app on the iPhone and shared, with permission, to other health and fitness apps and accessories. That removes silos and lets you get a really good picture of not only what you're doing but how you're doing.

Moreover, the Apple Watch app store will contain watch-optimized versions of some of the best and most popular fitness apps on the iPhone. That includes Nike + Running, which includes the Nike network and lets us cheer our friends on, Lifesum for food and water tracking so your nutrition can keep up with your exercise, Runtastic, and more.

The future of health and fitness

We've had fitness trackers for years. We've had smartwatches for a while. Apple Watch has higher ambitions: With an entire team devoted to it and the resources of Apple at its disposal, they aim to bring a computer to the wrist and harness it — and all the sensors that come with it — to help with things like health and fitness. It's not just something that just collects numbers and marks off miles, but it also understands context and can provide motivation.

As Apple starts getting feedback from millions of customers, and as wearable sensors improve, it's not impossible to imagine the Apple Watch could really become a personal trainer — with Siri yelling at you and everything!

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

79 Comments
  • what I really am looking forward to is that I don't have to make sure to sync by Midnight like with my Microsoft Band it will do it without me having to do it by the stoke of midnight or the data for the day is lost
  • I have a Band, and I've NEVER had to sync by midnight. I've had times where I thought my Bad was connected, but it wasn't, and it synced data from at least 2 days prior. Never heard of that....
  • if I don't do the manual syncing there is no info on the date it was not manually synced - maybe it is a Windows Phone thing but even if I see the bluetooth symbol it has to be really close to my phone for it to sync
  • Microsoft support says that you can go up to 3 days without syncing. Maybe it is a Windows Phone thing, but I use an iPhone. And Bluetooth range is roughly 30 feet I think? So how close is close?
  • Hi Rene. Do you know if the Workout app will support either weightlifting or abdominal workouts?
  • Or cycling.
  • It's been instructed that for cycling and any other activity where the legs are the main generator of energy, you should put the Apple Watch around your ankle instead of your wrist to get a more accurate view of cadence, calories burned, etc.
  • not by Apple, it hasn't.
  • The demos do seem to show a cycling activity button but if you use Strava, they are releasing an app that will specifically work on recording your ride, auto uploading activity, other functions things like tapping you on the wrist as you approach favourite segments / display segment and ride stats etc.
  • That's what gonna make me purchase it or not. I dont even know what technology is capable of when it comes to applying modern sensors to stationary exercice, and especially lifting/pulling (in all directions), all this coupled with heart rate measurement. Maybe it's just not possible or accurate enough, maybe there's no algorithm for it yet. However if the watch can track movements on a rowing machine, why wouldnt it be able to track barbell rowing movements or even bench pressing movements? Anyhow if the watch cant do all that, I simply wont have any decent use for it, no matter how advanced it is. I already have a nice watch for time telling, and dont mind checking my phone for notifications.
  • For sure some smart person or persons are already working on accessory devices (and the AppleWatch app to go with them) that track movements even more closely and accurately. For example, a sensor anklet. Just be patient. Unlike other smart watch makers, you can trust that Apple will be able to attract app developers who will come up with amazing functions for the AppleWatch.
  • Does the workout app show current heart rate while you are working out? And is there any kind of HR reporting (e.g. max HR, ave HR) for the workout?
  • This is what has me most excited. Real time pacing info at a glance during my runs. Playback controls of music and podcasts on my wrist. Hooking into my existing Map My Run stats. It's lucky for those of us most interested in fitness features that the sport is the least expensive- it's probably the only one I would have considered anyway. ⌚️ Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed. I honestly don't care for how Apple is trying to market this thing as a piece of "jewelry". The fitness tracking, if they get it right, may be the most useful feature. If they can get that RIGHT and RELIABLE, then I'll get one. I just won't wear it on my left wrist. That spot is reserved for my REAL WATCH. Just my $.02.
  • Just make sure you have your iPhone strapped to you at all times as it's useless without it.
  • It can't track where you go without an iPhone, but it still tracks what you do.
  • I don't like arm straps soo I got this belt to carry my iPhone plus keys! Looks great haven't try it yet but check it out . https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M1BCDTW/ref=cm_sw_su_dp?tag=hawk-future-20&...
  • Not useless. Just limited. Which is a dumb word (like "pre-existing condition") because everything is limited.
  • Even if it didn't need the tether, I will still carry my iPhone when I'm out running in case I need to place an emergency phone call.
  • Yeah, I constantly hear this complaint about having to bring your phone with you, but I don't know anyone who would go for a run and not take their phone with them. Isn't this kind of the whole point of mobile phones and mobile connectivity?
  • Can't wait for Watch to help get me off my lazy butt and get moving.
  • I dont think it works that way.
  • That's exactly how it's going to work. I will use it as a tool for motivation as, there is none to speak of at the moment.
  • You need an expensive piece of tech to get off your ass? I don't see your workout regime lasting long IMO.
  • To "help" me get off my lazy ass. I don't NEED one, but it wouldn't hurt. Kind of like the idea of people hiring trainers to get in shape.
  • i have to agree with joe here chindavon, only you can motivate you. i used to weigh 256 pounds and on may the first of last year (2014) i lost 90 pounds over the next 9 months. all it took was dedication to a diet (eating the same things just less of it, counting calories) and exercise 5 days a week 1-hour a day. it's possible but you have to do it, a watch won't do it for you.
  • Awesome accomplishment!!
  • Seriously guys, do you not see the word "help" being used here? Yes, I know, it's ultimately up to the person, but "help" to motivate is not anything new to the fitness world. So you're saying, that with losing all that weight, you absolutely had NO ONE "help" you in any fashion? Whether it be encouraging words, or nice comments of accomplishment? I don't believe you just locked yourself in a room the whole time with no encouragement from the outside world throughout.
  • no i did it all on my own, sure people said nice things but it wasn't the driving motivation to my weight loss and it really didn't enhance my success in any way.
  • if the watch can tell him to get out of his chair and walk about his office that already has him off his ass now if he could get the naysayers off of it he would be ahead of the game. I am not one to go crazy with exercise but if I can stick the phone in my pocket and walk about where I work and it counts my steps that is a win win for me and not to have my phone in a meeting but still be able to get notifications super
  • thats fucking AWESOME. i hope you're still patting yourself on the back.
  • You people are committing the classic dumb posters' error of assuming that your personal, idiosyncratic circumstances and experiences reflect everyone else's. They don't. Everyone is different. After years of stop-and-start diet and exercise programs, first Fitbit Zero, then Strava and iPhone, worked for me. Having a detailed record of my exercise runs keeps me motivated to stay on my fitness regimen. My BMI has gone down from 31 to 22 and has stayed there for two years now. I'm off any BP medicine and my resting pulse is down from 78 to 48. Yes, for some people smart devices actually help them get and keep fit.
  • *humblebrag*
  • There is nothing humble about that. It is an out-and-out brag to let people know what staying on a fitness regimen can do for you. I have at least 5 friends who have gotten fitter too after I described to them what I did and "bragged" about the results. If just one person who read my post says "Yeah, I can do that too!" and goes out and does it, then I don't mind your negativist brickbats one bit.
  • *super ultra humblebrag*. Lose weight great, I don't give a shit. If you need an expensive piece of technology to give your workout meaning go for it. I am old school. I use my phone to time my workout rounds. But a $2 stopwatch would do.
  • Well I'm happy for you, you found what works for you at a much cheaper cost. But why you are so judgmental and have so much resentment against people who do things differently from you is baffling. Do you go through life suffering one petty snit after another about people whose actions don't affect your life one bit? I pity your sad empty life man. Actually, I pity the people who have to suffer your presence.
  • And your true colors show. I pity someone who got this up in arms about someone on the internet that disagreed with their point of view. I live a full happy and healthy life. The apple watch is a sad excuse to work out. You want to work out. Fucking work out then. That is my opinion. You will not change that. Have a good day.
  • 349 isn't really very expensive. It's cheaper than the original $399 iPod in today's dollars.
  • Not the point. IN MY OPINION a hundred dollar device to motivate someone to work out is silly.
  • can we all just agree that everyone's personal motivators are just that: personal?
  • If you truly need a watch to remind you to move or motivate you, you might as well just save your money. I give you a month, maybe two if you set the volume of the get-up reminder loud enough. Im just asking to be proved wrong here, so dont hesitate to share the transformation pics, :) Btw, this watch is nowhere near a personal trainer. If you ever met/availed yourself of the services of one, you'd know.
  • I am in awe of your ability to peer into and lay bare people's inner psyche just by reading their posted comments. I can tell you personally, based on my own experience, that absolutely, a smart device was what motivated me to stay on a fitness regimen that has succeeded despite my initial skepticism. You're comment is a blanket generalization that is just utterly wrong.
  • How does the Apple watch track stuff like elliptical or spinning workouts? This article seems to imply that the Apple Watch will somehow interact with these machines but as I far as I know Apple has decided to ignore either CSAFE and FitLinxx
  • I guess I'm the only one that finds the whole "achievements" thing kind of tacky? And those "rewards" you get for them? Could there exist anything in the entire universe more tacky looking than those little fake skeuomorphic shields? Fake gold and purple and bilious green "badges," made even faker by pretending that they are real objects? I thought all this fake 3D stuff was against Apple's new design dogma?
  • I do exercise everyday and having something extra to let you know you are doing better it really motives you too keep going or do more exercise.
    Not that I need a 3d badge haha but the info do helps a lot.p, it keeps exercise more interesting
  • I agree. I play tennis everyday. I don't need this. But even the step count on my iPhone motivates me to move more. It has happened a lot of times that I chose to walk or run instead of taking the bus just so I can get more steps. It's motivating. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ha ha. I used to be a parking lot hawk whenever I park, searching for that spot closest to the entrance. Now, my mindset is "So I have to walk more and burn a few calories, what's bad about that?"
  • I understand that some people need rewards. Personally, I don't think I will ever use the Workout app at all but instead stay inside the Activity app which is all I really need. I'm still old-school enough to not really believe in "workouts" per se, and am still waiting on the proof that they actually do anything good for you. Even if you use the app and need rewarding though, those badges are just the worst.
    "We don't need no stinking badges!" :-)
  • You thought wrong. Apple is against excessive skeuomorphics in OS chrome, but conent is different.
  • I'm looking forward to using the apple watch as a fitness tracker but am a little disappointed that it can't track your location and distance without having your iPhone due to the lack of GPS. Forgive my ignorance on the subject but is there any way that GPS tracking can be added to the watch via an update at a later time or is there a specific piece of hardware that needs to be installed in the watch in order for this to work? Great article!
  • it would require a cellular radio to triangulate your location based off of cell towers like the iphone does.
  • Location tracking does not require a cellular radio. Both wifi and cellular triangulation provide quick estimation of your approximate location, but your precise location depends on GPS, which is satellite-based. Any of the above would be possible on the Apple Watch using existing technology but it would likely kill the battery life so it's probably not going to happen for some time at least.
  • The Apple Watch is only missing the cell radio and the GPS though. If it had those it would be just as capable as the iPhone itself. It might not take too long before we see this.
  • How will this work if I run on a track. Does it measure distance? How far is the range to connect to an iPhone? Sent from the iMore App
  • If the track is cover by wifi yes, if not 10 mt(30 feet) top Bluetooth range . Don't think that will be enough . But it suppose to be able to calculate distance with the pedometer :)
  • I wouldn't bank on the Apple Watch maintaining a connection to your iPhone via wifi unless you're at home. In public spaces, your iPhone and Watch will not be joining every public wifi hotspot they encounter automatically. Even of they did, I'm not sure the two could see each other on a public wifi network given the security settings that are typically implemented on those. The main benefit for the wifi feature will be to allow you to stay connected without your iPhone as you move about your home.
  • My iPhone always Join know wifi, pretty sure will be the same for the watch.
    I have use handoff on my iPhone iPad outside home wifi and it works. :)
    I'm positive Sent from the iMore App
  • But how do you "join" Wi-Fi on a Watch for the first time so that it becomes a "known network"? Unless the iPhone is going to share it's list of authorised networks with it, that will be both difficult and fiddly.
  • Haven't see how you do that . But I did saw the keynote and they said that if you are connected to the same wifi it should work.
    Apple watch does have wifi.
    I hope that iPhone wifi info get shared once you paired the watch . Sounds clever Sent from the iMore App
  • Can you describe a scenario, other than your home, where you would expect to use your Watch outside of Bluetooth range from your iPhone? I can't think of a use case where both devices would remain on the same wifi network.
  • My gym have full wifi coverage and pretty sure most sport clubs have it to.
    Tennis club, amateur futball fields.
    I really hope you can use it in any wifi.
    I can leave my iPhone on the locker and just exercise with my watch :) Sent from the iMore App
  • I think the Watch would work well on its own in those cases since you wouldn't really need GPS functionality. The only advantage I can think of would be receiving notifications.
  • That's a GOOD question, and should have been addressed in the press conference IMHO. Either way, it'll track your heartrate. Which can help give a idea of your intensity.
  • The watch can learn your stride, but it does require being connected with your iPhone at first. Best guess is to have your iPhone on you when you first start using the watch and let it learn your movements based off sensors on the iPhone. Once it does, it can use the accelerometer to gauge distance with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Perhaps the software will be updated someday to also track your path not requiring the need for any other location tracking sensor.
  • It's a pretty crude fitness device. For a novice user that has never used any heart rate monitors for fitness training before they may get some benefit from calorie expenditure data but outside of that I can't see anyone serious about fitness training of any kind actually using the Apple watch for this. It lacks gps and pairing with an iphone is a poor excuse especially for those with a 6+ may not want to run with a large device on their person. I haven't found any information on compatibility with running stride and cycling speed/cadence sensors for actual functional coaching. Something that would be of benefit would be if Apple allowed the watch to transmit the HR data to actual fitness watches like the mio devices that could then replace the usual chest strap and you would be getting the actual benefits of a proper fitness hrm that provides actual coaching programs. It will be interesting to see actually how good or bad the fitness functions will be. I'll take my polar v800 or a Garmin fenix for fitness training over the Apple watch any day.
  • I'm a runner, and I hold my iPhone when I run. I recently upgraded to the 6+, and I've only done treadmill so far,,and it wasn't that bad. I've run so much holding my phone that I can't run without it. And i also use Nike+ and MapMyRun,,so i get those going before I head out. I have the Microsoft Band right now, but I am pretty curious about the Watch. I will probably get one just to try it...
  • I don;t think the Watch will be constantly measuring your heart rate. More likely that it will check it periodically, and the frequency may vary depending on your level of activity.
  • Polar V800 and Garmin Fenix 3 cost $550 and $400, respectively. Cycling cadence, power meters and foot pods are additional-cost accessories. Water-resistant, not proof, and they use chest strap HRM's. Monochrome LCD display, no apps, no music, minimal notifications, and your data has to go to their portals, no choice. Great for serious athletes but overkill and obsolete for everyone else. With Apple Watch, iPhone and a wide assortment of Bluetooth health and sport sensor accessories, tons of sport tracking apps and all the other things the Watch can do, Apple Watch is far more useful and flexible than Polar and Garmin (and Suunto) and as such, a much better value for all but the most serious athletes.
  • By the way, I am a serious athlete and running coach and I couldn't be more excited for the Apple Watch. I've logged over 10.000 kilometers running using phone apps and Bluetooth sensors since 2008. First Nokia, then Android, now iPhone since 2012. I'm absolutely thrilled by mobile sports technology and particularly for what Apple bring to it,
  • I really hope this will be as good as it sounds for actual athletes and not just the average person who goes for a jog every once in a while. I'm still wondering how well it can track when I play tennis. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nailed it. Last time I looked, the top Garmin Edge was $800. And I'm very disappointed in the mileage accuracy of the Fenix. Great estimator for new trails, but I wouldn't map a 26.2 with it.
  • Last time i checked my v800 is 30m water resistant is designed for swimming and not just a little bit of sweat like the Apple watch. The fenix 3 is rated to 90m, actually has a colour display, supports apps, notifications and doesn't need daily charging. The stainless steel and saphire screen version of the fenix is still cheaper than the equivalent apple watch version.
  • If you swim, if you're a triathlete, Polar and Garmin are better. I'm a running coach and most of my clients, including myself, are owners of Polar, Garmin and Suunto products. Things are changing and sporters are seeing new temptations and challenges. 10yrs ago a top of the line Polar would last months on a single battery, now about 15hrs full tracking. There are NO major platform apps for sport watches, just a single phone app. Connect IQ apps? Good luck with that. Sport watches are losing their exclusive purpose and will no longer be desired by 100's of millions of iPhone owners wanting to bring fitness metrics into their ecosystems. Because, an Apple Watch will meet most of their fitness tracking needs while providing access to a competitive app market and several exclusive features. A fully-accessorised Fenix 3 is nearly $800. For the same price you can get an Apple Watch (steel) with all the same sensor accessories, but you also get all the extra goodness that only it can offer. I own sport watches and I'm sold on Apple Watch.
  • So you're a running coach and yet your sold on the Apple watch that can't provide information on running cadence or stride length that can be beneficial for improving your running technique. If that's the case you may as well not use a watch at all if you're only monitoring hr. But in case you missed my original comment i did say that these sport watches are only going to appeal to people that are serious about fitness training and not your average Joe that's trying to get off the couch. I was having a go at the way this article hypes up the very basic fitness functions of the Apple watch to be more than they actually are because they're not design for anyone into serious fitness training.
  • Cadence and stride length could indeed be interpolated from Apple Watch sensors and GPS data from the paired iPhone. As for technique, you need a coach for proper mechanics no matter which kit you buy. Looking at the big picture of what tools are best for a determined, self-coached athlete, there are far more options available for phone ecosystems than sport watches. For example, shoe insert sensors for foot strike and power assessment, lactic acid sensors, breath rate and posture sensors. All send data via Bluetooth to phone apps which could be developed to support a smartwatch interface. Merlin Mann's "Expectational debt" should be applied here. GPS may not be necessary at all. The human condition is filled with variables. With enough research, new approaches to old problems may yield more effective tech you weren't expecting. That isn't hype, it's progress.
  • David, that sort of optimism, positive attitude, and general politeness will go right over most folks' heads!!
  • Thank you! Not most folks. Just the cynics.
  • So the Apple Watch is supposed to remain "unlocked" so long as it remains on the user's wrist. I hope there's some sort of timer involved, or else I'd expect it to lock every time you adjusted its position on your wrist.
  • Great Article, I don't know about others but i love it as i love Apple watch