It’s that time of year again when Apple pushes out all the new hardware and operating systems for its products, including my personal favorite, the Apple Watch!
While plenty of people purchase and use their Apple Watches to stay in touch with their friends and family, one of the biggest drivers is all that health and fitness monitoring and analysis. And boy, Apple comes through BIG in watchOS 9 for upping its game in tracking and personalizing fitness and health.
This update includes things like an overhauled Workout app including support for triathletes and advanced running metrics, an added cardio recovery metric to the Health app, more refined sleep insights and stages, a first-of-its-kind AND FDA-cleared AFib History feature, an all-new Apple Watch-only Medications app with medication reminders built-in, and more!
Now, the downside for many people is that watchOS 9 won’t work on Apple Watch Series 3 (and lower.)
So let’s dig in!
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The Workout app in watchOS 9
Apple really expanded the Workout app in watchOS 9, with new features, advanced metrics and workout views, alerts when you hit certain goals and milestones, and loads of other ways to personalize and customize it.
There’s even a new Multisport workout type that automatically recognizes and switches between swimming, biking, and running workouts. So triathletes no longer need to manually change workout types to record their training!
Additionally, Apple finally adds kickboard as a swimming stroke. And for swimmers that want to track their efficiency, there’s now a SWOLF score that shows up after each swimming workout in your summary.
Heart rate zone training
One of our favorite new features in the Workout app is Heart Rate Zones, which shows you in real-time which heart rate zone you currently are exercising in so you can increase or decrease your workout’s intensity.
Apple automatically calculates your heart rate zones based on the information you entered in the Health app. However, you can also configure your zones manually.
You do need to turn this feature on in either the Watch app > Workout or inside the Workout app. Once you do, all you need to do is check your watch to see what heart rate zone you’re in!
Learn more about heart rate zones in this article: Complete Guide to Apple Watch Heart Rate Zones.
Adding and updating your workout view(s)
With watchOS 9, Apple adds a lot more data to the Workout app, including how we keep track of our stats like segments, splits, elevations, and even our activity ring progress via workout views.
Plus, you are no longer limited to one screen of metrics!
Your watch can now display more than just one group of metrics when you work out with the Workout app. Just swipe down or turn the watch’s Digital Crown for new views of metrics like your activity rings, heart rate zones, elevation, and more!
You get complete control over which stats are shown on your watch’s screen for each workout type and workout goal. And you can now edit your workout views directly on your Apple Watch.
In the Workout App, you can finally see your stand, exercise, and move rings while you work out by including it as a workout view (instead of having to open the Activity app while working out.)
With watchOS 9, you can include (or exclude) additional metric screens, like your heart rate zones or activity rings. So during your workout, all you need to do is swipe down or turn the Digital Crown to see all your different metrics.
There are a bunch of new metric screens to add to your workout, including your Activity Rings, Heart Rate Zones, Splits, Segments, Power, and Elevation. And outdoor runners get even more stats with new running metrics like cadence, ground contact time, stride length, and verticle oscillation.
Learn more about workout views in this article: How to change the Apple Watch Workout app on-screen stats and metrics.
If you ever felt limited by the workouts offered in the Workouts app, rejoice!
Apple now offers the ability to create unique custom workouts for any of the workout types in the Workout app. With a custom workout, you can add a warmup and cooldown as well as work and recovery intervals that repeat.
Learn more about creating a custom workout in this article How to use custom workouts and workout views on your Apple Watch.
Outdoor running gets a major facelift!
While Apple updated swimming and added the new multisport workout type, watchOS 9 really modernizes the Workout app’s Outdoor Running.
In particular, Apple has added a bunch of new metrics for running, including stride length, average power, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation.
There’s even a new goal for Outdoor Running called Pacer, which allows you to set a target time to complete a distance and guides you on how to meet that goal by pacing your run.
Another new feature of watchOS allows you to race against your best run or last run on frequently used routes and even get alerted during that workout if you’re ahead or behind that pace or when you go off the route.
Learn more about all the enhancements for running in this article How to check running power and cadence on your Apple Watch.
A ton of alerts!
This may be good news or bad news. There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of alerts in the Workout app with watchOS 9!
In past versions, you might receive a reminder alert to end a workout if you forgot to. And you might hear Siri announcing when you completed an activity ring and some workout details.
But watchOS 9 takes these alerts to a whole new level! There’s not a lot that you can’t get alerted about.
You can get alerts for your heart rate zone, duration/time, splits, pace, power, and cadence! All of these alerts are meant to help guide and motivate you throughout your workout.
Unfortunately, at least for me, these alerts often got in the way, especially if I used the Workout app to track things like when I walk the dog.
Learn more about the new alerts in the Workout app and how to turn them on or off in this article How to turn on or off Apple Watch Workout app alerts like splits, heart rate, or time.
The new cardio recovery score
With watchOS 9 and iOS 16, Apple Watch Workout app users can now get an estimated cardio recovery score in the Health app via a unique algorithm when they choose these exercise types: outdoor walking, outdoor running, and hiking.
The Cardio Recovery score (also called heart rate recovery) is a useful fitness metric that is one key indicator of cardiovascular health. And the Health app tracks your cardio recovery over time so you can see how increasing or decreasing amounts or types of exercise impact your body.
It’s calculated as the difference between your heart rate at the end of your workout and one minute after. And you’ll get this score even when you don’t hit peak intensity during your workout.
To learn more about Apple’s new Cardio Recovery score, see this article How to check your Cardio Recovery scores on your Apple iPhone.
Apple is a little behind the times on showing sleep stages, but it’s finally here as they add sleep stage detection to watchOS 9.
To see your sleep stages, you need to first enable sleep tracking by setting up a sleep schedule or turning on Sleep Focus mode before sleeping. Once you do that, your watch can then break down your sleep into stages.
To detect your sleep stages, Apple uses data from your watch’s accelerometer and heart rate sensor to detect when you’re awake or in these three sleep stages: REM, Core, or Deep Sleep.
Up until now, people who were diagnosed with AFib were told they should NOT use an Apple Watch to monitor their condition. WatchOS 9 changes that with recent FDA clearance.
Now, those who are already diagnosed with AFib can turn on their watch’s AFib History feature and keep track of their health (currently available for users in the US age 22 years or older who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.)
This feature shows an estimate of how frequently a person’s heart rhythm shows signs of AFib (atrial fibrillation.) People also receive weekly notifications about the frequency of atrial fibrillation and can view a detailed history in their iPhone’s Health app.
For more information on this new watch health feature, see this article Apple obtains FDA 510(K) clearance for a new AFib history feature for Apple Watch.
The Medications app
There’s a lot to explore in watchOS 9 (and iOS 16) in health and fitness features, plus everything else. I hope you get to dive in and discover all that these updates offer.
One exciting iOS16 feature I didn’t go into in this article is for folks that don’t own an Apple Watch. They now get to download and use the Fitness app and count their activity using just their iPhone (and supported third-party apps.)
With the iPhone-only Fitness app, folks can monitor their Move minutes each day and even participate in challenges, gain rewards and badges, and share their activity just like Apple Watch users.
Plus, Apple just announced that they are launching their Fitness+ service to ALL iPhone users, even those that don’t own an Apple Watch!