How accurately is the Apple Watch tracking your workouts?
What’s the truth about Apple Watch fitness tracking?
In short, it only works if you’re doing something boring. Apple Watch Fitness tracking starts to get flaky the moment you start doing awesome things like lifting lots of weights. If you think lifting weights is awesome.
For some people (like Aaron), anything that involves repetitive motion for more than 5 minutes isn’t exercise. It’s a chore.
But the Apple Watch loves repetitive motions like running and swimming as the placement of the device doesn’t get disturbed. However, the moment when your limbs start to move inconsistently, the Apple Watch fitness tracking falls flat on its face.
Which is why you won’t see a guy or gal doing cross training in any of Apple’s ads. You won’t see anybody doing an AMRAP in an Apple Watch ad. Why? Because the Apple Watch doesn’t work well with those forms of exercise.
To get to this conclusion, we spent a lot of time tracking Aaron’s workouts using an original Apple Watch and a Series 2 Apple Watch. We wore the Apple Watches in as many combinations as possible (one on each arm, different device on different arm, two on one arm). Monty was involved in the coaching of Aaron during all his workouts.
All the data was pulled from Apple Health and analyzed in macOS Numbers. The entire process was tedious as parsing through the Apple Health data was tedious and graphing in Numbers is downright awful.
In general, Apple Watch Fitness tracking doesn’t work well for a lifter or a cross trainer. But if you’re a runner or swimmer, you’re going to love the Apple Watch’s Fitness Tracking. For the first 1/2 of this video. You’re not going to like the last 1/2.
Now some of you watching this might be thinking “Well, it’s because its Apple. Overpriced Yuppy products that don’t actually work”. Well, we’ve used enough HR tracking devices to know that they all have the same problem. The device with the least amount of discrepancies was the Microsoft Band 2 which Microsoft has scuttled?
We’ve broken down what we think are the three truths that we’ve discovered during this entire process.
Truth #1 – The fallacy of the Apple Watch’s heart rate tracker
Heart rate (HR) Tracking is one of the main health features of the Apple Watch. Personally, we think its fun to track our HR’s. We’re assuming that if you’re serious about your health, you’d be to see how fast your heart’s going. Spoiler alert, the Apple Watch is going to dissapoint.
For example, in this graph, Aaron was trying to track his HR during a timed 1000m row. It took him 3 Mins and 50 seconds to get through the row. You’ll notice that there are two gaps in a four minute period. The row started around 11:56 with the first 30 second gap occurring a minute into the row. There is a 40 bpm difference in that gap. Towards the end of the row, the Apple Watch does fails completely as there is no data for 90 seconds. This probably where Aaron’s HR was the highest and the Apple Watch Series 2 has no data for it.
But don’t worry, the Apple Watch NAILS Aaron’s HR at the cold down period (and the pre-row period). NAILS it. This is another example of Apple Watch fitness tracking is so frustrating. It doesn’t give you the credit for actually busting your ass.
Truth #2 – The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing…
Here’s another graph of a workout with two Apple Watches on different arms (same body). Do the trends look the same? We’re not sure we’d be able to see the similarities without being told they were from the same workout.
Here’s a graph of an entire day of HR tracking with two Apple Watch’s being worn. They look similar but would you be able to conclusively say they were the same?
We’ve got several other examples that shows noticeably differences between devices. On days with not much movement, the trends would be closer (<2% different). Some days, the difference would be quite significant (~20%). This leads into the second truth that the left hand really doesn’t know what the right hand is doing? Same workout, same person, different arm and the results are noticeably different.
This difference should be concerning to even runners and swimmers. Why? How much exercise are you REALLY getting?
Two Apple Watches, One Arm
What happens when you wear two Apple Watches on the same hand? Here’s the graph for that day. Every 1-2 hours Aaron would swap the watch positions for consistency and as you can see, the general trends are similar. But not close.
This day involved a two hour morning workout, several hours editing videos, a dinner date and a movie.
Like before, the Apple Watches NAILED Aaron’s HR during his cool down periods during the workout. The actual workout? Same issues as we described above.
But here’s the kicker. The total calorie counts for each day were different. One Apple Watch claims that Aaron burned 2431 calories and the other Apple watch said 2629 calories. That’s 200 calories which is a difference of one small meal. Sure, it’s only a 7-8% difference but still, we were expecting it to be very close.
What is the correct value? First of all, if you’re counting calories, stop wasting your time. Having an understanding of calories is important but not all calories are the same. Quality of the calories is what you should be concerned with.
Second of all, if your’e counting calories based on your Apple Watch, well, you’re screwed. There’s the difference of ONE whole meal between the two devices.
Truth #3 – WTH Apple?
Seriously…WTH. What can we compare our disbelief to? It would be similar to paying $1000 dollars for an iPhone and having it take blurry photos occasionally. Or buying a new MacBook Pro and having the screen be Retina most of the time.
The fitness aspects of the Apple Watch is heavily marketed to us but the results are not as conclusive as dual lens camera or faster processors.
Did we just pay $600 dollars for a device that spits out half truths? Now this isn’t an Apple specific problem. We’ve had similar issues with every Fitbit device, Samsung Gears and Moto 360’s. But none of them carries the Apple Watch’s premium price tag.
What makes less sense to us is the fact that the calorie counts on the Apple Watch’s worn on different hands were closer than the example mentioned above. Close but not exact. Again, what is the truth? What is right?
Not all is lost
Now if you’re completely bummed out by this post, here’s the consolation prize. Or the participation medals of the Millennial generation.
The accuracy of the device should matter but in the long run, it won’t. Why? If you track all your workouts with your Apple Watch and Apple Health, you will see improvements. The Apple Watch and Apple Health will do a good job of tracking the relative changes in your overall health.
Sure, you won’t know what your HR’s are during a hard workout but you’re improving your body by doing it which will be reflected by your lowered standing HR. That’s a win. That means you get to live a little bit longer.
And that’s the Truth of Apple Watch Fitness Tracking.
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