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Here's How watchOS 5 Is Improving My Workouts

I've fallen into a fitness rut. I’ve been traveling more than usual, so it's been tough to stick to a routine. I canceled my gym membership because I didn't like the facilities. Running outside during the summer in New York City is like swimming through garbage-scented soup. Boutique classes, such as spin and barre, are extremely expensive if you go frequently. Excuses? Yes. But I was in desperate need of motivation.

The new Apple Watch Series 4 has an electrical heart sensor for taking electrocardiograms and an advanced accelerometer and gyroscope for detecting falls.

The good news is that you don't need to shell out hundreds of dollars to use the Apple Watch's best fitness features. If you just want to get the most out of your workout, install watchOS 5 on your older Apple Watch. (Disclaimer: watchOS 5 does not support Series 0 devices.)

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Three watchOS 5 features in particular are helping me get back into the groove.

Challenge accepted

I've owned every generation of Apple Watch, and I confess the novelty of closing the Apple Watch's Move, Exercise and Stand rings has long since worn off. But now that I can challenge friends to weekly competitions that award points based on how much you move, exercise and stand each day, the rings are motivating me like never before.

I've been sharing my activity with my friends who also wear Apple Watches since Apple rolled out the feature last year, and it's been a pleasant way to cheer each other on (or talk a little trash with competitive prewritten messages). But now I can invite each friend to a seven-day challenge, which awards up to 600 points a day for reaching move, exercise and standing goals. Closing rings has never been more essential.

I've found myself taking a walk at lunch to close my 450-calorie Move ring early, or jumping up to grab water to earn another hour toward my 12-time daily Stand goal.

Maybe the novelty of challenges will wear off, too, but for now they're making me more active than usual.

Tracking exercise automatically

The Apple Watch finally gained automatic exercise-tracking with watchOS 5, catching up to traditional fitness bands from Fitbit, Garmin and others. This makes it a much more capable activity tracker. If you toggle on the Start Workout Reminder and End Workout Reminder settings in the Apple Watch iOS app, the watch will remind you to start and end a running, walking, swimming, elliptical or rowing workout if it senses you're doing one of those activities without having launched Workout mode. Unlike other watches, the Apple Watch doesn't just track the workout in the background and then sync it to the Activity app. It prompts you to launch a workout so you can see metrics in real time on your watch.

This is incredibly helpful for me. I run early in the morning, and between picking a playlist and stretching, I sometimes  forget to launch the Workout app on my watch. On a morning jog through my neighborhood, the watch asked after 3three minutes if I wanted to start an outdoor run. I tapped start and the watch gave me credit for the minutes and distance I had already run, then continued on from that point.

MORE: Apple Watch Series 4 Review: The Best Smartwatch, Now Even Better

I hope Apple adds indoor cycling support to the automatic workout-detection feature, because I regularly forget to track my spin classes.

Competing against myself

The Apple Watch has a new workout metric that's been encouraging me to run faster. The new rolling-mile stat tells me my 1-mile pace at any given moment — not the average, but the previous mile I ran in real time. This is motivating because I can see if I've slowed down and immediately pick up the pace to get the rolling mileage time down.

I don't usually run for speed, but seeing this new metric on my wrist is a psychological push to pick up the pace.

Other pro features

There are other new tools that will upgrade your workouts.

Pace alerts: After you set your pace in the first mile of your run, the Apple Watch will alert you if you're ahead of or behind that pace. You can toggle this on by tapping the ellipses on the Outdoor Running icon in the Workout app on your watch.

Walkie-Talkie: Need to find someone after you finish a race? If you have the cellular version of the Apple Watch, are connected to a Wi-Fi network or have your iPhone with you, you can use the Walkie-Talkie feature to quickly connect with a loved one who is also wearing an Apple Watch.

New workouts: The Apple Watch can now track yoga and hiking, two activities I love but don't do enough. Now that I can more accurately track them, I might hit the trails or the mat more often.

Credit: Tom's Guide