Why the Apple Watch Exercise Ring is Like Your Worst Middle-School Gym Teacher

by James A. Martin on May 11, 2015

in Apple Watch Apps, Apple Watch Fitness Tracking, Apple Watch vs. Fitbit

That damn Exercise ring on the Apple Watch Activity app. What does it want from me? Can’t it tell when I’m hoofing it? How can some digital-neon-lime-green circle hold such power over me?

I’m used to Fitbit’s gentle demands: Walk 10K steps every day. That’s all it asks. On most days, no problem. Last Saturday, for instance, I racked up 22K steps. Fitbit cheered me.

But that damn Exercise ring! On the surface, its demands seems relatively do-able. Move briskly for a total of 30 minutes every day. Not 30 minutes consecutively. Just 30 minutes, cumulatively. Apple even says encouragingly on its website: “You close the Exercise ring when you reach the globally recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day. And you don’t even have to do it all at once, which means you’re more likely to fit it into your day.”

Apple Watch Exercise ring Activity app

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. That Exercise ring? It’s your worst middle-school gym teacher. It’s Judge Judy, with the zipper stuck on her cranky pants.

Example: This afternoon, I took a brisk walk in my San Francisco neighborhood, which, naturally, involved walking up and down hills. During my 45-minute walk, the Exercise ring only recorded a total of 13 minutes! I was walking briskly, I promise! OK, so I was also talking on the phone. And maybe that slowed me a little. But only 13 minutes credit out of 45 minutes effort? That’s just harsh.

The website iMore explains it this way: “Apple defines exercise as any activity you perform that is the equivalent of a brisk walk or more. To determine exercise, your Apple Watch looks at your heart rate and movement data. That means that things you do on a regular basis like getting up and walking around your office or taking your dog for a walk probably won’t raise your heart rate enough for the Apple Watch to deem it as exercise.”

That’s not the whole story, either. The Exercise ring is just one of three judgmental rings in the Apple Watch Activity app. (Talk about a three-ring circus.) There’s also Stand and Move. To appease the Stand ring, you have to jump up and move around for one minute once for a total of 12 hours total each day. OK, I can do that (except when I’m stuck in the middle of a theater during a play.)

As for the Move ring, it’s persnickety, too. It only counts active calories. How cruel is that? At least you can adjust your daily active calorie goal to lower the Move bar; you can’t adjust the Stand and Exercise goals. You can only meet them or endure their judgment.

In short: If you park further away from the office than necessary just to get extra steps, the Apple Watch yawns in your face. It files its fingernails and doesn’t even look up. Park three miles away from the office and run the whole way and maybe you’ll get some credit.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Thom Bell April 15, 2016 at 7:49 pm

I’ve been there. Get to 29 minutes. Go for a walk, a run, anything but can’t get that last minute to tick by. Spend fifteen minutes trying to get that one minute. Then sit down, and buzz, buzz.


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