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The Apple Watch Workout app is getting a huge upgrade — especially for runners

watchOS 9 at WWDC
(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

As a marathon runner, the Apple Watch hasn’t been my running watch of choice. Compared to the best running watches on the market, the Apple Watch has always fallen a little short. And like many runners, I've often relied on third-party apps to build running workouts or track more advanced metrics. Until now. 

At WWDC 2022, Apple announced huge changes to the Workout app on the Apple Watch with the release of watchOS 9. Here’s what you can expect, and why it’s good news for runners.   

What’s new? 

The release of watchOS 9 will see heart rate, "time in the zone" and average heart rate, as well as an overall workout duration all shown on a single screen n the Workout app. That means a good deal of useful information at a glance; handy when you're running. 

watchOS 9 at WWDC

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

You’ll be able to view your heart rate zones 

Heart rate training allows you to train smarter — at a glance, you can see how hard you’re working. 

Heart rate zones are based on your maximum heart rate, which, as a rough guide, is around 220 minus your age, although these days a lot of sports watches will calculate the different zones for you, based on previous activities. Most coaches will tell you to run the bulk of your easy miles in a low heart rate zone to build your cardiovascular endurance. 

The addition of heart rate zones on the Apple Watch shows Apple taking its first steps into more serious workout tracking. The zones can be added manually, or automatically calculated using Health data and used to monitor the intensity of a workout.

watchOS 9 at WWDC

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

There are new, useful training metrics 

The Apple Watch will also be getting new running metrics, including Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation. 

All three metrics relate to your running form, but can be key indicators that you’re overstriding, or rocking too much through your torso as you move. Keeping an eye on all three can help you run more efficiently, but also help you notice problems in your stride and address them, avoiding injury. 

watchOS 9 at WWDC

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

You’ll be able to use the digital crown to scroll through metrics

The new metrics and the heart rate zones can be added to the Workout screen when you’re running, but Apple is also making it easier to scroll between screens. With the watchOS 9 update, you’ll be able to use the Digital Crown to rotate between workout views, so you won’t be trying to swipe and run. 

You still can’t press a button to pause your run, but a girl can dream. 

watchOS 9 at WWDC

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

You can build custom workouts…

A key update for runners, CrossFit lovers, and casual gym-goers alike is the ability to build custom workouts in the Workout app. Apple Watch users will be able to create sessions with work and rest intervals, and build running sessions to follow on the watch.

While this isn’t anything new — I’ve been building track sessions on my Garmin running watch for years, it again shows a move from Apple to embrace more serious tracker for athletes, rather than add in fitness apps on top of a lifestyle smartwatch. 

…including brick sessions  

No more switching between workout modes during a brick session — you can now swipe between different metrics in a multisport mode. 

Talking of triathlon, Apple is also improving the swimming metrics on the Apple Watch. Swimmers will be able to track their efficiency with a SWOLF score — a stroke count combined with the time, in seconds, it takes to swim one length of the pool.

watchOS 9 at WWDC

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

You can race against yourself 

While competition is great, ultimately, you’re only ever racing yourself, and keeping an eye on your own progress is easier with Apple’s pacer experience. 

Similar to the likes of Garmin’s Pace Pro feature, Apple Watch wearers will be able to see their progress on frequent running routes, and receive alerts during the workout for being ahead or behind their pace, as well as when going off route. Runners will also be able to set distance and time goals for a run, and the Apple Watch will calculate the pace required to achieve the goal. 

“Users around the world love Apple Watch for helping them stay connected to those they love, be more active throughout the day, and better manage their health,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “This fall, watchOS 9 takes the Apple Watch experience to the next level with scientifically validated insights across fitness, sleep, and heart health, while providing users more creative ways to make their Apple Watch their own.”

Here’s what you need to know about the watchOS 9 updates and when it’ll be available. For a recap on all of the latest Apple updates check out our WWDC live blog

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.