For some, the Apple Watch is a mere accessory that you’d strap on your wrist just because everyone else is using a ‘smart watch’. It’s after all, quite a swanky timepiece for both casual and formal events – a sporty nylon strap for the day and a timeless leather strap (or one from Hermes) for the night.

But how often would you think that the Apple Watch could be a completely functional tool to track your performance and training while collecting important data. Of course, you have to start off with the right mindset and set a fitness goal. Unlike other smartwatches and fitness bands, the Apple Watch is specifically engineered for the goal-driven fitness enthusiasts in mind.

We’ll leave the technicalities of the watch and its technology for another day (or you can read it here) but there are a few key features to note especially if you’re looking for a watch that’s perfect for your daily activities. For starters, the latest Apple Watch Series 4 comes with precise tracking on all the favourite ways you train including meditation, yoga, swimming, running, HIIT and more.

The Apple Watch is built with an effective heart tracker.

The device is also perfected with a comprehensive optical heart sensor that tracks your heart rate at all times. During a workout, accurate readings of your heart rate help provide detailed results for high-intensity training like swimming, CrossFit exercises and HIIT. On normal days, the watch tells you if you’re breathing all right or when there is a surge in heart rate.

We know it may sound like an intrusive instrument that keeps telling you what to do or what’s wrong. And even in the beginning, it may feel like a ‘nagging mother’ reminding you to keep up with your goals.

“It takes time to get used to having the watch on your wrist,” says fitness coach and Apple Watch user, Nana Al Haleq. “But once you’re used to it, the watch becomes part of your daily routine – something you cannot leave your home without.”

Fitness coach Nana Al Haleq. (Credit: Nana/Apple)

But is it possible for you to optimise your Apple Watch (if you already have one) as an effective device for performance and training? The answer is yes and it is a tool that can actually help you achieve your fitness goals and more. And if you’re still considering about getting one, here’s what you need to know.

Customise Watch Face

Beyond aesthetics, the Apple Watch has different faces that you can choose to cater to your daily needs. If you’re serious about using the watch as a performance-tracking device, go for the Utility or Infograph interface. Utility is the most basic with three features (we’d recommend Workout, Activity and Date) but Infograph allows you to customise up to eight essential features to help you during training.

The various setting on the Infograph face.

“For me, it is a balance between being active and connected at the same time. On my watch, I have the fundamentals like Heart, Workout, Activity, Timer and most importantly, Music. The Timer is one of the most important tools to ensure effective training because your watch keeps track of your workout and rest time. It helps me also when I’m training in a group,” confides Nana.

Track Accurately

Choose the right workout presets that are available in the Apple Watch. The usual ones include HIIT (for high-intensity crossfit-style workout sessions), Outdoor Run (when you’re running in the park), Strength Training (during free weights and lifting exercises) and Indoor Cycle (for spin classes).

You may ‘trick’ the watch by tracking your entire workout using the HIIT preset (it gives an averagely higher active calorie count) but that’s a common mistake. If you’re at the gym and you’re alternating between the Skillmill (a non-motorised treadmill), the power bar and resistance band, it is advisable to switch between Indoor Run, HIIT and Strength Training for the most accurate tracking.

Nana working out with the kettlebells. (Credit: Apple/Nana)

And even when you’re walking in the shopping mall, set your watch to Indoor Walk to get your total steps and heart rate tracked.

Set Realistic Goals

The body burns an average calorie count of approximately 200cal to 400cal daily at rest mode, which means minimum movement and activity. It can go up to over 1500cal depending on the exercises that you do. Realistically, you burn about 8cal to 12cal per minute when you’re running or doing high-intensity workout.

So it is important for you to set your daily Move goal on your watch based on your everyday regime.

Start with a realistic goal (we’d recommend to set it 300cal) and then track your average calorie count for a week. Once you get a hang of it, increase your daily Move goal gradually and make sure that it is achievable. All you want is to keep it consistent and sustainable.

It’s Not About How Much You Burn

Nana stresses that even if you’re burning thousands of calories a day, it doesn’t mean that it would be effective for your fitness goal. Depending on your fitness level and body type, our daily calorie needs vary. For guys who are muscular and extremely fit, they need at least 3000cal or more in a day to ‘function’ while those who have a regular lifestyle and work out occasionally, you’re looking at about 2400cal or less burn a day. For women, you’re looking at about 20% lesser count than an average men’s. But the numbers differ based on your age, height, weight, muscle mass and exercise patterns.

Set achievable goals to keep yourself motivated, and then increase these goals gradually.

“Don’t be too bothered about how much you burn in a day. The Move goal on your Apple Watch is a number that you set to achieve and that’s good enough – it’s a motivation tool. What’s more important is that you continuously have a good sense in terms of your food intake, daily lifestyle and a sustainable workout regime. Keep yourself active all the time,” she shares.

Nana suggests keeping track of your calorie and food intake by downloading the MyFitnessPal app that’s available on the App store to your Apple Watch.

It’s a Smart Watch for Dummies

Apple has made its watch easy to use. It provides sensible notifications based on what it tracks through your heart rate – it tells you when you’re sitting too long (and asks you to stand up) and warns you when your heart rate is too high. The latest Series 4 iteration also tracks your sleep, which is crucial for those have sleeping problems and want to fix it.

The integration of Siri has also made the watch really easy to use for people of all ages. We know sometimes (especially for our parents and older folks) that peering into a small screen can be quite agonising. What you can do is to ‘speak’ directly to the watch with clear instructions.

A simple instruction to Siri enables various functions to be activated and deactivated.

A simple “Hey Siri — set workout – outdoor walk” will immediately start your tracking without having to navigate through the watch especially when you’re walking and carrying shopping bags. If you’re in the pool and your fingers are wet, “Hey Siri – pause workout” will help you stop the time while you rest. While you’re running, “Hey Siri – play music” puts your favourite tunes to your ears (just be sure to have your AirPods connected before your run).

Just remember that the Apple Watch is a smart device after all. There are various features to unlock and explore; so take your time to get familiar with the watch. Once you’ve gotten used to its interfaces and functions, integrating the watch into your training would be seamless. (All images courtesy of Apple)


Martin Teo
Content Editor
Martin loves traveling the world to see ancient ruins and classical architecture. He enjoys the culinary experience of various cities but (still) refuses to eat anything insect-like. On a daily basis, he finds time hitting the gym to compensate for the amount of food he needs to eat just to write an article.