Every existing fitness tracker collects a huge amount of biometric data in an attempt to help active people improve their athletic performance. These sensor-loaded wearables track not only how many steps you take, but also the speed at which your heart beats, the quality of your sleep, and even the amount you eat and drink. But when it comes to training planning, I am still have not found any smartwatch or app that offers advice as smart or as comprehensive as a live human coach.
Humans and their bodies are, after all, unpredictable. Even the expensive, sports-centric platforms that mix hardware and software can only offer so much personal guidance. Can a watch tell me if I’m courting for a stress break because I stomp like a Clydesdale? What if I only have half an hour off between sessions, but my program requires a 60-minute run? What if I skipped my strength training to skateboard – does that count?
When watchOS 9 becomes available to the public later this year, it will signal the arrival of a host of new, fitness-focused features for the Apple Watch. Many are like the ability to measure running power aimed at elite athletes. But even casual runners should benefit greatly from the ability to study their vertical oscillations, create customized workouts with their own distances and time intervals, or pace themselves towards their own routes. These new additions to its already rugged fitness features can make the Apple Watch the best sports watch ever. If only the rumored improvements in battery life had come true.
Let’s start with the three latest features: the ability to measure vertical oscillation, stride length, and ground contact while running. These three measurements are key components to improving your finances during physical activity. Of course, this is not universal, but most people will run much longer and faster if they move forward with each step instead of jumping up and down, taking shorter steps, and minimizing their ground contact.
The watch’s ability to track these aspects of running mechanics is not unique – it Garmin running pod has been able to measure vertical fluctuations for years – but if you own an Apple Watch, you no longer need to purchase a separate device and download a separate app to get that data. Apple says it used machine intelligence to filter through data from the clock’s accelerometer and gyroscope to deduce how much your body moves up and down, and when your feet hit and lift off the ground. (Of course, I’ll have to wait to test watchOS 9 to see if this is accurate at all.)
The ability to do custom workouts is also a huge improvement. Running watch software from Polar, Coros and Garmin (among other manufacturers) may suggest productive workouts, but it tends to be extremely prescriptive to follow these workout programs. The recommendations often do not fit well with my real outdoor running habits and they can be impossible to fit into my busy schedule. Apple’s feature allows you to create your own custom running workouts with your own pace, distance, time or heart rate zones. You will also be able to see new alarms for zone and cadence training.
Like most runners, I run a number of different routes, and often complete them at different speeds and on different surfaces. Now I can connect my long, slow runs on outdoor trails and make sure I keep my heart rate low; I can take into account the slow warm-up and cool-down runs to and from my local high school track, where I do interval runs in the evenings or log my 30-minute rage sprints around my block in the rain. The Apple Watch’s update allows me to keep pace with my most frequently traveled routes.