Strength training and weightlifting using Apple Watch, a quick primer

weightlifting on Workout app Strength training Apple watch

Love lifting weights as part of your health and fitness routine but can’t figure out how to track weight lifting on your Apple Watch?

We get many questions concerning how to track weight lifting activity and strength training using Apple’s Workouts app on the Apple Watch. 

The good news is that you can indeed monitor strength training via Apple Watch with your Apple Watch’s Workout app!

In this short primer, we look at tips on how to use your Apple Watch to manage and monitor your strength training workouts.

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How to set up Strength Training using your Apple Watch and its Workout app

It all depends on your watch’s OS version. If you don’t know, open Settings > General > About and look at Version on your watch.

And unfortunately, no matter what watchOS you run, Apple’s Workout app does not currently have a way to keep track of your reps/or weights/ or sets and provide accurate calorie burns specific to the type of strength training exercise you are doing.

If you are interested in tracking your individual weight training exercises and repetitions like arm curls, lateral raises, bench presses, and pull-ups, there are third-party apps you can use on your Apple Watch.

Samsung’s Wear OS 3 Galaxy Watch 4, and Fitbit’s Sense or Versa 3 also offer ways to track individual exercises and repetitions–you even get on-screen instructions on proper form and counting your reps.

Get the most accurate weightlifting and strength training information on your Apple Watch

To get the most accurate information for your strength and weight training sessions, first check that your Apple Watch has all your updated personal information, including your height, weight, gender, and age.

Apple uses this information to calculate how many calories you burn and other on-screen activity metrics.

To update your personal information, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone > My Watch > Health > Health Details. Watch app on iPhone edit health details

Strength training options for watchOS 7+ 

For folks using watchOS 7 and above, there’s a Functional Strength Training option in the main menu and a Traditional Strength Traning option in the Add Workout submenu.

  1. Tap the Workout app on your Apple Watch
  2. Scroll to see the options
  3. Choose Functional Strength Traning in the main menu
  4. Or choose Add Workout and select Traditional Strength Traning

Start your weightlifting or strength training session and let it run through your sets and rest periods. You do not need to create a different workout for each of your strength exercises.

You also don’t need to pause it, just let it run for your entire exercise period unless you break up your strength training with another type of exercise, like cardio activities (running, walking, rowing, biking, and so forth.)

What’s the difference between Traditional Strength Training and Functional Strength Traning?

Apple considers these two different types of workouts, and each uses a different algorithm to determine your on-screen metrics, including calories, etc.

  • Choose Functional Strength Training for dynamic strength sequences with your upper body, lower body, or full-body, using small equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, or no equipment at all. This includes things like squats and pushups and exercises that use your body weight.functional strength training on apple watch workout app
  • Choose Traditional Strength Training for exercises like lifting weights, including deadlifts, back squats, and bench pressing using a barbell or equipment with heavyweight plates or resistance.Apple Watch workout app option for traditional strength training

When using watchOS 7 and above, only choose Other when you can’t find a matching workout type in the Workout app’s main menu or Add Workout submenu.

Your watch’s heart rate and motion sensors track your metrics and give you accurate results for all your workouts. That’s why it’s so important to wear your Apple Watch during your activity snugly.

If your watch is too loose or unable to track your heart rate and motion, the default exercise credit you get is the measure of a brisk walk.

Strength training options for watchOS 6 and below 

For older watchOS versions, you won’t find strength training in the main section of the workout app.

Your Apple Watch running watchOS 6 and below shows many different workout types on its workout menu, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, and even Yoga.

However, you won’t see a specific strength training option in the main menu.

So instead, use the Add Workout or Other option at the bottom of the main menu.

With Add Workout or Other, it’s possible to track your strength training and weightlifting workouts.

Use Add Workout

  • Open the Workout app on your Apple Watch
  • Scroll all the way down using the Digital Crown and tap Add Workout add workout using apple watch workout app
  • Scroll through the available options and tap on Strength Training
  • Let the workouts app run on auto-pilot–you don’t need to make changes while you workout
  • When complete, swipe to end your activity and save your heart rate, calories burned, and duration of your training to the Health app

If you don’t see Add Workout, use the option Other

  • Open the Workout App > Add Workout and tap on “Otherchoose Other as your workout in the Apple Watch to make your own strength training program
  • This starts the workout and records calories burned for the duration of your strength training exercise
  • Let the workout app run on auto-pilot–you don’t need to make changes while you train
  • When complete, swipe to end your workout and save your heart rate, calories burned, and duration of your training to the Health app
    • Once done, swipe and tap End
    • Review the summary of your workout
  • After you end your first “Other” workout, choose to name that workout Strength Training or Weightlifting (or whatever)
    • Scroll to the bottom of your workout summary
    • Tap Name Workout (feature not available in watchOS 6)
    • Tap the type of workout, then tap Save
  • Once you name your workout, Strength Training or Weightlifting (or whatever you choose to name it) shows up as one of the options for your next workout

Unfortunately, these workout options do not include many advanced metrics offered by the main menu exercise routines.

What they track is your activity, calories burned, and heart rate.

Tips to get the best readings for your strength training workouts on Apple Watch

Update your height and weight in the Health app regularly

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap My Watch.
  3. Go to Health > Health Details > Edit.
  4. Tap Height or Weight, then adjust to your current status.

Test your watch band

  • If your training workouts require a lot of wrist flexing, try wearing your Apple Watch slightly higher up your arm.
  • You may need to use the larger-sized watch band for this to work.
  • Make sure you position your watch in an area where the watch’s heart rate monitor can get an accurate measurement.
  • Check that your Apple Watch’s sensors are in contact with your skin–don’t wear your watch too loose, or you won’t get accurate readings.

Make sure you end your workout after you finish training

  • When finished with your training session, swipe right and tap End to stop tracking your activity.apple watch workout app end workout
  • If you tightened or moved your watchband before your workout, remember to loosen or move it back to your normal setting.

Trying to find an excellent watch-based lifting and strength training app? Check out these third-party options!

Check out our article on the top third-party strength training apps for your Apple Watch: The 7 best weightlifting apps for Apple Watch this year, or review these recommendations.

Most of these apps offer features still missing in the Apple Watch Workouts app, including ways to track repetitions, rest timers, and custom algorithms to calculate your weightlifting and rest times

Strength training monitoring on Apple Watch via Gymaholic

Many fitness buffs that use strength training monitoring on their Apple Watch tend to depend a lot on a third-party app called “Gymaholic.”

This app, available for your iPhone and your Apple Watch, provides excellent options to manage your strength training regimen.

Strength Training on Apple Watch

The app makes it very easy to log a set. It times your rest period and haptic taps when you should lift again.

You can use pre-programmed workouts or create your own, and sending them to the watch only has to be done once, unlike other apps such as GymBook, where you have to do it every time.

Gymaholic also tracks your heart rate during their strength training workouts. Gymaholic is helpful if you use the app to track your lifts, sets, and reps instead of just calories and heart rate.

The app also makes it super easy to track the muscles you worked on and your rest periods.

Gymaholic also sells exercise packs that you can buy to create a portfolio of workouts that suit your preferences.

Strong app for Apple Watch

With Strong, you can manually create your programs and load the stronglifts circuits into the app as routines.

Plus, you can customize your weight training days and even save them into unique folders. Or create different templates for each type of strength workout!

Strong app for Apple Watch

  • Track your progress across any date range
  • Measure body weight, body fat percentage, or any other measurements

Strong also offers cloud syncing, so your data moves between devices, even Android.

And Strong work with Apple’s Health app, so that’s a big plus!

Gymatic app for Apple Watch

Gymatic has an option that provides you with auto-rep counting, which is very useful.

Strength Training on Apple Watch

Regarding strength training, users usually fall into two main camps.

Some like panned regimented training, while others like to freestyle it.

Gymatic has many followers who belong to the freestyle camp of strength training.

The exercise auto-detection via Gymatic is excellent. It provides a lot of data (speed of your reps, the time between reps/sets, total weight moved over the entire gym session, the total amount of time spent resting vs. exercising, etc.).

It also gets frequent updates, and the app developers are constantly adding new features and data points.

This app would be a good fit if you are into freestyle workouts.

If you never liked planning out the exercise, weights, and reps before you even get to the gym, Gymatic would work well in the background without you having to do too much.

Fitbod app for Apple Watch

Apple watch Fitted app

Another favorite third-party strength training app is Fitbod.

Fitbod integrates with Apple’s Health app and reads your heart rate data from your watch to help calculate calories burned.

With Fitbod, you can adjust reps and weights for each set and log sets or overall exercise. Plus, you can customize the app and even exclude activities you can’t do.

You can even set up haptic feedback signals for rest times to tell you when to start your next set. And you have the option to view your workout impact on a body heat map.

One downside, Fitbod on Apple Watch does not operate over cellular data, so you need to connect your watch to WiFi and log your workout on your iPhone to save the data.

Sweat app

The popular app includes strength training regimens from renowned trainers such as Kelsey Wells and Kayla Itsines.

  • This includes the popular weight-heavy Bikini Body Guide workout. For users interested in heavy lifting, Sanzo’s BUILD program is the one to try.
  • Memberships do start at $10/month. Sweat is one of the apps available on the Apple Watch, allowing you to complete your workouts on the go without your iPhone.
  • Some of the workouts available on the Apple Watch from Sweat include:
    • High-Intensity Zero Equipment with Kayla
    • BUILD
    • LIFTING at HOME
  • During your workout, the current exercise and the number of reps or allocated time are displayed. Tap the arrows to move on to the next activity or return to the workout. 

Sweat Stand alone weight training on Apple Watch
To help you maintain focus throughout your workout, the watch provides a haptic (vibration) to know when a section or interval is complete.

Once you complete your workout from your Apple Watch, refresh the Sweat app on your device by force closing and reopening. Doing this should update your weekly goals. 

Jetfit app

The app with the most comprehensive list and details of weight training exercises. Using JEFIT, you can build your workout routines or choose from workouts created by the pros.

  • The app allows you to easily log your exercises, reps, sets, weight, etc., to monitor your progression.
  • The built-in timer feature on the companion Apple Watch app and a provision to track weights and reps is a nice touch.Best strength training apps for Apple Watch in 2021
  • An elite/pro version of the app provides access to all its features and costs about $40 for the annual subscription. 

Fitness Point

The easy-to-use app is a deep repository of everything that is weight-lifting-related.

  • This app has an extensive library of images and video animation showing you which muscle a particular strength training exercise focuses on and how to execute it correctly.
  • Create a personal workout or select one of the pre-defined workout plans to get you started right away when using Fitness Point.
  • The app has an AI-based algorithm that can automatically create a bodyweight workout based on your profile.

Weight Lifting on Apple Watch

  • This also has a stand-alone Apple Watch app, so you can work out just with your Apple Watch and access the various exercises.
  • The Pro version does not have any ads, provides access to over 400 exercises, and has a built-in Rest timer. The workout timer and break timer are also part of the Apple Watch experience on the app.

Importance of Inter-set recovery time on power, electromyography activity, and Tissue Oxygenation

The top three apps we selected above for strength/weight training on the Apple Watch include built-in timers.

The timer function, particularly the rest timers, is important if you are trying to get the most out of your weight training when using the Apple Watch.

Performing continuous sets to failure is fatiguing, and that’s why trainers design cluster sets to redistribute total rest time to create short, frequent sets so that muscle fatigue can be avoided.

A scientific study shows that longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men.

The study separated the participants into two groups. One rested for a minute between power sets (SHORT), and the other rested for 3 minutes. (LONG).

Testing was performed prestudy and post-study for muscle strength (1RM bench press and back squat), muscle endurance (50% 1RM bench press to failure), and muscle thickness of the elbow flexors, triceps brachii, and quadriceps femoris by ultrasound imaging. 

Maximal strength was significantly greater for both 1RM squat and bench press for LONG compared to SHORT. Muscle thickness was substantially greater for LONG than SHORT in the anterior thigh.

This study provides evidence that longer rest periods promote greater muscle strength and hypertrophy increases.

So it’s best to use an Apple Watch strength training app that allows you to design your workout with the appropriate load and customize your inter-set recovery or rest time.

Caffeine use and strength training – Impact on Heart rate recovery metric on Apple Watch

Another widespread debate around strength training is the use of Caffeine before training. Some users like to have a cup of black coffee before starting their workout. 

A recent 2021 study has shown that caffeine can slow heart rate autonomic recovery following strength exercise training.

Given that the Apple Watch can now show you your recovery heart rate following exercise, you must know about this, especially if you are a coffee drinker.

Accuracy of Apple Watch with Strength Training

Although the Apple Watch does not provide mechanisms to auto-detect your reps using gestures or other technology, the watch’s accuracy is stellar when it comes to computing calories.

Apple Watch accuracy for strength training
The total calories from a weight training workout are almost the same on the Apple and Samsung Watch.

We tested a series of supersets while wearing both the Apple Watch and Samsung Watch to see any significant differences.

Results showed that the readings produced on both the smartwatches were pretty close regarding the number of calories and heart rate data.

The Apple Watch had the advantage since it could differentiate between Total calories and Active calories.

That being said, you will need to calibrate your Apple Watch for improved workout and activity accuracy.

You don’t have to worry about calibrating the GPS settings from a weight or strength training perspective.

Instead, you will need to make sure that you keep your health profile updated with the right height and weight information.

In summary

Found an app that you love for your strength and weight training? Please share it with us in the comments, and pay it forward to all our readers!

For those looking for a third-party app, your best option is to try out a few apps and see which fits your strength training monitoring requirements best.

Since these apps are expensive, we suggest you review the user comments and then, if available, try it out before you commit to any costly app subscription.

Lastly, do not forget that the Apple Fitness+ subscription has excellent weight training and functional training programs.

The Apple Fitness+ allows you to check your performance by benchmarking with others and shows you the metrics on your Apple Watch and TV.

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