Apple Watch Fitness Tracking

Workouts with the Apple Watch

I received my Apple Watch on May 13. Every day since then, I’ve tracked my activity, exercise, and the time I stand every hour. It’s easy to automate the basics and the results have been very rewarding.

There’s just one shortcoming. The Apple Watch, like other trackers, is intended for cardio tracking. It’s not an all-purpose exercise tracker like I hoped it would be. Let’s look at how it works.

Rings of Power

Three rings make up one of the watch face’s complications. The outer ring gauges thirty minutes of general physical activity. The thought goes that if I’m up and about for at least thirty minutes every day, whether it’s taking the stairs or mowing the lawn, that’s a good thing. If I can’t move about for half an hour out of 24 hours, I’ve failed as a human being.

 
 

The middle ring of the health tracker wants to reflect genuine exercise. These are times that I get my heart pumping and my muscles burning. If I don’t raise my heart rate enough for thirty minutes of the day, then this ring will stay depressingly empty or incompleted.

The innermost ring knows how many minutes I stood for each hour.  Apple Watch wants to see that I stood for one minute out of at least 12 hours of the day. This way, I’m considered not to be a complete desk chair sloth.

Apple made it perfectly clear that a lot of research and field testing went into the design of the watch’s health tracking system. I believe that they reached true success: the fitness data is essentially accurate and good to know. It tracks my exercise, just not all of it. 

Cardio > Everything Else

The watch is dependent on heart rate monitoring from my wrist. As it gauges my activity it has a very good idea of how much cardio exercise I’ve completed, but it’s not an accurate reflection of other kinds of exercise I have in my workout.

For example, isometric exercises like push-ups and spider crawls aren’t accurately tracked because they burn calories at a different rate from standard cardio exercises like running and cycling. If I walk on an elliptical machine for thirty minutes, the Watch will accurately detail the calories burned and the minutes performed. If I’m bench pressing, then it will not accurately calculate the calories I’ve burned. My trainer who’s tried the Watch for himself says that it’s off by a long shot.

This is where trackers often lack. It’s not that the Apple Watch is inferior to other devices, it’s that tracking exercises from a person’s heart rate on the wrist isn’t accurately gathering data for a variety of muscle groups. The good news is that runners and swimmers have accurate tracking with devices like Apple Watch because their physical activity is primarily cardio in nature.

 
Fitness tracking data for the month of August
 

In spite of the Watch’s fitness app limitations, I start an ‘Other’ workout in the Workout app on my wrist every time I go to the gym. The watch counts the minutes I’ve exercised if nothing else. No, it will not accurately tell how much I’ve burned, but closing an exercise ring on the Watch is its own reward.

And thanks to the Watch’s influence, I’m still looking for a decent amount of time to exercise and keep active each day. The Watch is holding me accountable with notifications detailing my progress. Most days I look for ways to close all three rings. If I haven’t got the time, I know that I still accomplish more activity with my Watch than I would have without it to encourage me.