Using the Apple Watch for Workouts: Beginners Guide

The Apple Watch is one of the most highly reviewed smart watches on the market currently. It wins this place by having some of the most varied and useful applications in a sleek and convenient design. Every feature is well thought out. However, with so many features, it can be a little more complicated to understand than a more simple $50 fitness tracker. Though, once you get it figured out, it can offer you a great experience.

Personalize Your Watch

This watch has the capability to do what a fitness tracker does and so much more, but you will need to play around with it first. So don’t expect to unbox the watch and immediately go for a run. You will need to invest a bit of time to customizing the watch for just you before you head out the door. Here is how to optimize the features to fit any fitness need you may have.

Group Competition

Misery loves company, and if you are someone who has a hard time working out, it is always better to get your friends involved. A little friendly competition has been proven to be effective in getting even the least motivated people to enjoy fitness. You can add one friend or even a whole group to compete against each other. You will be able to see how your stats compare with everyone in your group throughout the day so you aren’t blindsided at the end of a competition. If you are considering vegging out in front of the tv or going on a run, all you need is to take a look at how you compare with your competition to get you out the door.

Using the Apple Watch for workouts for beginners in a competitive mode takes only a few simple steps:

How to Do it:

  • Open the activity app and go to the sharing tab
  • Press the plus sign in the top right corner of the screen to add contacts
  • Hit send, and it will send an invite to your group

Activity Recognition

Activity recognition is another convenient feature in the Apple Watch Series 4. If you are using the Apple Watch for workouts, you will love the convenience and accuracy that the Series 4 offers. If you decide to run up several flights of stairs to your apartment instead of taking the elevator, or you if you’re running late to work and need to jog the last few blocks, you probably won’t think about officially starting a workout in your watch. However, once you stop this more rigorous activity and your Apple Watch asks if you’d like to log your workout, it’s convenient to have that feature there.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is said to recognize activities within 3 minutes after your start time and gives you retroactive credit for the the time before it recognized what specific type of workout you were doing. The accuracy of giving this credit back is only off by one or two seconds, which is pretty impressive. You will have a small lull in the heart rate reading during this period, which is the only downside, though it’s a fairly minuscule period.


If you are using the Apple Watch for workouts outside, you may want to use the GPS feature, and you’ll be happy to know that the GPS is very accurate on this watch series. In fact, reception as a whole is much better on the Apple Watch Series 4. This feature is especially useful if you are running or cycling, but it can be used for outside swimming and even surfing.

Running the GPS along with audio, (as many tend to use both at the same time while working out) will drain your battery after about four hours on the Series 4, compared to the Series 3 watch, which would drain in three hours. This means you don’t have to worry too much about losing battery while training for some of the longer distance runs.

Calorie Counter

Having an accurate calorie counter is dependent on a lot of different factors, and this is one of the areas where the Apple Watch Series 4 excels. In other typical fitness trackers, they may calculate how many calories are burned by using the average burning rate for your heart rate and age. However, if you’re using the Apple Watch for workouts, you will find that the calorie counter is much more accurate than typical fitness trackers, and this is because it is fully customizable to your body.

Here are some tips for keeping your calorie counter accurate:

Keep your information up to date. As you move further along in your fitness journey, your body will change and your metabolism will change along with it. It is important to make sure that you update your weight in the Health tab from the My Watch menu.

Make sure you’re getting your exercise credit when you do it. Your smart watch can surprise you at how smart it actually is, but it still isn’t perfect. Since your watch works with sensors and it sits on your wrist, you need to make sure that your wrist is able to swing naturally for the sensors to work accurately. So this means if you are pushing a stroller or holding onto a leash for your pet, you might not get the correct reading. If you cannot allow your wrist to move naturally, you can still manually log workout credits in the Workout App.

Make sure wrist detection is on to get stand notifications. If you don’t have wrist detection turned on, then your heart rate may not be read, which is a key component to measuring how many calories you are burning during the day. You also won’t get standing credits. You can easily turn wrist detection on by tapping the Passcode tab in the My Watch menu.

Adjust the fit of your watch so that it is not too tight and not too loose. The watch should sit securely on your upper wrist with as much contact with your skin as possible. Having an accurate heart rate measurement is dependent on the watch fitting correctly on your skin.

Calibrate your watch. Something that people often forget to do is calibrate their watch to fit them perfectly. The watch will learn how long your strides are when you walk, jog, and run. This is important if you don’t want to use GPS to save your battery and to get more accurate readings for distance and calories burned. So this is how you do it:

  1. Go to a clear open area outside with good GPS and reception.
  2. Open the workout app and tap outdoor walk or run.
  3. Walk or run for 20 minutes.
  4. Your Apple Watch will automatically calibrate by learning the length of your strides at different speeds as you workout.

Heart Rate Alerts

Another great feature of using the Apple Watch for workouts is the heart rate alerts that you can program into the watch. You are able to enter in your target resting and workout heart rate in the heart rate tab on your watch. Your watch will then send you alerts if you are below or above this target heart rate.

So why is it important to stay in this range? If your heart rate is too low, it can be an indication that your heart isn’t working hard enough to pump your blood and it could even be a precursor to a heart attack. Having a high heart rate isn’t great either and it can be an indicator that there is another health issue at play. However, your heart rate is a pretty personal thing and is dependent on a lot of different factors like age, gender, weight, and athletic level.

You can quickly find out the average target heart rate for your age and weight by doing a search online, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that heart rate is the best target for you. Many athletes, for example, have surprisingly low heart rates and that is because their heart is beating very efficiently. The best way to get an accurate target resting and high heart rate is by asking your physician what is best for you.

You can also determine what is a normal heart rate for yourself by tracking it on your watch for a few weeks. This may be a good indicator of what is normal for you, but discussing your fitness goals with your physician will give you a good idea of what you should be working towards.

How To Do It:

  • Open Apple Watch App and Press heart Rate tab
  • Input high and low heart rate BPM


Now that you know how to set up your watch, here’s some tips for using the apple watch for workouts beginners guide. Each activity has some differences and so they are briefly outlined here

person running a workout which can be tracked with an Apple Watch


One of the more common workouts that people use their Apple Watch for is running. Having a watch that you can take with you to the gym or outside that is equipped with music, GPS, a heart rate monitor, a calorie counter, and much more is invaluable. You now know exactly what kinds of fitness goals you can achieve.

There is no more doing guesswork when you are on the run as to how much headway you are making. You don’t have to do the math of what your pace is like to the second, just estimating where the mile markers are. When you run with an Apple Watch you get all the right statistics while you are on the go.

Endurance Runs

The Apple Watch Series 4 is especially helpful when you are training for a longer race such as a 10k, half marathon, whole marathon, etc. The watch will alert you through your wireless headphones what your mile time is, and what your rolling mile time is, which is the average pace that you are trying to keep up. So you can compare what you are doing currently to what you need to be doing. If you are trying to qualify for a competitive endurance run like the Boston Marathon, your Apple Watch will make it easier than ever to stay on track.

Live Tracking

Another nice feature of the Apple Watch is that your family and friends can track you during these long runs, so they know which checkpoints to cheer you on at or when they need to head to the finish line. The Garmin Vivosport has a similar feature, and it is very useful.

Extend the Battery

If you are running music and the GPS and your heart rate monitor all on your watch at the same time, it will take about four hours to drain the battery. This seems like a long time, but if you are running a marathon, this might not cover the entire race. So you can try and extend the battery life by pairing your watch with an external heart rate monitor like the Polar OH1. You can also turn off cellular notifications, GPS if there are marked miles, and even use a playlist rather than stream music from an app to save the battery life. However, unless you are running a full marathon, as long as the battery is charged beforehand, you should be able to get enough power to make it through long runs.


The Apple Watch is a cyclist’s friend whether they enjoy biking outside or inside. Though the heart rate monitor may not be as accurate on extremely bumpy roads or while mountain biking, the fitness tracking side of the watch still works optimally to measure distance and speed.

Person mountain biking an activity which can be tracked with an Apple Watch

Touch Screen

Once started, you will be able to swipe left and right between three screens that will be handy for your workout. The first will display the duration, speed, heart rate, and distance. The second screen will allow you to pause and resume your workout, and the last screen will control your music.

Some people have complained that the Apple Watch is too hard to navigate on a touch screen if you are wearing biking gloves. However, most gloves made today have the touch screen friendly tips. It would be well worth the investment to get new gloves, if navigating the touchscreen becomes too frustrating.

Outdoor Cycling

One thing to remember when doing an outdoor cycling workout is to not set a goal. In the Workout app, you can select the type of workout (outdoor cycling) and then you will be able to set a goal for calories burnt or time of the workout. In a gym for indoor cycling, this might be a handy feature since it tells you when you’ve reached your goal. However, when you are biking outside, you may not want your workout to end exactly at 20 minutes if you are not quite to your ending point yet, and the Apple Watch will automatically end your workout.

The Apple Watch series 3 or later can track your elevation, which is a pretty big deal for those who like to mountain bike, since elevation is the real challenge in the workout.

Indoor Cycling

If you are cycling on a stationary bike, that has its own challenges. The Apple Watch cannot be as accurate as the bike’s metrics for distance using its own accelerometer, so it may over or under estimate the distance. However, heart rate and calories burnt are still as accurate as ever.

Third Party App

The cycling portion of the Workout app has had some complaints, but there are other apps you can use for cycling in conjunction with your Watch. Some reviewers are disappointed that the Workout app fails to automatically pause when you have to stop at a stoplight or wait for traffic.

The app, Strava, auto detects pauses in your workout. This app also filters out your commutes from your more aggressive workouts, which is nice if you’d like to track how much your commute ends up being over a certain amount of time. It also provides audio cues and some more detailed data points that you don’t get with the Workout app. Even if you choose to use a third party app to log your cycling workout, your exercise will still contribute to filling your fitness tracking circles for the day.

Person swimming in swimming pool an activity that can be tracked with an Apple Watch


The Apple Watch Series 4 works great in water, which can be hard to get used to because typically electronics don’t like to get wet. There are, of course, some things you’ll have to remember when you are working out in the water since the touch screen is not really useable while submerged. Here are some tips for a water workout.

Start Before Getting In

To make sure the watch doesn’t misfire as water glides over it, the touch screen automatically disables when it gets wet. Meaning if you are in the water and try to use the watch, you won’t be able to. So just makes sure you press start before you jump in the water.

Measuring Length

Many standard pools are about 25 yards, however, you probably don’t always exercise in a standard pool. Most public or gym pools will have a sign with the posted yardage somewhere near the pool, but if not, you can always ask someone who works there.

If you are using a private pool or the pool attendant doesn’t know the length of the pool, you can download an app, such as ARuler, that will be able to measure the length. These measuring apps may not be the most accurate, but it will give you a better estimate than just guessing.

Pausing Workouts

Normally, to pause a typical workout, you just swipe one screen to the right to hit the pause button. However, if you cannot use the touchscreen, this isn’t really an option. Instead you will be able to pause your workout by hitting the Digital Crown and the side button at the same time. This action also takes a screen shot, so unless you want to have a bunch of useless photos in your photo bank, you can disable this with the following steps:

  1. Go to My Watch app
  2. Go to General
  3. Slide enable screenshots to off

If you are resting between swimming laps, but you aren’t necessarily pausing your workout, you don’t need to worry about pausing. Your Apple Watch will automatically detect a rest between laps and will time your rest to record and present with the rest of your data at the end of the workout.

GPS Tracking

If you want to track your workouts in the open water, you’re in luck! GPS doesn’t work well when submerged under water, however the Apple Watch makes up for it by trying to get a reading every time you lift your wrist out of the water. Of course, some strokes work better for this than others. If you find that your arms are under the water most of the time during your workout, you can time it so that you lift your wrist above the water every few strokes. This should give you an accurate enough reading to track how far you went.


Your Apple Watch can now record triathlons, so if you are an avid runner, cyclist, and swimmer, this watch will be just perfect for your needs. You can combine all three of these types of exercises into a single workout. So when you are done with one portion of a workout, you just need to scroll the Digital Crown to unlock it, swipe to the right and tap the add button and select your next type of exercise.

How to End a Workout

As mentioned earlier, you cannot use the touch screen when it’s wet—so how do you end a workout? If you want to end the workout without having a rest period included in it while you towel off and drain the speakers, then use the method mentioned above to pause the workout. Just press the Digital Crown and the side button at the same time to pause, then resume when it’s been dried off and you can end the workout then.

Miscellaneous Workouts

There is a whole slew of other activities you can do using the Apple Watch for workouts. If you participate in any kind of exercise, there is a way to track it. Though you might not have as much trackable data available to you if you dance versus if you run a distance, you will still be able to record heart rate, calories burned, and duration, as well as other things like elevation and distance for certain activities.

Gym Machines

If you like to work out at the gym, your Apple Watch can be a very valuable tool to help you with your fitness goals. You will be able to constantly know a more accurate heart rate than the sensors on the the treadmills. You will also be able to track your calories throughout your entire workout routine, even including weight training. Yes, the elliptical, treadmill, and bikes have a built in tracker, but they aren’t as accurate as your Watch because they are not personalized to your specific body. You also can’t record past workouts on your gym treadmill like you can in your Watch to compare to your current workouts.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Working out in several intervals of high intensity exercise with short periods of rest in between, is called high intensity interval training and it has its own category in the Workout app on the Apple Watch. Since most of these kinds of exercises are stationary, to get an accurate calorie count, it is important to have a good heart rate reading. However, some of these activities can make it difficult to get a good reading because of the movements that they require. In these cases, you might want to consider investing in a bluetooth chest or arm band heart rate monitor.

Person hiking. Hiking is easily tracked by an Apple Watch


As with the cycling workout category, the Apple Watch series 3 and above have the ability to track your elevation in real time when hiking with the built in altimeter. However, if you have the earlier series, you will need to have your iPhone with you if you want an accurate elevation reading.

Person striking a yoga pose. Yoga can be tracked using an Apple Watch


If you want to participate in a different kind of activity that isn’t in the Workout app, you can choose the “other” category to create a different kind of workout. Not every workout fits into this box, but you still want to track how your heart rate is responding during certain activities. Some of these activities include dancing, surfing, strength training, and stretching. If you want to start one of these activities do the following:

  1. Start a workout and choose “other”
  2. When you’re done swipe one screen to the right and press “end”
  3. Name workout
  4. Save

This way you will be able to keep these workouts in your history and compare them in the future.


Unboxing your watch for the first time can be a little intimidating to a beginner. There are so many things you can do with it, but using the Apple Watch for workouts can be really easy, once you play around with it and personalize it to your specific settings.