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I used the Apple Watch 7 for cycling, weight training and more — here’s how well it works

Apple Watch 7 Workout app
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch 7 is the best smartwatch and the ultimate iPhone accessory, but with GPS and a heart rate monitor, among other wellness features, it’s also a fitness tracker. So how does it stack up against the best fitness trackers on the market?

Though many of the best Apple Watch apps can take your activity tracking to the next level, Apple’s native workout app supports dozens of movement types, as my dad found out when he tried the Apple Watch. You can run, cycle, swim, dance, do HIIT, paddle board with the Apple Watch and more. If you’ve upgraded to watchOS 8, your Apple Watch can track Tai Chi, too.

As with most fitness wearables, the Apple Watch 7 tracks your time elapsed, calories burned, heart rate and distance traveled, when applicable. I put these metrics to the test in a week’s worth of workouts wearing the latest Apple Watch. From daily dog walks to weight training, and even an attempt at automatic outdoor cycling detection, the Apple Watch 7 became my exercise buddy.

Here are the key takeaways from my Apple Watch 7 workout test. My experiences could differ from working out with the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3. We created a guide to help you find the best Apple Watch for you, so be sure to check it out if you’re interested in buying one of Apple’s smartwatches. 

Apple Watch 7: Outdoor Cycling

Apple Watch 7 workout test outdoor cycling automatic tracking

(Image credit: Future)

I started with cycling, since it’s the workout type Apple beefed up most this year. With bike-specific fall detection, auto-detect and auto-pause features, you could say watch OS 8 is a game changer for cyclists. Luckily, I didn’t have to use the first of those new tools — no cliffside rides like in Apple’s Series 7 announcement video for me. 

Instead, I embarked on a leisurely outdoor ride on a crisp autumn afternoon. I didn’t launch the workout from my wrist on purpose, hoping auto-detection would notice I started cycling. Sure enough, I received a buzz and a prompt asking me if I wanted to record an outdoor cycle in under 5 minutes and in less than half a mile traveled.

I also enabled auto-pause (it’s not enabled automatically) recalling the discrepancies I dealt with during my Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 workout test. Hopping off my bike to take some pictures of a nearby bay botched my Apple Watch 6’s recorded distance, which I tracked alongside the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 for comparison. Luckily, using auto-pause while biking with the Apple Watch 7 resulted in a near-identical measurement to my bike’s odometer.

Apple Watch 7: Weight training

Apple Watch 7 heart rate monitor

(Image credit: Future)

Back in the gym, the Apple Watch offers traditional and functional strength training workout options. I opted for functional, incorporating a variety of movements in my session. You can’t track individual exercises like you can on the Galaxy Watch 4, though. I’m not the kind to do 100 reps of the same move in a row, so I didn’t miss niche selections like arm curls, bench press, lateral raises and pull-ups. Still, I imagine users would benefit from on-screen guidance for form and counting reps like you get on the Galaxy Watch 4 and some of the best Fitbit devices.

I alternated between upper body, lower body and core exercises with dumbbells, all the while seeing my metrics on the Apple Watch 7’s redesigned screen. The notable Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch 6 differences are a 20% larger display and 70% brighter always-on mode, making it easier to see more exercise information at a glance. I appreciated being able to see my heart rate trends in throughout my workout in big, legible text. Better yet, the Apple Watch 7's heart rate readings matched those of my Polar OH1 strap.

Apple Watch 7: Walking

Apple Watch 7 walking workout

(Image credit: Future)

Between taking my dog to the park twice a day and opting to walk anywhere in New York City within an hour away, most of my exercise experience with the Apple Watch 7 came from walking. I used iOS 15 Apple Maps features to lead when I didn't know where I going, while the workout app buzzed me every mile with an update on my pace.

But when I walked my dog, my pace lagged. I wish the Apple Watch's auto-pause option extended to walking workouts (it only works for outdoor cycling and outdoor running) so my dog's need to say hi to every passerby and sniff every tree didn't result in a 30-minute mile average. I missed this Galaxy Watch 4 feature. 

Apple Watch 7 as fitness tracker: The verdict

Workouts using GPS drain the Apple Watch 7 battery life faster than workouts that don't, but even with regular hour-long walks, my smartwatch survived all day. Many of the best sport watches and best Garmin watches get better battery life with GPS, of course.

For fitness enthusiasts, a fitness tracker with longer battery life or more dedicated workout functions might be preferred. Otherwise, the Apple Watch 7 is an all-in-one smartwatch with ample exercise features.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.