Apple Watch put to the test – yoga instructor vs. journalist in fitness challenge

  • What can a smartphone tell you about your workout? Reporter Kevin Kwong tests the wearable to see if it can get him moving
  • Using the Activity app, users can pair up to 40 friends and share stats
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 3:00pm

What can a smartwatch tell me about my yoga practice that I don’t already know?

That is the first question that comes to mind when Apple invites me to take part in a fitness challenge that pits me against a Pure Yoga instructor to see who can consistently complete their daily exercise goals for a week. The Apple Watch Series 4 is used to gauge our progress.

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I certainly don’t need an Apple Watch to tell me who is going to come out on top, but, over the past four days, I have found that I’m paying more attention to things like how many calories I burn, how fast my heart beats while I exercise, and – judging by how frequently the haptic alert goes off on my wrist – whether I have been standing enough.

This exercise is as much a technical challenge as it is a health one for me. For a start, I am an Android phone user, and I am not a fan of wearables (I stopped wearing a watch decades ago).

To my relief, setting up the Apple Watch is pretty straightforward; all you need is an iPhone with iOS 12 to connect it with. And with only two buttons to press, the smartwatch is easy to operate (though, my unfamiliarity with its status icons mean I did briefly mistaken the phone’s “out of range” symbol for low battery). Navigating around the various menu screens on the watch face is intuitive, and all the past data is stored in the “Activity” app on the paired up iPhone.

The key objective in this challenge is to close the three “activity rings” on the Apple Watch every day. The red outer ring tracks the active calories you burn, the middle green ring shows how many minutes of “brisk activity” I have completed, and the inner cyan ring monitors my movement over an active 12-hour period, just to ensure I don’t spend too much time sitting down.

So how well – or badly – have I fared so far? Against my own record, I have been making steady progress. The first day I burned 512 calories, or 78 per cent of my 650-calories goal. That went up to 85 per cent on the third day of tracking. The time I spent moving also improved, from 83 minutes on the first day to 106 minutes two days later.

Of course, those stats pale in comparison with that of Linda Wong, the yoga instructor whom I’m paired up with for this challenge.

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Every time my watch buzzes I know Wong has finished yet another workout. On her top day she walked over 12,000 steps, burned 1,562 calories (223 per cent over her 700-calories goal) and spent 296 minutes moving around. Intimidating? Maybe just a little. Inspiring? Quite.

The heart rate tracker on the Apple Watch is a handy bonus. I have often wondered how fast my heart beats during a hot yoga class – and whether it is actually healthy. Now I know.

During an energetic hot flow class, the watch recorded my average bpm (beats per minute) as 136. That is well within the “target” heart rate range for exercising (85 to 145bpm) and way below the maximum (170bpm) for my age group (between 50 and 54), according to the American Heart Association.

Wong says she was surprised to find that an active or hot yoga class can work the heart just as hard as a cardio workout, especially when practitioners have to hold poses for a long time. “This will change a lot of people’s opinion about yoga,” she says.

So what is her advice for those who want to use the Apple Watch to challenge their friends? (With the Activity app, Apple Watch 4 users can pair up to 40 friends and share your stats with one another. )

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Just do your usual routine, she says. “And maybe step up a little bit, [and] exercise every day. Usually you just need to do 30 minutes [of exercise a day], and you can just walk. Also be disciplined. Make your daily routine a habit – even after the challenge.”

Having a nagging – or motivational – gadget around my wrist all the time does help. For every reprimanding, “Time to stand!” alert, there is a, “Yesterday’s exercise ring was unbelievable, Smash it again!”