watchOS 9 brings massive upgrade to Workout app, health improvements

watchOS 9 brings massive upgrade to Workout app and other health improvements

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Runners get some much-needed love in watchOS 9
Runners get some much-needed love in watchOS 9.
Photo: Apple

WWDC22 - Brought to you by CleanMyMac XApple revealed what it has up its sleeve for Apple Watch during its WWDC22 keynote Monday. watchOS 9 includes some fun new watch faces and various other minor additions. But the Workout app really stole the show with a host of welcome new features.

Apple is taking on fitness specialists like Garmin with prosumer experiences such as Heart Rate Zone training, Running Form Metrics, Custom Workouts and Kickboard Detection for swimmers. Could this newfound interest in elite fitness suggest a rugged Explorer Edition Apple Watch will debut in the fall?

New features in watchOS 9

WWDC22: watchOS 9 shows you Heart Rate Training Zones during your run
watchOS 9 shows you Heart Rate Training Zones during your run.
Photo: Apple

Finally, the Workout app gets some much-needed love

Since Apple introduced Fitness+ in 2020, non-premium features like logging runs haven’t seen any significant upgrades. I was beginning to worry that Apple had lost interest. That’s why it’s so great to see the Workout app getting the attention it deserves today.

watchOS 9 introduces Heart Rate Training Zones right there on your wrist during a workout. The new Custom Workout option is ideal for people who love to design their own interval workouts. You can even race against yourself — a neat feature that compares how you are currently doing with your best or latest time for a frequently used route. As someone who runs the same route pretty much every day, that’s a feature I personally can’t wait to try out.

Compete against yourself on your regular running route
Compete against yourself on your regular running route.
Photo: Apple

Mobility Metrics are coming for runners

Apple has offered Mobility Metrics since iOS 14. Stats like step length and walking asymmetry provide an early indicator of certain diseases that affect walking. watchOS 9 uses a similar technique to analyze your running style. Running Form Metrics like Stride Length and Vertical Oscillation will help users track how efficiently they run. For example, if you bob up and down too much, Apple Watch will suggest you modify your style to improve your efficiency.

Running Form Metrics could make you a better runner
Running Form Metrics could make you a better runner.
Photo: Apple

Automatic Multipart Workout Detection for triathletes

Multi-part workouts are nothing new on Apple Watch. Support was added with watchOS 4 way back in 2017, allowing you to add a swim onto the end of your run, for example. But where this previously involved pausing your workout and tapping the plus button (+) to add a different activity, with the new Triathlon workout type, Apple Watch uses its motion sensors to automatically detect whether you’re running, swimming or cycling.

Apple’s new swimming features kick ass

For serious swimmers, new watchOS 9 feature Kickboard Detection will be a welcome addition. When you’re doing a kick drill that involves holding a float with your hands, your wrists don’t move much. So previously, Apple Watch couldn’t detect your stroke. Now, thanks to tech Apple calls “sensor fusion,” Apple Watch will log your kick drills automatically.

SWOLF, a metric much loved by swim coaches, makes a welcome appearance in watchOS 9. This measurement of your swimming efficiency was previously only accessible to those who bought third-party apps or subscribed to expensive services.

From absolute beginners  to prosumers, Apple is going after the entire fitness sector

With these new high-end features, Apple has made it clear it’s coming for the likes of Garmin and Strava, who serve the prosumer fitness sector. But Cupertino hasn’t lost sight of the mass market. Far from it. In a surprise move, Apple is now making its Fitness app available to all iPhone users, not just those with Apple Watch. You can even access basic Activity Ring data if you carry your iPhone in your pocket.

Smart new Health features could help a lot of people

As someone who went through four months of chemotherapy, I know from personal experience just how hard it can be to keep track of what pills you need to take when. My chemo regime included five different tablets I had to take in different quantities at different times of day.

I wish I’d had the new Medication app in watchOS 9 and iOS 16. This simple app should ease a lot of stress for those who must manage multiple medications, by reminding them what they need to take when. And smart warnings if any meds conflict with each other could prove life-saving.

AFib history in watchOS 9 helps those living with heart conditions
AFib History in watchOS 9 helps those living with heart conditions.
Photo: Apple

watchOS 9 doesn’t just detect AFib. Now it helps you manage the condition, too.

I know someone who lives with a diagnosed heart condition. It can be stressful for them to get continuous AFib warnings from their Apple Watch. That’s why it’s so welcome that watchOS 9 offers a new AFib History mode for diagnosed patients. By tracking the condition and providing downloadable PDFs to give to your cardiologist, it could help identify modifiable lifestyle factors to decrease the amount of time you spend in AFib.

If you’re into sleep tracking, watchOS 9 also enables you to track sleep stages.

watchOS 9 offers more than just Health and Fitness improvements

While health and fitness once again dominated this year’s Apple Watch announcements at WWDC, there were some other welcome updates that weren’t presented during the keynote. These include redesigned notifications and a modified design for the Dock. A new double-pinch gesture to play and pause, answer calls and take photos sounds particularly intriguing.

We’re looking forward to checking these out in the watchOS 9 developer beta released today.