The best fitness features coming to the Apple Watch with watchOS 9

Apple had their big WWDC 2022 keynote today, and in it they revealed tons of new fitness features coming to the Apple Watch. WatchOS 9, which will be released later this year, will include new running metrics, a custom workout builder, triathlete support, sleep phase detection, and more.

These new updates will be coming to all Apple Watch Series 4 or newer. Here is a complete breakdown of all the new fitness features being added to the Apple Watch when the new watchOS 9 is released.

Additionally, the Apple Fitness app will be available for all iPhone users in iOS 16 without an Apple Watch.

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Vertical Oscillation, Stride Length, and Ground Contact Time

Runners with an Apple Watch will be happy to hear that lots of new and useful metrics are being added. These new metrics come from a mix of data from the gyroscope and accelerometer, alongside machine learning:

  • Vertical Oscillation: the distance the torso moves vertically while running
  • Stride Length: the distance traveled with each step
  • Ground Contact Time: the amount of time that a foot is in contact with the ground on each step

These new metrics can be viewed on the workout screen while running.

Heart Rate Zones

In addition to newly added running metric features, Heart Rate Zones are also coming to the Apple Watch. The five zones can be manually created or automatically calculated using a user’s personalized health data.

Custom workouts

The Apple Watch will now allow users to create and follow along with their own custom workouts, which will include work and rest intervals.

From the little bit shown during the keynote, it seems like users will be able to create different categories of workouts, as well as name and organize them.

Workout alerts

With the new watchOS 9, users will be able to create alerts for a variety of metrics to give them useful notifications during workouts.

For example, users can set up a workout to be alerted when they enter (and leave) a specific heart rate zone. Both voice and haptic feedback will be available for these types of alerts.

Alerts will also help guide users during workouts, letting them know when to work and when to rest.

Running Power

One of the new workout views available is Running Power. This metric is growing in popularity, since it can give users a lot more insight than just their pace. Running Power can give a better sense of how hard someone should be running as it adjusts for the terrain and bodyweight.

This screen on the Apple Watch looks like it will show users current Running Power, average Running Power, and a graph to give a sense of a workout’s progression.

Route Tracking

Mentioned briefly in the keynote was a newly added Route Tracking feature. If the Apple Watch detects a route someone runs often, it will save that route and compare future runs to their last and best time.

This is one of the more intriguing new features but also the one with the least details. Looks like we will have to wait a bit longer to hear more.

Multi-Sport workouts

The Apple Watch will have a new “Multi-Sport” workout type built with Triathletes in mind. When this type of workout mode is started, it will automatic detect whether users are running, swimming, or biking, so that they do not need to adjust the watch as they switch modalities.

Pacer mode

Not mentioned in the Apple Keynote, but included in the press release, is what they are calling a new “Pacer Experience”. This mode lets users choose a distance and goal for the time in which they want to complete a run and calculates the pace required to achieve the goal. During the workout, they can follow the pace alerts and metrics provided.

Swimming enhancements

Kickboard detection has been added as a new stroke type for Pool Swim workouts. The Apple Watch will automatically be able to detect when users are swimming with a kickboard and classify the stroke type in the workout summary along with distance swam.

Swimmers will also now be able to track their efficiency with a SWOLF score, which is a stroke count combined with the time (in seconds) it takes to swim one length of the pool. Users can view their SWOLF average for each set in the workout summary.

Apple Fitness+ updates

With watchOS 9, Apple Fitness+ workouts will display on-screen guidance in addition to trainer coaching to help users get the most out of workouts. While not shown in the keynote, Apple says guidance will include: Intensity for HIIT, Cycling, Rowing, and Treadmill; Strokes per Minute (SPM) for Rowing; Revolutions per Minute (RPM) for Cycling; and Incline for walkers and runners in Treadmill. 

Apple Fitness+ subscribers without an Apple TV will also be able to now use AirPlay to stream workouts with on-screen metrics to compatible third-party TVs and devices.

Sleep Stages

Using signals from the accelerometer and heart rate sensor, Apple Watch will now be able detect when users are in REM, Core (ie. Light), or Deep sleep. Users will see sleep stage data on Apple Watch in the Sleep app and can view more detailed information, like time asleep, alongside additional metrics, like heart rate and respiratory rate, in sleep comparison charts in the Health app on iPhone.

Connect The Watts’ Take

With what seems like the biggest fitness upgrade to the Apple Watch in a long time, this should be an exciting year for active users. Personally, I love to see all of the more advanced metrics, which help make Apple Watch more useful for runners and other athletes.

We will likely have to wait at least a few more months to test these new upgrades out, but we are looking forward it!

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