Apple Watch on the arm of a woman working out at a gym.
KANUT PHOTO/Shutterstock.com

You’re probably aware you can track your walks, runs, and bike rides on an Apple Watch, but the smartwatch can monitor many more activities. This can help you hit your Move and Exercise goals, which should help motivate you to increase your overall fitness.

Why Track Your Activity?

Your Apple Watch is constantly monitoring your movement and heart rate to keep track of how much energy you are burning throughout the day. This goes towards your Move goal, a daily challenge where you try and 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’ll be awarded 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 since it is more closely tracking things like heart rate and blood oxygen. Some workout types will track your route, so GPS comes into play. By averaging how hard you’re working, how fast you’re moving, and how far you’ve gone with other metrics like your height and weight, you can build a better picture of your overall health.

Health app workouts data

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

This data can help motivate you to improve or reaffirm that you’re making progress and should keep going. You can even share certain metrics with healthcare professionals, though 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 Fairly Accurate Activity Tracker

The Apple Watch is a lifestyle device. There are more accurate methods of tracking workouts to gauge VO₂ max and heart rate measurements, but these involve wearing face masks and being wired up to monitors. The Apple Watch lives on your wrist so it’s not the most accurate bit of kit, but it’s good enough for most people to get some insights into their overall level of fitness.

Workout tracked with Apple Watch

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

To do this, launch the Health app and tap on your user icon in the top-right corner of the screen. Add your date of birth and sex to your profile, then go back 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 workout type is also important. For workouts where you’re completing a route, like an outdoor run or a cycle, metrics like speed can be useful in gauging how much active energy you should be awarded. Most static workout types will award energy at the same rate as a brisk walk, though if the Watch suspects you’re working harder by detecting an increased heart rate then energy will be awarded accordingly.

RELATED: How to Measure Your Blood Oxygen Levels with Your Apple Watch

Track Your Routes in Outdoor Pursuits

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

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

Apple Watch workout map

Unfortunately, not all activities that are route-based will be tracked with GPS data, since many rely on the open “Other” workout. This includes outdoor pursuits like kayaking or canoeing which fall under the “Paddlesports” label. You can tell a workout doesn’t monitor your route when your average speed or split isn’t displayed on the workout overview.

Allow Strava access to Apple Health

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

Track Almost Everything Else Too

Many of the additional activities that the Apple Watch tracks use the “Other” workout template, which is effectively an open heart rate tracker. The higher your heart rate, the more active energy is awarded, so this might not be the most accurate type of tracking.

"Other" workout on Apple Watch

But if you are working up a sweat and would like to get some recognition from your Apple Watch, these workouts are still valid. You can access most of them by starting the Workout app, scrolling to the bottom of the list, tapping “Add Workout” and then choosing one from the list

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful workout types to choose from. These include Fitness Gaming for games like Ring Fit Adventure on the Switch or Beat Saber in VR, Social Dancing for when you’re working up a sweat on the dance floor, plus separate labels for Tai Chi, Kickboxing, Boxing and other Martial Arts.

Many team sports are covered including Australian Football (Aussie Rules), American Football (Gridiron), Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Volleyball, and Hockey. Remember that many of these use the “Other” workout type to track activity, and the labels are there to make your life easier so that you can better keep track of activities.

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 how much time you dedicate to workouts under Health > Activity > Workouts.

Customize Your Workouts to Suit Your Tastes

Some workout types can be customized so that the overview you see while working out displays different information. To do this, open the Watch app on your iPhone then tap on Workout > Workout View and select an activity. Unfortunately, most can’t be changed, but this may be improved in the future as Apple works on adding more accurate tracking for different activities.

Outdoor Cycling, Outdoor Running, Hiking, and Walking all have some useful things you might want to swap out. For example, while cycling you can opt to see your current speed, average speed, altitude gain, and distance traveled. If you don’t find a particular metric useful, swap it out for something else.

Customize workout view on Apple Watch

You can also change whether your Watch automatically pauses Outdoor Run and Outdoor Cycling workouts. This can help you better track your activity (and hold on to your average speeds and splits) while you’re waiting for a light to turn green or snapping a picture.

A Motivational Tool

Above all else, workout tracking should be motivational. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from this, even tracking your walks or community sports games can provide 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 notifies emergency services automatically.

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Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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