Can I use my Apple Watch to time workouts?

Here’s how to time workouts on your Apple Watch and reach those last few reps.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 displying the workout app
(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

If you’re anything like me, you’ll know just how liberating it feels to leave your phone in your bag at the gym or at home while you run outdoors. It’s amazing what can be achieved just with the Apple Watch on your wrist, and while some of its features work best when your phone is handy, you may be surprised at what you can do even without it.

One such consideration is working on timing your workouts with your smartwatch. Naturally, your Apple Watch keeps track of how long your current session is, but there’s more to it than that. While you can see you’ve been running for, say, 25 minutes, what about intervals? What about split times? What about AMRAP or EMOM workouts for other exercises?

As it happens, all of this is possible thanks to both Apple’s own Workout app and some third-party options. Here’s how.

How to use the Apple Watch's custom workout timer

We'll talk through third-party apps below, but before we get onto that, it's worth having a quick discussion about the Apple Watch's own workout app.

As you might know, when opening the workout app on your wearable, you're presented with the stock options, including Outdoor Run, Yoga, Cycling, etc. Another thing you might notice underneath the names of different workouts is the word 'Open'.

This indicates that the workout is open-ended, with no specific target set. However, you can set up custom workouts on the Apple Watch by tapping the three-dot icon on the top right corner of the workout boxes.

Here, you can set up the same workout (e.g., Outdoor Run) to have a specific goal: time, distance, calories, or something else. You can create your own workouts, repeats, intervals, and so much more.

The same goes for other types of workout, such as HIIT. The Apple Watch has a few pre-set custom workout configurations, such as 10 minutes of 30 seconds on/ 30 seconds off and a 30-minute Pyramid workout.

Better still, you can just change these workouts using the pencil icon, further tailoring the workout to your needs. 

Can I time my workouts for HIIT training? 

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is an exercise that moves between high and lower-intensity movements to get the heart pumping as high as possible.

That means a regular ‘Running’ workout on the Apple Watch won’t quite cut it - unless you want to keep glancing down every thirty seconds.

Thankfully, the Workout app includes a ‘HIIT’ option to help, offering an algorithm tailored to measuring heart rate and calorie burn as much as possible (the app recommends a Bluetooth heart rate monitor for more accurate readings).

As will be a theme in this article, there are plenty of third-party options, too. Many users swear by the 12 Minute Athlete app. At $4.99, it will get you over 200 HIIT workout options, so it might be worth a look.

embargo until Thursday, December 14th at 6:00am US PT / 2pm GMT/ Apple Watch Ultra 2 displaying Training Peaks workouts

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

Checking running splits on Apple Watch 

For a long time, many runners switched over to Strava from the stock Apple Watch Workout app because it offered a more detailed breakdown of stats, patterns, and routes. 

With watchOS 9, which was announced at the same time the Apple Watch Series 8 was launched, Apple gave its own running metrics a boost with new stats like vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and stride length, among others.

Both apps are great (and Strava’s cheaper tier costs as much as Apple's: free), but if you’re looking to check your split pace, you can do so on either - and each has audio notifications for rolling over your next mile or kilometre.

You might also want to consider the Apple Watch TrainingPeaks integration. Admittedly, it's more geared towards running enthusiasts and pros, but that app allows you to import custom workouts right into the Apple Watch workout app.

How to use Apple Watch for EMOM workouts 

EMOM workouts (every minute on the minute) are similar to HIIT since they alternate between quick blasts of exercise and a slower pace when resting.

The idea is to complete a set number of reps in one interval, usually 60 seconds (hence the name). Once done, you can rest until the minute is up.

There are plenty of EMOM timers on the Apple Watch, and they’re all pretty easy to use. Just head to the App Store on your phone or Watch - here’s one that’s highly recommended.

Many of them work for AMRAP, too, which brings us nicely to…

Tracking AMRAP with Apple Watch 

There’s no feeling quite like going beyond your expected rep count on an exercise, and AMRAP is all about just that.

“As many reps as possible” (also known as “until fail”) is a way of pushing just a little bit harder and is usually used towards the end of a series of sets on a particular exercise, like bench press, squats, or just about anything else.

Whatever it is, you can always dig out a dusty notebook and note down your rep count, but fitness apps like Strong and Fitbod do a great job of tallying your AMRAP sets and using it to factor into breakdowns of your current strength.

Lloyd Coombes
Freelance writer

Lloyd Coombes is an experienced freelancer from Essex, UK, specialising in consumer and fitness technology. His work can be found across the internet, including TechRadar, iMore, and plenty of other Future sites. A keen weightlifter, he's also editor-in-chief of GGRecon by day. When he's not writing or working out, you'll find him spending time with his son or playing Magic The Gathering.

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