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Using Apple Watch's Activity and Workout App

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Jason R. Rich takes a look at the Workout and Activity apps that comes preinstalled on the Apple Watch, and discusses additional options for fitness-minded people who want to use their watch as a versatile fitness/activity tracker.
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Many people have discovered that, at least initially (until the WatchOS 2 update is released in Fall 2015), the Apple Watch serves as a feature-oriented second screen for the iPhone, allowing people to access and interact with apps, and collect or view information from their wrist, as long as their smartphone is within close proximity.

Fitness-oriented people can utilize specialized Apple Watch apps to track their activity, monitor their progress, and collect relevant workout and health-related data, and then share this information wirelessly with their iPhone. Because the watch is comfortably worn on a wrist, this makes it a more attractive alternative than having to hold the larger and heavier iPhone, or attach it to one’s body during a workout of while engaged in a physical activity.

Built into the Apple Watch are two fitness-oriented apps, called Activity and Workout, which transform the watch into a fitness and health-oriented tool. Depending on what types of fitness-oriented activities you plan to engage in, however, there are a growing number of specialized third-party Apple Watch/iPhone apps that cater to specific activities.

Introduction to the Activity App for Apple Watch

The Activity app for Apple Watch works with the watch’s internal sensors and technology in order to track the wearer’s movement throughout the day, everyday, as long as the watch is being worn. The app continuously tracks movement, and in real-time calculates how many calories are being burned, number of steps taken, and overall distance traveled. This movement can include walking, running, climbing stairs, or any other physical activity.

As you move throughout the day, the app displays movement-related data in the form of a red colored activity circle on the Apple Watch’s screen. Meanwhile, the watch also tracks someone’s amount of exercise. This is movement that’s more intense and physically demanding than basic activity, such as a workout, brisk walk or run, for example. Exercise-related information is displayed in the form of a green circle within the Activity app (shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1. The color-coded activity circles within the Activity app offer a snapshot view of your day’s movement thus far.

In an effort to encourage people to move throughout the day, the Activity app also tracks how much time you remain stationary, and then reminds you once per hour, when applicable, to stand up and move around for at least one minute. This information is displayed within the Activity app, in the form of a blue activity circle.

Either the first time you use the Activity app, or anytime you choose to update it, you’re prompted to create a daily Move goal for yourself, based on how many calories you want to burn as a result of your daily movement (shown in Figure 2). The app then tracks your movement, and using notifications, helps you achieve this basic movement goal.

Figure 2

Figure 2. The Activity app allows you to set a daily calorie burn goal for yourself.

Based on the Apple Watch watchface you select, it’s possible to display the Activity related circles as a small icon on the watchface (through the use of a complication), and then be able to launch the Activity app by tapping on that icon (shown in Figure 3). The Activity app also has a Glances screen, which is readily accessible by swiping your finger in an upward direction while you’re viewing a watchface.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Activity app data can be displayed, in real-time, as part of many Apple Watch customizable watchfaces. See the top-left corner of this watchface, for example.

The Activity app itself on the Apple Watch can be launched from the watch’s Home screen. The main screen of this app shows real-time stats using the three activity circles on the screen. By swiping sideways, each activity circle and the data it represents can be viewed separately.

By swiping upwards while the Activity app is running, the same data is displayed in the form of color-coded charts, that give you an hour-by-hour summary of your activity that day. The Apple Watch edition of Activity displays only the current day’s data, but wirelessly transmits this information to the iPhone version of the app, which stores the data permanently, and allows users to view, compare, and analyze it based on a single day, week, or month (shown in Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 4. The Activity app on the iPhone acquires its data directly from the Apple Watch.

The same data is also shared with the iPhone’s Health app, which can then share the information with other health, fitness, and nutrition-related apps you may be using with the iPhone and Apple Watch, or that has a computer software or online-based component.

Activity is designed for use by everyone, whether they work out on a regular basis or not, to help Apple Watch users better understand their actual movement and activity pattern throughout each day.

For people who engage in more fitness-oriented activities, however, the Apple Watch’s Fitness app is a more useful tool.

The Apple Watch’s Workout App is a Useful Activity Tracker for Fitness-Minded People

The Workout app also uses the technology that’s built into the Apple Watch to track movement information, as well as heart rate, but it’s designed for use while you’re actually engaged in fitness-oriented activities. Each time you launch the app, from the main menu, choose what type of activity you plan to participate in.

Your activity options include: Elliptical, Indoor Walk (treadmill), Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Run, Outdoor Cycle, Indoor Cycle, Rower, Stair Stepper, or Other (shown in Figure 5).

Figure 5

Figure 5. Choose an activity you want the Apple Watch to track using the Workout app.

Based on the activity you choose, the app then prompts you to select one of several adjustable goal options, which include how many calories you’d like to burn, how long you’d like your workout/activity to last (shown in Figure 6), or the distance you’d like to travel (while walking, running or cycling, for example). Another option is an Open Goal, which allows the app simply to track your activity data for as long as you’re engaged in that activity.

Figure 6

Figure 6. Select and customize one activity-specific goal option before you start the chosen activity.

After choosing one goal-related option and adjusting its setting on the watch accordingly, tap on the Start button to begin your workout/activity. While you’re engaged in that fitness-oriented activity, a real-time update screen displays on the watch, which includes data related to elapsed time, calories burned, heart rate, and distance traveled, as appropriate. Swipe sideways on the watch’s display to view more information, or to access the End and Pause buttons.

As soon as you’ve completed an activity-related goal or end the activity by tapping on the End button, a summary of your accomplishments is displayed on the Apple Watch’s screen, and the data is transferred wirelessly to the Health app on your iPhone.

The Fitness app serves as a fitness/activity tracker when used with the Apple Watch, and replaces the need to wear or use a stand-alone fitness/activity tracker, like those available from Jawbone or Fitbit.

Third-Party Fitness App Options

Beyond just tracking and collecting fitness oriented data, which typically includes calories burned, time/duration, distance traveled, and heart rate, for example, a growing number of third-party apps are being released for Apple Watch (and the iPhone) that not only collect and store this and other information, but also help you understand and analyze it, while allowing you to set and work toward achieving pre-set and realistic fitness, weight loss, or other health-oriented goals.

Some of these apps simply allow the Apple Watch to serve as a fitness/activity tracker, while others offer instruction, coaching, and/or other specialized tools to help you workout or properly engage in a particular fitness-oriented activity.

For example, the free Nike+ Running app (shown in Figure 7) is a feature-packed tool designed for people who enjoy walking, jogging, or running. This is an iPhone app that has an Apple Watch counterpart, but ultimately, it’s the watch that collects the data related to your runs, and the smartphone that stores and analyzes the data.

Figure 7

Figure 7. The Nike+ Running app is one of the most popular fitness apps currently available for Apple Watch.

Using the GPS capabilities of the iPhone and Apple Watch, combined with the watch’s other technologies, Nike+ Running keeps track of your route, distance, pace, and time, as well as your heart rate, and calories burned. The app can be used when running outdoors, as well as when using a treadmill.

Similar apps for runners, walkers, and joggers alike, that are currently available for Apple Watch (and the iPhone) include: Runtastic Pro, Runkeeper, Strava Running and Cycling, and Map My Run. Each offers a slightly different user interface and set of features, although all collect, track and analyze data collected during the activity.

The iPhone and Apple Watch can also serve as a personal fitness coach, and be used while working out at a club or gym, or anywhere else for that matter. The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout app (shown in Figure 8), for example, teaches you to do a wide range of exercises, and guides you through proven, customized, and well-balanced seven-minute workouts that are tailored to you and your body.

Figure 8

Figure 8. When it comes to working out through traditional exercising, The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout app is one of the most popular options.

The Fitnet Personal Fitness Workouts app for iPhone and Apple Watch also combines video (on the iPhone), audio, photos, text, and animations, in order to offer detailed instruction and guide users through a wide range of workouts.

Available from the Apple Watch App Store, you’ll discover iPhone and Apple Watch apps that can be used during fitness classes to track your progress and activity, or that can replace the need for a traditional fitness class by guiding you through aerobics, Pilates, yoga, Zumba, or other types of specialty classes, again using a combination of HD video, photos, audio, text, and animations, that are displayed on the iPhone and/or Apple Watch’s screen.

If you have access to traditional gym equipment (at home or in a gym), like a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stair stepper, for example, many of these exercise machines how come with the ability to wirelessly share data directly with proprietary iPhone apps. This can include useful information your Apple Watch doesn’t collect on its own.

To discover health and fitness-oriented apps for the Apple Watch, launch the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, tap on the Featured icon that’s displayed at the bottom of the screen, and then tap on the Categories option that’s displayed in the top-left corner of the screen. From the Categories menu, tap on the Health & Fitness option, and then tap on specific app listings to learn more about them, and then acquire, download and install them onto your iPhone and Apple Watch.

Final Thoughts…

If you’d like to use the Apple Watch and your iPhone as a fitness, health, or diet-oriented tool, the first step should be to set goals for yourself, and determine exactly what you’d like to accomplish. Next, figure out what activity (or activities) you’d like to engage in, in order to achieve those goals, keeping in mind that you’re not limited to any one activity.

Then, based on whether you plan to attend classes at a gym, work with a personal fitness trainer, or participate in activities on your own, choose iPhone and Apple Watch apps designed for those activities, and that will allow you to use the smartphone and smartwatch to collect, monitor, analyze, and display activity-related data that you’ll find the most useful as you work toward your personal goals.

While many of the fitness apps have some motivational component, few actually help you set goals. But, once you have a viable and realistic fitness goal in mind, you’ll discover that the Apple Watch (and your iPhone) can be used as a powerful tool to help achieve it, assuming that you’re willing to do the hard work that’s involved.

Simply wearing an Apple Watch and installing a handful of fitness apps won’t provide any benefit unless you’re willing to follow the advice offered by your own personal trainer or that’s presented within the app, and then use the data and information that’s collected to help you make intelligent activity, diet, and lifestyle-related decision.

Just like running shoes, a treadmill, or a yoga mat, your Apple Watch is a tool, not a magical fat-melting, muscle building, and make yourself look younger device. If you use the tool properly, in conjunction with appropriate apps, and do the work that’s necessary, your health and fitness-oriented goals will be more easily achievable, in part because you’ll be working with more timely, accurate, and informative data than what’s been possible to collect in the past.

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