Pink apple watch with activity rings on table
General Workout Tips

7 Best Tips for Using the Apple Watch for Fitness

If you have an iPhone, the Apple Watch is one of the best health and fitness trackers that it can be paired with. There are so many health and wellness benefits built into the watch such as fall alerts, ECG ability, loud noise alerts, activity rings, irregular heart rhythm alerts, high heart rate alerts, etc. On top of that, there are a ton of apps that can support your daily health including sleep tracking, meditation, nutrition/diet, hydration reminders, and more. In addition to the health benefits, the Apple Watch is one of the best daily fitness trackers in the market that will motivate you to stay active. Here are some of the best tips to get the most out of your Apple Watch specifically when using it as a fitness tracker.

Please note this post contains affiliate links. There is no difference in price if you decide to purchase, but note that I will receive a commission.


Why buy or upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 5

Before we jump into the fitness abilities of the Apple Watch, what series do you have? Or do you have an Apple Watch yet? I was an early adopter of the Apple Watch, being gifted the Series 1 in 2015. Back then it was so new I wasn’t even sure why I needed it. That quickly changed though as all of the health benefits became clear. Not only that, but it has driven me to be much more active and less glued to my cell phone. The big question though was when to upgrade? The Apple Watch Series 5 has some great new features not available in the Series 3 (still available for sale, Series 4 was discontinued). These include an improved processor, an electrical heart rate sensor to take an ECG, fall detection, a compass, and a larger display. There is one feature though that is a total gamechanger: the ability for the watch face to always stay on.

This might sound minor but it’s one of the biggest benefits of the Series 5. The watch face is dimmed when not looking directly at it but brightens once you raise your wrist. Not having to constantly touch the watch face is a huge plus for multiple reasons.

  • You will be constantly aware of not only the time but any schedule reminders (assuming you put it on your watch face). You won’t miss an appointment or fitness class with this.
  • When you are running, lifting, or doing other workouts you can quickly check on your progress and other key information (duration, calories burned, time, etc.). No need to worry about sweaty hands and fiddling with settings.
  • You are constantly aware of your activity level for the day and if you need to increase your movement or standing.
  • You can easily see the weather for today (or future days) as it changes, making dressing appropriately and planning even easier.
  • It’s no longer awkward if you are talking to someone or doing something because you can now easily and discreetly check the watch face.
  • You can easily see who messaged you and then ignore or answer it.

Where to Buy or Upgrade

Although I can’t recommend the best place to upgrade since prices are always changing, here are some quick links that will likely give you the best deal on the Series 5.

Best Buy: GPS and Cellular+GPS

Walmart: GPS and Cellular+GPS

Amazon: GPS and Cellular+GPS

Nike (Nike Apple Watch): GPS and Cellular+GPS

B&H: GPS and Cellular+GPS

Verizon: GPS+Cellular

Now, on to the fitness tips and how to get the most out of your Apple Watch.


1. Let no workout go unrecorded: start with the native workout app

You should utilize the native workout app if you don’t have specific workout apps downloaded yet or an app that you prefer for your planned workout. Here are the main tips when using the Apple workout app:

  • Choose the appropriate workout you are doing. Depending on the workout it will track you differently (i.e. yoga just tracks heart rate, duration, calories burned while hiking or running will also measure your elevation, pace, etc.)
  • These workouts will help you track the amount of active and total calories burned. It will give you a realistic view since some exercise machines will inflate the calorie expenditure or classes will state highly unlikely figures (will I burn 1,000 calories with this workout?… not quite). If you use nutrition/diet apps (like MyFitnessPal) you can also integrate these expenditures to track your calories in/calorie out each day.
  • If you forget to choose a workout, the watch will remind you if you’d like to start one once if it notices you working out. This only works for running, walking, rowing, elliptical, or swimming.
  • Tap on the three dots in the corner of the activity to set a goal. It can be either open (no goal), calories, distance, or time. Unless you’re doing a class that ends at a certain time, this is a great way to commit to completing an effective workout.
  • Great feature alert: link workouts together without having to end workouts. This makes it’s so easy and quick if you’re in the middle of an intense gym session or studio class. When you have your workout app open, just swipe left to add the next workout (+ New button).

Looking to get some motivation to use Apple Watch workouts? Check out my post on some fun workouts with Youtube videos.


2. Stay active by paying attention to your rings and setting realistic activity goals

The three rings on the apple watch (move/calorie goal, exercise goal, and stand goal) are guaranteed to keep you aware of your physical activity. This is one of the most motivating features of the Apple Watch. Always keep this complication on your watch face so you are aware of your activity status. You will also be notified if you aren’t being that active during the day or need to stand every hour.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), you currently cannot change your exercise goal of 30 minutes a day. What you can change though is your move goal, or daily calorie goal.

First, if you don’t do anything the watch will always check in with you weekly to set a move goal. If you want to change it at any time though it’s extremely easy. Open the activity app and hold the screen down to see the option to “Change Move Goal”. On this screen you can also check-in at any point on your weekly summary.


3. Find apple watch fitness apps that are well integrated

One of the best features of the Apple Watch is the vast amount of fitness apps that are available. There are a few clear standouts due to their strong integration with the Apple Watch.


Peloton App

Peloton Apple Watch Screens

If you aren’t familiar with the Peloton app, it is more than spinning. There are strength workouts, yoga, cardio, meditation, running, and more. This is one of the best fitness app integrations I’ve seen with the Apple Watch. Simply choose your workout on your phone (which you can cast to a different device to make it easier to watch), then take a look at your watch. It should auto integrate to show you your heart rate (along with a color correlating to the zone you’re in). Swipe to the right and you’ll see the timeline of your class broken out into different sections. When you’re done it will collect all of this information and populate it in the Peloton app/Apple health. It’s so easy and seamless to see how hard you’ve worked out in each class and will help keep you on track to meet your fitness goals.


Strava App

For running or cycling one of the best apps is Strava. They have a neatly laid out interface for running including average pace, duration, current time, current duration, and heart rate. If you use the Strava app it will integrate with Apple health if you give it permission, so you will still have a record of it outside of Strava.

If you prefer the Apple Watch native workout app, Strava now allows all workouts from Apple Health to be integrated into their platform. And not just running, either. Any type of workout you do – whether it be yoga, strength, cardio, etc. – will now prompt a notification to import it into their app.

It’s seamless and easy to have all of your workout data in one place. On the Strava app or website (website has more options) you can have different views of your workouts. One of my favorites features is the Strava calendar. It includes by day the name of your activity, which can be drilled into to understand comments, calories burned, etc. The other major plus of having it in Strava is the social aspect. Giving and receiving kudos and comments from friends can be super motivating.


Zones App

Although the native Apple workout app tracks heart rate, there is no straightforward way to understand what zone you’re in. This will be talked about more in the next section but understanding your heart rate is key to understanding your effort level. The Zones app does all of that and is totally seamless.

Just download the app and choose if you’d like to work out through the app (similar to Workouts you choose the specific workout you’d like to do, although limited) and it will display your heart rate and duration. This is extremely valuable for heart rate training. If you don’t want to use the app for your workout no problem – you can use the native workout app, which will then be integrated into this app. Open the app after your workout is done to understand what heart rate zones you were working out in.


4. Heart Rate Training and Recovery

Heart rate training is one of the most effective ways to get the most out of your workout and make sure you are staying safe but challenged. This Heart Rate Zones Training Guide from REI is an amazing resource to understand what zones you should be in and how to train.

The Apple Watch has a heart rate app that you can use to measure your base heart rate. For any of the workouts you do through the native workout app or more fitness apps, it will also display your heart rate. You can then compare this to the heart rate you should be in based on the training guide. If you would like the app to tell you immediately what zone you’re in (it can be hard to calculate if you’re working out unless you’re used to it), the Zones app mentioned in the previous section will display your workout zone so you know whether to push yourself or back off.

Another great feature of the Apple Watch is understanding your heart rate during recovery. If you aren’t familiar with heart rate recovery and how it is an important indicator or your health, this Apple Watch Heart Rate Recovery article from 9to5Mac includes health articles and step by step how to see your recovery. You can view the heart rate recovery screen by going to the heart rate app and scroll down to today’s workouts. This can be important to understand your cardiovascular health and could be something you share with your physician if it does not seem healthy.


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5. Make fitness social

One of the best aspects of the Apple Watch is how social it is. You can easily connect with friends to see each other’s activity levels and be notified when friends complete a workout. You can even respond to workout notifications with a suggested preset “smack talk” or encouraging comment. When your family and friends are aware of your activity levels it might encourage you to be more active.

One fun relatively new feature is the ability to challenge friends to activity challenges. The winner is calculated based on how many percentage points of the loops are filled in a day. This is tracked over 7 days and the winner will receive a digital award at the end. There are also apps for challenging friends such as Challenges by Fitnow. This might add another layer of fun to your challenges by working together as teams.

For more information about adding friends, challenging them, or privacy concerns (wanting to mute sharing or notifications) here is the how to page from Apple.


6. Make segments in your workout and create a fitness watch face

This segments feature is perfect for any type of workout sets you’re doing. Some examples might be laps on a track, strength sets, or spinning segments on and off hills. Create segments in your workout as you go. All you have to do is raise your watch face and double tap during the workout. Later, you can check your phone for the breakout of duration and calories burned by segment. This can be helpful to understand your workout details but can also be used to compare future workouts. If you run the same routes you can set up segments to measure improvement, or if you are lifting weights you can measure improvements in sets and so on.

Create a fitness-focused watch face you can easily switch to when you need motivation. This can contain the activity complication and a scheduler or reminder for your work out that day. Heart rate is another helpful complication to consider for this watch face.


7. Stay safe outside when you are running or working out

This is one of the most important features on the Apple Watch although not necessarily the most fun. There are two main safety features, the Medical ID tab, and emergency calls. You never know when these might need to be used – if something happens to you at the gym, in a fitness class, running outside, or even just running daily errands.

If you do not have your Medical ID updated you should do it now, here are Apple’s step by step instructions. You can set it up easily in the health app on your phone. This contains all the information you would ever want someone to know if you are in a medical emergency: your age, allergies, medical conditions, etc. You can even link an emergency contact to keep them notified if you need to make an emergency call through the watch.

If you do not know how to make an emergency call on the Apple Watch please read the step by step guide from Apple. You never know when it could save you. If you ever need to make a quick emergency call the flat side button can be held where you will see a slider for “Emergency SOS”. The ability to make emergency calls is probably one of the strongest reasons to purchase the GPS+Cellular version of the watch so you can make these calls at any time. Emergency calls can still be made in the GPS version if you have your iPhone nearby or your watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network with Wi-Fi calling enabled.



Do you have an Apple Watch or thinking of getting one? Did you learn anything new to help you with your fitness routine? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

6 Comments

  • Linda Purcell

    Thanks for this. My husband has the Apple Watch 5. His doctor recommended he do the EKG with his Watch. We are so confused. He has called his doctor four times and asked him about it. What app should he get? Is there something else he needs to buy in order to be able to use it? No answer whatsoever. No help from his doctor. I’d so appreciate some help from you. Is there a specific app that works with the Apple Watch 5. He has an Apple Phone too. Do you have to have some other attachment in order to do it? If so, could you please recommend to us what that is since his doctor will not answer us?

    • Michelle

      Hi Linda, that’s a shame the doctor hasn’t gotten back to you! There’s no need to download an app, it’s included in the Apple Watch Series 5. This is the page from Apple about how to set it up: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208955. The icon looks like a white circle with a red heartbeat line through it, once you are all set up just follow the instructions on that page (it requires you to keep your arm still and touching the digital crown with your finger for 30 seconds). I hope this helps!

  • Nancy

    Oooh! I used to have the Apple watch and loved using it for working out. It tracks your activities really well. I just have too many watches that I had to get rid of one. I liked the social part! Always a competition to work out hehe.

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

  • julie

    I just bought the 5 after using a Fitbit Versa for years while Apple caught up to Fitbit in the fitness part of the watch. So far I’m quite impressed, but I haven’t tested the workout calorie burn against a chest strap heart rate monitor yet. The Versa was only a few calories off. BUt a concern I do have is the calorie estimates on the Apple 5 are suuuper high.. like I should be able to eat as much as my husband who’s a foot taller than me high. it’s wishful thinking to want to prove it right. 🙂

    • Michelle

      That’s surprising your calorie counts are coming in high! Have you adjusted your health app to your gender/height/weight/etc? I wish I could eat as much as my husband, ha. I feel like my apple watch is almost too realistic, for some fitness classes where I feel like I’m dying it only shows 200 active calories burned, lol.

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