This hidden Apple Watch stat tells you whether to exercise or rest

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Heart Rate Variability will help make your workouts more effective
Heart Rate Variability will help make your workouts more effective
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Imagine if your Apple Watch could tell you which days were best for you to do a workout, and what kind of workout you should do. Well it can, sort of, thanks to a hidden feature that few people have yet discovered or know how to use.

Heart rate variability, or HRV, is a new metric that reveals your stress level and whether you have recovered from your last workout. It has been added to lots of high-end sports watches in recent years, including Apple Watch since watchOS 4 & iOS 11.

Here’s how you can use it to optimize your training, reduce your risk of injury, and know when to take a well-earned rest day.

Apple Watch is getting better at fitness tracking, but it still sucks for running

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Activity app rocks. Workout app sucks.
Activity app rocks. Workout app sucks.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

At WWDC this week, Apple all but confirmed that Apple Watch is really just a health gadget. Tim Cook described it offhandedly as a “device for a healthy life,” and most of the watchOS 3 segment of the keynote was devoted to health and fitness.

This focus on health makes sense. As an activity tracker, Apple Watch is arguably the best on the market, and watchOS 3 will make it even better. Apple’s wearable is ideal if you are simply looking to live a healthier day. But, despite some minor improvements, Apple Watch still sucks if you are into running.

The holidays might ruin your Apple Watch fitness streak. Good.

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All good streaks must come to an end
All good streaks must come to an end
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

For many of us, Christmas is a time for relaxing with family, sitting in front of the TV, overindulging and generally moving as little as possible. In other words, all the things your Apple Watch hates you doing.

So if you have a nice streak going in the Activity app, chances are it is about to come to an abrupt end. And that may not be a bad thing.

Weighing the options for monitoring your body fat

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Withings Smart Body Analyzer (left) vs. DEXA, the
Withings Smart Body Analyzer (left) vs. DEXA, the "gold standard" for body fat analysis (right)
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

If you want to lose weight, your Apple Watch can help you sustain healthy habits, but it can’t actually monitor your progress. For that you need to step onto scales.

Any scale will measure your weight, but that is only part of the story. Whether you are dieting or bulking up, it is just as important to keep track of your body fat. The trouble is, this is notoriously hard to measure accurately. As I discovered when I bought a new Withings Smart Body Analyzer, if you think you already know your body fat percentage, you are probably way off.

Running without iPhone makes Apple Watch inaccurate

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Don’t leave me this way - Apple recommends you take your iPhone with you on a run
Don’t leave me this way - Apple recommends you take your iPhone with you on a run
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

Runkeeper is one of the first big-name running apps to offer full watchOS 2 support, which means you can log a run on your Apple Watch even if you leave your iPhone behind.

The Apple Watch’s built-in Workout app has always offered this feature, but it is new for third-party apps. I had never tried it before, but Runkeeper got me curious. So I left my iPhone charging at home, put on a pair of Nikes and went out for a run.

How to set personal fitness goals with Apple Watch

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Positive goals, like training for a marathon, tend to be more effective than negative goals, like losing weight.
Get creative with your goals to achieve greater results.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Apple Watch gives you three goals: standing, moving and exercise. But these aren’t really goals. They are actually more like targets.

A real goal is something you want to achieve — an outcome you have in mind that is so important, it motivates you into action. Starting a fitness program without this kind of goal is like going on a road trip without any idea of your destination. Maybe you’ll arrive someplace nice, but don’t count on it.

So when it comes to fitness, the big question is: What are you trying to achieve?

Why I’m cheating on my Apple Watch

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I now wear two watches when I’m running. Seriously.
Two-timer: I now wear two watches when I’m running. Seriously.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

After six months of trying to log my runs with my Apple Watch, I finally gave up and bought a dedicated GPS running watch.

There’s a lot to like about Apple’s new wearable. The Activity app, for example, is brilliant at helping people lose weight. But the truth is, as a running watch, it sucks.

Check out all these Apple Watch fitness success stories

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You can see the difference Apple Watch is having on Cult of Mac readers' lives.
You can see the difference Apple Watch is having on Cult of Mac readers' lives.
Photo: Various

Around the world, Apple Watch is helping people make life-changing improvements to their health and fitness.

I recently asked Cult of Mac readers to share their experiences getting in shape with Apple Watch, and the response has been amazing. Here are some of the inspiring stories I received — and some great insights into how you can use an Apple Watch to smash your fitness goals.

Future of fitness apps lies in understanding human movement

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Can the Workout app's
Can you log a weightlifting workout with the Workout app's "Other" option? Not really.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Some Apple Watch users are apparently confused over what types of exercise the wearable’s Workout app can track. Many people are using it to log weightlifting or stretching sessions, even though Apple only claims the app is suitable for “dedicated cardio workouts.”

Fortunately, a new breed of fitness apps is emerging that uses the accelerometer access enabled by the recently released watchOS 2 to track strength and flexibility workouts more effectively.

Where are all the watchOS 2 fitness apps?

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Runtastic's text is sometimes too small to read while running
Runtastic's text is sometimes too small to read while running
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

WatchOS 2 offers cool new features for third-party fitness apps. But a week after its launch, most leading fitness apps have yet to go native and take advantage of the Apple Watch update.

So what’s up? The answer may lie in Apple’s new workout API, which does not provide the GPS coordinates required for apps to map your run or cycle ride.