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Tips for working out with Apple Watch

Apple Watch is an excellent fitness tracker and has proved to be an effective workout coach for me personally. If you want to get outside more over the three-day weekend or just use your Apple Watch in new ways for the first time, read along for a few of my favorite tips for working out with Apple Watch.

Hey Siri, start an outdoor walk

Starting a workout session from Apple Watch with your voice using Siri is the easiest way to get up and go without much effort. You can activate Siri on Apple Watch by holding down the Digital Crown on the side, or just raise your wrist and say “Hey Siri” when the display is on to activate it.

Siri can start specific workouts like a timed outdoor run or a specific distance outdoor walk by saying “Hey Siri, start a 30 minute outdoor run” or “Hey Siri, start a 2 mile outdoor walk.” If you just tell Siri to start a specific workout without specifying a time, distance, or calorie goal, Apple Watch will just start that workout session with an open goal too.

Log your workouts to get full credit

Using Siri is one of the easiest ways to start a workout, but why should you even take that step? Apple Watch is an all-day activity tracker after all, right? Starting a specific workout actually keeps the heart rate sensor fired up so you get precise measurements for the duration of your activity, and specifying which activity you’re doing helps Apple Watch know how to measure your movements.

Apple Watch can more accurately measure your activity if it knows that you’re using the elliptical or running on a treadmill versus outdoors. For outdoor activities including swimming and cycling, Apple Watch will even use GPS data when available to map distance and movement more accurately.

Should you bring your iPhone?

Apple Watch Series 2 features a built-in GPS for accurately tracking outdoor running, walking, cycling, and swimming, but you can use GPS to accurately track outdoor runs, walks, and bike rides on the first-gen Apple Watch and Apple Watch Series 1 as well. Just bring your iPhone and Apple Watch will rely on its GPS for location tracking.

Even Apple Watch Series 2 falls back to the iPhone GPS when tracking an outdoor workout when present. Personally, I enjoy outdoor runs with just my Apple Watch Series 2 and not my iPhone for the most focused experience, but for now that means no access to phone calls and text messages with no cellular connection.

Save battery on long workouts

Apple Watch battery life will usually get you through about a day and a half before you need to recharge, but firing up the heart rate monitor for an extended period of time can be a big hit to battery percentage. Apple offers two options for extending battery life on long workouts.

The first option is to use Workout Power Saving Mode, but Apple notes that this will make tracking how many calories you’re burning less accurate. This mode disables the heart rate sensor for walking and running workouts to preserve battery. You can find this option in the Watch app on iPhone from the My Watch tab under General → Workout Power Saving Mode.

The other option is to pair a dedicated Bluetooth heart rate sensor to Apple Watch. This offloads heart rate data collection to the external sensor so Apple Watch doesn’t have to fire its sensor up during the workout. The downside is cost and convenience. I occasionally use the Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor which goes for around $55, but I generally just start a workout with Apple Watch alone for the convenience. You can pair a Bluetooth heart rate sensor by going to Settings → Bluetooth → Health Devices on Apple Watch.

Bring your music along

You don’t have to think much about how to bring your music along if you workout with your iPhone nearby, but the same isn’t true for Apple Watch. You can sync music from iTunes or Apple Music to Apple Watch for offline playback, but you’ll probably want to plan ahead the night before for the best experience. Syncing music to Apple Watch takes several steps which I’ve detailed here, but playback is easy once you sync a playlist full of songs to your Apple Watch.

Once you have your music synced to Apple Watch, the most important thing to remember is that you’ll need wireless headphones. Any Bluetooth earphones will pair to Apple Watch and enable music playback without iPhone.

Personally, I use Apple AirPods for music playback on my outdoor runs but stock is still backordered 6 weeks for new customers. BeatsX wireless in-ear headphones have the same benefits of instant pairing and go for $149.95 which is $10 less than AirPods. Powerbeats3 wireless in-ear headphones also feature instant pairing to Apple Watch and usually retail for $199.95 or less. Prior to AirPods, I used a pair of Bluetooth earphones called JAM Transit that retail for $39.99 and currently go for $21.73 for Amazon Prime members.

Two more tips for music playback during workouts: you can adjust the volume by spinning the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch when the Music app is open, and you can double-click to jump between the current and previous app on Apple Watch to quickly go from Workout to Music during an exercise.

Customize your metrics

You can also personalize which metrics Apple Watch shows you for specific workouts. Open the Watch app on iPhone, then go to Workout → Workout View to find plenty of options for customizing which metrics are displayed during a session.

You can customize metrics for each available activity and even pick between displaying each metric or only a single metric which can be changed from the Digital Crown during a workout. A lot of my workouts involve trying to hit a calorie goal so I typically make sure calories are displayed for each workout.

You can use third-party apps, too

You don’t have to use Apple’s Workout app to track your activity on Apple Watch. I log all my running activity with Nike+ Run Club which works similar to Apple’s run tracking capabilities in the Workout app but includes the NRC community as well. Strava, Runkeeper, and MapMyRun are other examples of popular fitness tracking apps that work with the Apple Watch.

You can find more workout apps from the Watch app on iPhone under the App Store tab within the Health & Fitness category. Several apps will even let you start sessions with Siri just like Apple’s Workout app.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.