Full disclosure, I NEVER thought I wanted an Apple Watch. I just didn’t see the point of dropping around $500 on a smart watch. Historically I’d always been an analog watch guy, classic right? More recently though, I just wasn’t wearing a watch at all as my phone was always there to tell me the time + as for exercise tracking, my trusty Polar Heart Rate Monitor gave me my workout details + my phone kept track of my daily steps. No other device needed. Man was I WRONG!!!
For my 40thBirthday this year, a client of mine gifted me the new Apple Watch Series 4. What a game changer this device has been. It really is a remarkable piece of engineering. It’s a music player, a pedometer, an exercise tracker, a heart rate monitor, an ECG, a GPS + a communication device all rolled into one. Conveniently located on your wrist + able to work WITHOUT your phone nearby. I’m in love. Easily the coolest piece of tech I’ve ever owned. Let’s get into it in more detail.
The overall design of the watch is beautiful. Its elegant, sporty, sleek, adaptable + so far, resilient. I have the Space Grey finish, I chose it because it goes with everything. I love that you can easily change the look of the watch by simply clicking in a different strap, it can go from sports watch to dress watch with a simple click of a strap and swipe of the watch face. Awesome!!!
Overall, its very easy to set up + operate. You have a choice of various different faces + styles. For each face, what you want displayed is completely customizable. Need your calendar, weather + date, no problem. If you’re more of a fitness guy/gal, which I assume you are since you’re reading a fitness blog, then you can have your face customized with Hear Rate, Exercise Tracker, Activity Rings + Music. Basically, whatever you want, it can be done. The fact that its cellular equipped is massive…this means that you do NOT need to have your phone with you to make/receive calls/texts. It’s also Bluetooth compatible so your Air Pods hook right up allowing you to listen to Apple Music on the go without your phone. Everything can be controlled from your wrist.
Ok, enough of the basics, time to tackle why we’re really here. How WELL does the watch actually perform as a FITNESS/EXERCISE tracker. Honestly, that depends on what you’re trying to track. With some forms of exercise, it’s brilliant, with others it good and with one in particular, its lacking.
As a running tracker, the watch is brilliant. The built in cellular GPS and gyroscope ensure that everything is tracked. During the run, the watch displays your pace, split pace, total miles covered, time and heart rate. After the run, you Can view a more detailed report on the activity app on your phone. There you’ll active calories, total calories, distance, elevation, cadence, pace as well as a graphic display of your heart rate over the run + a map of your route showing pace at various points. You can use the run tracker as an OPEN run where you just run, or as a GOAL run where you aim for a certain distance or time. I found the heart rate and caloric monitoring in run mode to very accurate.
For the casual cyclist, the watch will suffice. Its great with heart rate, calories, time, distance, average speed + elevation gain. It also generates a nifty map of your ride. For the serious cyclist, it will fall short as it has no way of connecting with your bike. No cadence, no power output, no mileage splits. If you’re a serious rider, stick to the Strava system.
Overall, it does a great job tracking your strength workouts. I’ve worn it for a number of sessions and I find it does a solid job of tracking my heart rate + calories burned during the workout. It will occasional give a reading that seems wrong, but can usually be corrected by tightening the strap or wiping off some excess sweat. If you’re hoping for it to count reps/sets + identify different exercises, I’ll make it simple, it CAN NOT do that. But if you will know exactly how many calories you’ve burned + if you’re pushing yourself hard enough.
This is the place where I find the Apple Watch falls off the most versus a traditional Polar HR chest strap. The limitation of the optical sensor is clearly the problem. Simply put, the light sensors that track heart rate are unable to fully read it when you are moving dynamically while sweating. I hope that its something Apple will eventually fix, but I’ve had sessions where I’ve just finished a crazy tough HIIT circuit and the watch is showing my heart rate at around 95bpm…not possible and my Polar is showing me at 170bpm. The biggest problem with this kind of discrepancy in HR tracking is that it will greatly affect your total caloric burn for the workout. Obviously, the higher your hear rate, the more calories your body is burning per minute, so for every minute the reading is off, your burning calories without them being correctly tracked. Hence how I’ve finished a session and my Polar showed I Burned 750 calories + the Apple Watch showed 350. Not great if you’re really trying to keep an accurate account of calories in to calories out.
I used the watch to track a few days of snowboarding this season and it actually does a pretty decent job of keeping track of heart rate and thus caloric burn. Great for maintaining caloric balance during the day. It does NOT however have any ability to track runs, elevation or speed. It’s just not built for that. Luckily the downloadable Ski Tracks App can turn the watch into an efficient ski tracker.
GENERAL MOVEMENT TRACKING
For general movement tracking, the watch is brilliant. The Activity App on your phone gives a detailed view of each day. Its has your MOVE, EXERCISE + STAND RINGS, which is Apples gimmicky but effective way of tracking total active time, exercise time + stand time each day. You can set the goal for each + the aim is to close all 3 rings each day. What I really love is that the Watch gives me a total calories burned for an entire day, so I KNOW exactly how many calories I’ve burned over the course of a day + can adjust my eating accordingly to maintain a caloric deficit/surplus based on my training goals at the time. Its also a great pedometer and displays steps + flights of stairs climbed.
For those who require a little outside motivation to actually get moving, the watch is a fun way to keep on track. Apple has designed the RINGS system as well as its related AWARDS system to help motivate people to move. The watch will notify you during the day to get up, move and exercise. There are numerous AWARDS badges you can get by completing challenges and workouts. You can also link up to friends who have the watch and challenge them to workouts. Really quite cool. + for those stuck at a desk job, the reminder to STAND can be quite useful.
Overall, I really love the Apple Watch, it has a few short coming, but overall, it’s a device that can fulfill multiple roles, helping you to live a better + more ACTIVE life.