How (and why) to track all your activity on an Apple Watch


You probably know that you can track your walks, runs, and bike rides on an Apple Watch, but the smartwatch can monitor many other activities. It can help you reach your movement and exercise goals, which should motivate you to improve your overall fitness.

Why track your activity?

Your Apple Watch constantly monitors your movements and heart rate to track how much energy you burn throughout the day. This goes towards your Move goal, a daily challenge where you try to expend an achievable amount of energy by getting up and moving.

While passive energy tracking is useful, your Apple Watch tracks your energy expenditure much more accurately when you monitor using the Workout app. You will receive a more accurate (and generous) amount of active energy burned if you choose the right workout.

During a workout, your Apple Watch will use more battery because it tracks things like heart rate and blood oxygen more closely. Some workout types will track your route, so GPS comes into play. you can get a better picture of your overall health.

Health app workout data

The more data you record, the more information you will get about your activity levels. This can help determine your cardio fitness levels using your VO₂ max, changes in your average walking heart rate, and whether you’re trending up or down in average daily exercise minutes or walking distance.

This data can motivate you to improve or reaffirm that you are making progress and need to keep going. You can even share some metrics with medical professionals, but keep in mind that the Apple Watch isn’t as accurate in terms of heart rate or blood oxygen tracking as medical devices.

The Apple Watch is a pretty accurate activity tracker

The Apple Watch is a lifestyle device. There are more accurate workout tracking methods to gauge VO₂ max and heart rate metrics, but those involve wearing face masks and hooking up to monitors. The Apple Watch lives on your wrist, so it’s not the most accurate piece of kit, but it’s quite well for most people to get an overview of their general level of fitness.

Workout tracked with Apple Watch

The most important thing you can do to improve the accuracy of your Apple Watch is to fill in your health information and body measurements in the Health app. This includes information such as your date of birth, gender, height and weight.

To do this, launch the Health app and tap your user icon in the top right corner of the screen. Add your date of birth and gender to your profile, then return to the main menu and select the “Body measurements” category. Add your height and weight here and you’re good to go.

Choosing the right type of training is also important. For workouts where you’re doing a route, like an outdoor run or a bike ride, metrics like speed can be helpful in gauging how much active energy you should be getting. Most types of static workouts will allocate energy at the same rate as a brisk walk, but if the watch suspects you’re working harder by detecting an increase in heart rate, energy will be allocated accordingly.

RELATED: How to measure your blood oxygen levels with your Apple Watch

Track your routes in outdoor activities

Arguably one of the Workout app’s most useful features is the ability to track your routes in most outdoor activities. This includes walking and hiking, running, biking, swimming, and wheelchair workouts. You’ll get averages based on the unit of measurement you’ve chosen while your workout is in progress, along with an average or current speed.

Once you’ve completed your route, you can review it in the Fitness app on your iPhone (it may take a minute or two to appear, so don’t panic if it’s not immediately visible). Tap your workout, then scroll down the page and tap “Map” to see your route. This will be presented as a heat map, with green sections indicating where your speed was highest and red sections where you were slow or completely stopped.

Apple Watch Workout Map

Unfortunately, not all route-based activities will be tracked with GPS data, as many rely on the “Other” open workout. This includes outdoor activities such as kayaking or canoeing that fall under the “Paddlesports” label. You can tell that a workout isn’t monitoring your route when your average speed or split time isn’t shown in the workout overview.

Allow Strava to access Apple Health

Fortunately, many third-party apps can track additional activities, including kayaking. For example, you can use Strava to track a paddle workout and enable “Send to Health” in Strava’s settings to automatically export your workout data to Apple’s Health app. This means you won’t run out of active energy burned, and you’ll have a map you can use to check your route (and see split times) later on.

Follow almost everything else too

Many additional activities tracked by the Apple Watch use the “Other” training model, which is actually an open heart rate tracker. The higher your heart rate, the more active energy is allocated, so it may not be the most accurate type of tracking.

"Other" workout on apple watch

But if you’re sweating it and want to get some recognition out of your Apple Watch, these workouts are still valid. You can access most of them by starting the Workout app, scrolling down the list, tapping “Add Workout”, then choosing one from the list.

There are all kinds of weird and wonderful types of workouts to choose from. These include Fitness Gaming for games like Ring shaped adventure on the switch or beat the saber in virtual reality, social dancing when you sweat on the dance floor, as well as separate labels for tai chi, kickboxing, boxing and other martial arts.

Many team sports are covered, including Australian rules football, American football (Gridiron), soccer, cricket, rugby, volleyball and hockey. Remember that many of them use the “Other” workout type to track activity, and the tags are there to make your life easier so you can track activity better.

Head to the Fitness app and under Workouts, tap “Show more,” then tap “All Workouts” in the top right corner to filter by workout type. You can also see an average of the time you spend in workouts under Health > Activity > Workouts.

Customize your workouts to suit your tastes

Some types of training can be customized so that the overview you see during training shows different information. To do this, open the Watch app on your iPhone, then tap Workout > Workout View and select an activity. Unfortunately, most cannot be changed, but this could be improved in the future as Apple works to add more accurate tracking for different activities.

Outdoor cycling, outdoor running, hiking, and walking all have useful things you might want to swap. For example, when riding a bike, you can choose to see your current speed, average speed, elevation gain, and distance traveled. If you don’t find a particular metric useful, substitute it with something else.

Customize Workout View on Apple Watch

You can also change whether your watch automatically pauses outdoor running and outdoor cycling workouts. This can help you better track your activity (and keep your average speeds and intervals) while you wait for a light to turn green or take a photo.

A motivational tool

Above all, training tracking should be motivating. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit, even tracking your walks or community sports matches can give you a sense of accomplishment and help you track your fitness over time.

The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone owners, with useful features like fall detection that automatically notifies emergency services.

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Richard V. Johnson