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Apple gets even more serious about endurance training features and fitness with new watch operating system

watchOS 11 features new Training Load feature and other enhancements that will help triathletes train smarter

Photo by: Apple

As you’ve read over the last few years, here at Triathlon Magazine we’ve been paying close attention to how Apple has gradually been adding features to Apple Watch to make it a more useful training tool for triathletes. It started with the improved health and fitness features in the Apple Watch way back in 2021.

Fitness meets Health on the Apple Watch

Then in 2022 Apple really got serious about endurance athletes with the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra. Suddenly there was a watch that could get you through an Ironman while offering full GPS tracking and a myriad of other information.

The latest Apple Watch can get you through an Ironman … and much, much more

Who knows what Apple has in store for us this fall on the watch front – will the Apple Watch 10 be renamed Apple Watch X and feature many new features and a new look like the iPhone X did? That’s all for us to anxiously look forward to, but based on the new features we’re going to see in the operating system for the watches this fall, things are only getting better for triathletes as they look to track their health, fitness and training on a smart watch that enhances their day to day activities and works seamlessly with their iPhone.

There’s a lot to the new OS including a new training load feature, a new Vitals app, an ability to pause or modify Activity rings (I’d like to think you can thank me for that one – I’ve been asking for a way to incorporate a day off for years!), a Translate app right on the watch, adding Check In to the watch (as opposed to just on the iPhone) and much more customization options of the Smart Stack and face designs. In terms of training, the training load feature is likely the most important for triathletes, so we’re going to focus on that, but we’ll also take a look at some new available features for the workout apps and also explore how the Vitals app will likely become a popular feature for triathletes.

Training Load

Photo: Apple

We’ve seen the concept in other GPS training watches for years – Garmin watches I’ve used over the last few years routinely tell me how long I’ll need to recovery after a big day before my next hard workout. (Sadly it often comes up as a few days!)

The first step to the new Training Load feature is that after you do a workout, you’ll get an effort rating (between one and 10) that’s based on your own personal data along with GPS, heart rate and elevation data the watch has gathered during the session. You can adjust that rating if you’d like, too, based on other factors.

Training Load is calculated based on the effort score multiplied by the duration of the workout. The app shows you the training load over a  seven- and 28-day period. The seven-day average is divided by the 28-day average to come up with a percentage that shows you how much your training load is going up or down. That number is then compared to the last seven days to come up with a classification – well below (50 per cent below the 28-day training load), below (21 – 49 per cent below), steady (20 per cent below to 20 per cent above), above (21 – 49 per cent above) and well above (50 per cent above).

Efforts are tracked automatically for a number of different cardio workouts (the lion’s share of what triathletes will be doing). Strength training workouts don’t offer an automatic estimate, but you can set the watch up to remind you to rate your effort after those workouts.

Photo: Apple

 

Photo: Apple

 

Photo: Apple

What all this does is help you keep track of just how hard you’ve been working over a given period of time. Triathletes are notorious for pushing just a shade too hard during every workout, which can lead to overtraining, injury and fatigue. The Training Load feature, coupled with insights from the Vitals App, could prove to be a valuable tool to gauge whether or not you’re pushing too hard.

Vitals App

Photo: Apple

I’ve long been resistant to wearing my watch over night, but looking at the features of the new Vitals App certainly gets me thinking that I probably should be. The app provides an easy way to track some of the key metrics that can help you stay on top of your training. One sign of overtraining can be an elevated resting heart rate. The Vitals App offers a single view of your overnight stats including average heart rate, respiratory rate, wrist temperature (on the Series 8 and newer watches), blood oxygen (Series 6 watches and later) and sleep duration. (Thanks to a law suit going on in the US, Apple Watch units sold in the US after Jan. 18, 2024, don’t support blood oxygen, but is available in watches sold before that date in the US and all other regions.)

In addition to being able to see your training load data in the app, it also identifies whether certain metrics are normal or out of your typical range, and notifies you if there are two or more metrics that aren’t in your normal range. So, for example, if your average heart rate was elevated and you slept for less time, you’d get a notification, and, if necessary, you could possibly back off on the intensity of your training sessions that day to ensure you don’t push yourself too hard.

Workout App

We wrote about Apple’s addition of structured workouts from Training Peaks at the end of last year.

Apple Watch adds yet another training feature – structured workouts from Training Peaks

The new OS now supports structured pool swim workouts, which will no-doubt be a popular feature for triathletes. There’s also a new “Up Next” feature that shows what you have coming up in the next interval.

Check In

Formerly just available on the iPhone, the Check In feature will notify a friend when you arrive at your destination and can be used during workouts, too. The watch will notify your friend when the workout is done, but as a bonus safety feature, if you are delayed, if you suddenly speed up a lot, or if your heart rate either slows or increases dramatically, you’ll receive a message from the watch. If you don’t respond to that message, your friend is notified.

Other features

There are lots more additional features to the new OS that aren’t training specific, but that will likely be attractive to triathletes none-the-less. Frequent travellers will likely appreciate the Translate App, the Maps app will now add the ability to save hike and walking routes to the watch, the Health App offers additional tracking for pregnant women and you can customize your watch face with enhanced Smart Stack offerings and a redesigned Photos Watch Face.

Health and Fitness integral to Apple Watch

Over the last five years Apple has made a huge push on the health and fitness functions of its watches, and the new OS is just another sign that Apple sees the watch as much more than just a cool companion to the iPhone. The latest OS seems to be very much focussed on health and fitness enhancements to the watch, which makes us wonder what Apple has in store for us this fall. Even if the next round of watches aren’t dramatically different to what’s on offer now, this latest OS certainly makes the watches much more viable as your every day GPS watch to keep track of your training.