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What's new with Activity, Workouts, and fitness in watchOS 9 for Apple Watch

Lots of new features for workouts in watchOS 9

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When watchOS 9 launches for Apple Watch owners they'll receive a hearty array of updates to keep you fit including new workout types, more metrics, and improved customization.

We've been testing watchOS 9 since the first beta and have come to appreciate many of the new features. While we haven't tested all the new workout options, what we have tried has been welcomed.

New workout views

When working out with Apple Watch, you usually see the stock view for each workout that displays the time, your caloric burn, and a couple of workout-specific metrics. For example, while doing a cycling workout you'll have the miles you've biked, and while swimming you'll see the yards you've swum.

You could always swipe or spin the Digital Crown to scroll to additional views but there are new additions with watchOS 9.

The first one we want to highlight is the Activity rings. You can view your stand, exercise, and Move rings during a workout. It's better than navigating to your watch face or the Activity app.

Then we have the new heart rate zones view. This view automatically identifies what zone you're in as you work out.

Heart rate zones

Apple employs the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method to calculate the various zones that are unique for you. This is done by finding the difference between your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate.

Heart rate zones on Apple Watch
Heart rate zones on Apple Watch

Then it uses the Karvonen formula to carve out each zone. At the beginning of each month, Apple will recalculate your max and resting heart rates. These exertion levels can identify warmup, caloric burn, and recovery.

If you don't trust Apple's methodology or if you have preferred zones you've calculated yourself, you can head to Settings > Workout > Heart Rate Zones and manually enter them.

Viewing our heart rate zones
Viewing our heart rate zones

After your workout, the heart rate zones are viewable in your iPhone's Activity app. You'll be able to see your heart rate during the workout and how long you spent in each zone.

Running workouts

While there are benefits to multiple workout types, running is probably the most overhauled. Apple has added several new metric types for running.

New with watchOS 9 is stride length, average power, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation. Upon upgrading to watchOS 9, these metrics may not show initially but are still collected.

You can view them afterward and subsequent workouts will show these metrics directly on your workout views.

When starting a running workout, there are additional types. By tapping the ellipsis in the corner of the card you'll see your standard options — open, calorie target, distance, time — as well as new options including racing your previous runs or pacer.

Custom running workout
Custom running workout

The pacer option has additional guides and alerts throughout your workout. Or you can create your workout pacing with different levels for work or recovery.

Other fitness and workout features

Apple Watch supports triathlons now, automatically switching between workout types. You can create your own or choose a standardized version such as going from swimming to running, to biking.

Swimming workouts now have kickboard detection as a new stroke type for open pool swimming. Apple also added a SWOLF score. This is calculated using your stroke count paired with the number of seconds to swim a pool length.

Apple Fitness+ has new on-screen callouts to keep you motivated and engaged during workouts. These include signaling when to rest or go "all out."

Finally, the Apple Watch will now highlight cardio recovery during outdoor walks, runs, and hiking workouts. This happens even if you do not reach your peak intensity during the workout and are viewable in the Health app.

Apple plans to release watchOS 9 this fall alongside its other major operating system updates. It is currently available as a beta for developers and to public beta testers.