Get fit with Ap­ple Watch

Can Ap­ple’s wearable beat ded­i­cated fit­ness track­ers?

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Wear­ables are al­ready big busi­ness in the fit­ness world. Users talk of the ‘quan­ti­fied self’ as the latest ad­vance in fit­ness op­ti­mi­sa­tion. That may sound glib, but if you’re look­ing to get fit and stay healthy then per­for­mance data is cru­cial to achiev­ing that goal. So when word got out that Ap­ple was work­ing on a wrist­watch with fit­ness track­ing fea­tures, my in­ter­est nat­u­rally piqued. When I heard var­i­ous mod­els would be avail­able, one called the Ap­ple Watch Sport, I knew I had to check it out.

The spec sheet is im­pres­sive: the Watch packs an ac­celerom­e­ter, a gy­ro­scope and op­ti­cal heart-rate sen­sors, but no GPS (more on that later). What struck me when I got hold of one though was how light and durable it feels on the wrist. Much has been writ­ten about the de­sign’s solid wa­ter-re­sis­tance, but the alu­minium case and scratch-re­sis­tant glass dis­play re­ally do feel fit­ness-ready. Twinned with a white ‘flu­o­roe­las­tomer’ flex­i­ble strap, it’s se­cure yet comfy, and cer­tainly looks like a sleek ath­letic time­piece. But how would it per­form – and more im­por­tantly, would it trans­late to a fit­ter, health­ier me?

Day 1

My first job was to get fa­mil­iar with Ap­ple’s Ac­tiv­ity app, which tracks your move­ment over the day and di­vides this data into three met­rics called Move, Ex­er­cise and Stand. I opened the app and ex­pected to have to in­put my per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, but in­stead it au­to­mat­i­cally im­ported my stats from the iPhone’s Health app. What I did have to en­ter was my daily ac­tiv­ity goal, or how many (ac­tive) calo­ries I aimed to burn. I started with a round fig­ure of

1,000, tapped the Start Mov­ing but­ton, and went on with my day.

About ten min­utes into my walk to work that morn­ing, I looked at the time, then swiped up to ac­cess the Watch’s Glances fea­ture. My ac­tiv­ity was shown as three con­cen­tric rings; the outer red ‘Move’ ring had pro­gressed about a fifth of the way round to in­di­cate calo­ries burned – a swipe left re­vealed an ex­act num­ber: 124.

Ten min­utes later I ar­rived at the of­fice, sat at my desk and checked my wrist again to find al­most a third of the cir­cle com­plete.

Not long af­ter, I felt a sub­tle ding on my wrist. The Watch dis­play in­formed me that I’d been sat still for an hour and it was time to get up. I’d re­ceived sim­i­lar sub­tle warn­ings from Jaw­bone’s UP24. Many of us are guilty of re­main­ing seden­tary for far too long. It slows me­tab­o­lism, which af­fects the body’s abil­ity to reg­u­late blood sugar, blood pres­sure and break down body fat. In fact stud­ies have linked ex­ces­sive sit­ting with be­ing over­weight, type 2 di­a­betes, and even pre­ma­ture death – re­gard­less of how much ex­er­cise you do. I re­ceived three more no­ti­fi­ca­tions that morn­ing, heed­ing each one, and no­ticed that by lunchtime the Ac­tiv­ity app’s blue Stand cir­cle had filled up by a third. I took a stroll through town dur­ing my break and by the time I got back to my desk the red ring had moved ahead again, although the green Ex­er­cise cir­cle was yet to stir.

My walk back home is up­hill and al­ways gets my heart go­ing. I was able to check this with a swipe up on the Watch face into Glances, and re­ceived a mea­sure­ment of 90bpm. I also no­ticed that, re­act­ing to my in­creased heart-rate, the green Ex­er­cise cir­cle had now pro­gressed by al­most a third, so I chose the long route home in an at­tempt to take it into the fi­nal stretch. By the day’s end, my ac­tiv­ity up­date showed com­pleted Move and Stand cir­cles, but for Ex­er­cise, I came up short. Clearly I had not been in­ten­sive enough!

I ar­rived, sat at my desk, checked my wrist again to find al­most a third of the cir­cle com­plete

Day 3

Gen­er­ally, Ap­ple Watch has to be re­moved and charged ev­ery night, so no sleep data is logged – un­like the UP24, Mis­fit Flash and Fit­bit Charge and Surge units. That’s a shame, since sleep can be a good in­di­ca­tor of over­all health and is es­pe­cially in­sight­ful if you’re look­ing to beat in­som­nia by be­ing more ac­tive (see our re­view of the Em­fit QS on page 87).

I got up early the next day for a run to test the Watch’s Work­out app. I se­cured my iPhone 5 in an arm­band, se­lected Out­door Run on the Watch, chose the open ‘No Goal’ op­tion and took to the streets. Ev­ery so of­ten I raised my wrist to see the dis­play show­ing time elapsed and ac­tual time; swip­ing left of­fered live pace, dis­tance, calo­ries and (af­ter a de­lay) heart-rate data. The Watch dis­play is a thing of beauty, but I found it dif­fi­cult to read in di­rect sun­light. I also found swip­ing awk­ward when run­ning, es­pe­cially af­ter work­ing up a sweat. Au­to­matic progress up­dates ev­ery mile were there­fore welcome, and al­lowed me to keep tabs on my ses­sion at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. I re­turned home at the fifth mile, but nei­ther the Watch nor my iPhone of­fered any de­tailed postrun anal­y­sis such as splits or route cov­ered – stats the Fit­bit apps do well – though I did no­tice that my work­out ses­sion had counted to­ward the Ex­er­cise cir­cle in Ac­tiv­ity, con­firm­ing the tight in­te­gra­tion be­tween the two apps. Later that day I

changed the graph-based work­out met­rics to nu­mer­i­cal stats via the iPhone app, which made for eas­ier view­ing at a glance, and cus­tomised the watch dis­play by adding an Ac­tiv­ity but­ton di­rectly to the clock face.

Mean­while I kept up my stand-ev­ery-hour rou­tine, even if that meant mov­ing about for only a minute or two an hour. I ac­tu­ally re­ceived a no­ti­fi­ca­tion af­ter stand­ing still for too long while cook­ing. Sur­pris­ingly, these prompts didn’t get an­noy­ing; I wel­comed them, es­pe­cially once my ‘achieve­ments’ started to mount.

The next day I got a mes­sage ad­vis­ing me to up my calo­ries burned goal be­cause I’d over­shot my cur­rent one for three days straight. It was mo­ments like these that made the Watch feel alive to my move­ments and went some way to com­pen­sat­ing for its nightly power de­mands.

Still, I was dis­ap­pointed by how the Watch only recorded my heart-rate in the back­ground ev­ery 10 min­utes, es­pe­cially when run­ning. The Fit­bit Surge tracks heart-rate at one-sec­ond in­ter­vals dur­ing ex­er­cise, although when it comes to track­ing phys­i­cal in­ten­sity dur­ing work­outs that in­volve ir­reg­u­lar move­ments, all of these wrist-based wear­ables prove pretty much use­less. A case in point: the next day I fired up the Work­out app on my Ap­ple Watch, de­fined the ex­er­cise as ‘Other’ and per­formed a 20-minute CrossFit rou­tine that left me breath­less and drip­ping with sweat, yet my calo­rie burn count read like I’d gone on noth­ing more than a brisk walk.

Day 8

I was happy to dis­cover that at least for the Watch’s na­tive apps, run­ning with­out my iPhone was al­most no dif­fer­ent than run­ning with it. Granted, the Watch re­lies on an iPhone for GPS, but the Work­out app doesn’t map your run any­way, and GPS only helps to record dis­tance a bit more ac­cu­rately. The Watch alone ac­tu­ally got bet­ter over time at cal­i­brat­ing my stride, so the mileage re­mained rather ac­cu­rate any­way. All of which will come as good news to own­ers of the size­able iPhone 6 Plus (I ad­vise a waist­band if you sim­ply have to take it with you).

That said, the third-party Watch apps I tested of­fered very lit­tle over Ap­ple’s own when shorn of GPS; none of them made any use of the Watch’s heart-rate sen­sors as Ap­ple has yet to give de­vel­op­ers ac­cess to the nec­es­sary API. The Strava app failed to feed back my cy­cling ses­sions to the Ac­tiv­ity or Work­out apps, which was a tad de­flat­ing. Worse still, its work­out timer stopped and started ran­domly dur­ing ex­er­cises, and was in­con­sis­tent with con­cur­rent read­ings on the Strava iOS app.

Run­tas­tic on the other hand was at least con­sis­tent, and pro­vided a nice break­down of my ac­tiv­ity for the month at a swipe, while its postrun anal­y­sis pro­vided more gran­u­lar stats (again, as long as I took my iPhone out with me).

All in all, I was unim­pressed with the early ver­sions of the third-party run­ning/cy­cling apps I tested, so I stuck with the na­tive app, which also of­fers el­lip­ti­cal/rower/stair step­per track­ing. I par­tic­u­larly liked how the Work­out app shows your most re­cent ex­er­cise at the top of its ses­sion list and en­tices you to im­prove on it. I soon filled the 250-mu­sic track limit on the Watch and paired it with a pair of Blue­tooth Jay­bird Blue­buds X ear­phones, leav­ing me free to en­joy my mu­sic and leave my iPhone at home.

Day 14

Af­ter two weeks with the Watch I had com­pleted four five-mile out­door runs, two eight-mile cy­cling ses­sions and looked on as the Watch in­tel­li­gently raised the bar on my ac­tiv­ity goal, from 1,000 up to 1,400 ac­tive calo­ries, a num­ber I was now regularly hit­ting. I was also seden­tary far fewer hours of the day, lost five pounds in weight and re­flected on my screen of mile­stone achieve­ments proudly.

Ul­ti­mately, if you’re a se­ri­ous ath­lete, Ap­ple’s Watch might not be what you’re look­ing for. Like other wear­ables, its fo­cus on quan­tity rather than qual­ity of move­ment means it strug­gles to track com­plex work­out rou­tines. This isn’t a fail­ing of the Ap­ple Watch per se; rather, ac­tiv­ity track­ers in gen­eral have a long way to go if they are to record meta­bolic ac­tiv­ity with real con­sis­tency. Still, the Watch should please any­one who’s happy to limit their track­ing to rhyth­mic car­dio­vas­cu­lar ac­tiv­i­ties like run­ning or cy­cling.

That said, if you’re look­ing to lose weight, you’re also go­ing to need to track what you eat. On its own the Watch can’t help you with that, but twinned with a de­cent third-party calo­riecount­ing iPhone app such as MyFit­nessPal, or by us­ing a dig­i­tal weigh­ing scale, the Ap­ple Watch will surely help you meet your fit­ness goals.

The Work­out app shows your most re­cent ex­er­cise at the top and en­tices you to im­prove on it

There’s ac­tu­ally three de­fault ways to track ex­er­cise: The Ac­tiv­ity app (green cir­cle), the Work­out app and through Ac­tiv­ity in Glances.

The Work­out app is sim­ply laid out and pro­vides data for your most re­cent ac­tiv­ity: run, walk, cy­cle and oth­ers.

What­ever your work­out, set a calo­rie goal and see if you can beat it. Tap the Start but­ton and off you go!

If you would rather set a goal of dis­tance in­stead of calo­rie burn, Work­out will let you do that too.

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