watchOS 9 and iOS 16 logos
Apple

Apple is betting big on fitness in iOS 16 and watchOS 9, with a range of features designed to make it easier to track your activity, push yourself further, and get more out of your workouts. Best of all, you don’t even need an Apple Watch to benefit.

Fitness App Now Included With iOS 16

In iOS 15 and earlier, the iPhone Fitness app was limited only to Apple Watch owners. This is changing in iOS 16, with the Fitness app now available to all iPhone users regardless of whether they have a wearable or not.

The app will allow iPhone users to track activity much like Apple Watch owners already do, with a Move ring to fill with active energy burned. The Fitness app also provides a daily overview of your activity levels and summaries of completed workouts. It also tracks other information like fitness trends to see whether you’re trending up or down in terms of metrics like walking pace, exercise minutes, and distance moved per day.

iOS 16 Fitness App
Apple

You can also share health data with others using the Fitness app, which lets you see other people’s Move rings and even hold friendly competitions. Apple provides awards for achievements like filling your Move ring, doubling your Move goal, and completing monthly or weekly challenges.

The Fitness app will ideally motivate you to hit targets, work on improving your trends, compete with friends, and receive positive feedback or understand what it is you need to work on to improve your overall fitness. It’s a great tool for everyone from beginners to elite athletes. You don’t have to use the Fitness app in iOS 16 but it’s worth a shot if you’re curious.

RELATED: Here's How to Turn Your Daily Walk into a Workout

Close Your Move Ring, No Watch Needed

The addition of a Fitness app in iOS 16 means that iPhone owners now have a Move ring to fill too. This adds active energy burned to a ring, which you can change based on your goal. The higher your goal, the more you’ll need to do to fill your Move ring.

You’ll be awarded active energy based on information gleaned from your iPhone’s sensors. This includes a daily step count, running or walking distances, and even workouts logged in third-party apps like Strava and RunKeeper. In iOS 15, workouts registered on an iPhone don’t fill the Move ring in your Fitness app, but that’s set to change with the arrival of iOS 16.

iOS 16 Fitness app Workouts
Apple

You might not realize it but your iPhone is already tracking metrics like steps and distance which you can find in the Health app. With iOS 16, this data is being integrated into the existing Fitness app for all iPhone users.

Tracking Activity Is Better With a Watch

Having a Fitness app on your iPhone that can log motion data is great, but it’s no substitute for an Apple Watch. Purposefully tracking all of your workouts—from sessions in the gym to a quick walk to the shops—is the best way to be rewarded for working up a sweat. You’ll also get Stand and Exercise rings on an Apple Watch, which are missing on the iPhone implementation.

Having an Apple Watch means you don’t have to carry your iPhone with you all of the time. Many activities benefit from leaving your iPhone at home, especially if you don’t like wearing an armband or other attachments to keep your device in place. Try running a 5K with an iPhone swinging around in your pocket, assuming your running shorts even have pockets in the first place.

Woman running with watchOS 9
Apple

The Apple Watch will also detect certain workout types including walking and cycling, and ask you if you want to record your activity. Having a heart rate monitor provides a more accurate gauge of your level of exertion, so going harder to get your heart rate up means you will fill your Move ring faster.

While filling your Move ring isn’t the be-all and end-all of fitness, it’s a highly motivating mechanic to push you to get up and do something every day. Earning a Move streak (and keeping it going for as long as possible) can push you to move even on days you might otherwise not bother.

RELATED: How a Smartwatch Can Help You Train for a 5K

watchOS 9 Adds New Running Features

Runners who have a Watch will see some new features in watchOS 9 that will help them take their workouts to the next level. The new update brings more information about stride length, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation that will provider deeper insights into your running technique. This can help you improve times, avoid injury, and become a better runner by understanding where you need to focus your attention.

watchOS 9 Heart Rate Zones
Apple

There’s also a new power meter for runners which provides immediate feedback about how much effort you’re putting in, measured in watts. This can help you better pace your workouts, so that you know if you’re pushing too hard early on or whether you need to up the pace to set a better time.

There’s also the addition of repeatable routes, where the Workout app will suggest routes you’ve taken in the past and give you updates about how your current workout stacks up to your past progress. This works with both the Outdoor Run and Outdoor Cycle workout types.

New Workout Views, Customization and Multisport Workout

Workouts get even more intelligent with new workout views that show off information about Heart Rate Zones (calculated for you and customizable), workout overviews, elevation gains, the running power meter (over time), or your Activity rings.

watchOS 9 Workout views
Apple

You can create customizable workout types too, with the ability to set up warmup segments, repeatable work and recovery blocks, cooldowns, and more. This is great if you work best with high-intensity workouts, and can be applied to a range of workout types whether you’re riding a bike or out for a run.

Apple has also added a new Multisport workout type that automatically transitions between swimming, cycling, and running on the fly. You don’t need to tell your Watch when you’ve changed activity, it will understand what you’re doing based on what your Watch is currently doing.

Fitness+ Gets Smarter Too

Finally, Apple’s premium Fitness+ service that provides guided workouts for all activity levels gets a little smarter. You can get Fitness+ either by signing up in the Fitness app, or by subscribing to Apple One.

Apple Fitness+ Workout training
Apple

In addition to new trainer callouts that put your Intensity Metrics (like Easy., Moderate, Hard, and All Out) on your iPhone screen, you’ll also get guidance for rowing, cycling, and treadmill workouts to adjust your pace to set new personal bests and improve gradually over time.

Plus All These Existing Fitness Features

The Apple Watch is a compelling fitness device. The Apple SE is one of the best (and more budget-friendly) wearables Apple has produced. Expect to see the Apple Watch Series 8 launch some time in the fall, alongside a new iPhone (assuming the chip shortage hasn’t bitten Apple’s manufacturing process too badly).

The fact that iPhone users will get a taste of what makes the Apple Watch so compelling for fitness monitoring is just one more reason to look forward to the release of iOS 16. Some iPhones aren’t getting iOS 16, though, so find out if your device is supported. If it isn’t, consider upgrading your iPhone so you can get everything iOS 16 has to offer.

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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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