Where is my Apple Watch rest day?

In 2017 I tried out the Apple Watch for several months. One major limitation, I found, was that it didn’t recognize my rest days. Rest days are essential for building muscle, but the Watch’s goals don’t really recognize that.

It’s not that Apple isn’t aware of this problem; I’m not the only one writing about it. And the last time I did, I got emails like, “Hey, you know you’re not allowed to lie on the couch on rest days, right?” Yes, but unless I’m deliberately building in hills, I usually don’t break 100 bpm when I walk, and the watch doesn’t read it as exercise.

I bought an Apple Watch during the pandemic because I mostly distracted myself by taking really long walks, and I wanted to know exactly how long those walks were. (It turns out: four to 12 miles, culminating in a backpacking trip where I unexpectedly hiked 14 miles in one day to get away from a black bear and her cubs.) The reward system—which prepares you for seven workouts a week, trying to closing all three rings every day and so on – immediately started driving me crazy again.

I’ve come up with a way to cheat, but I shouldn’t. Rest days are important. Sick days too. One of my colleagues told me that while she was sick with COVID, her Apple Watch continued to encourage her to close her rings. Reader, that’s insane.

Overtraining is a real risk for athletes! It’s one reason recovery is important. Plus, I’m not a pro athlete! I exercise to entertain myself, not because it’s my job. But the Apple Watch rewards setup doesn’t recognize that.

Until Apple decides to cater to athletes’ recovery needs, you can cheat too. Here’s how: tell the watch you’re doing a “Cooldown” workout. Then foam roll for half an hour. Oh look! Your practice ring is closed and you just did some self-massage.

Apple’s next WatchOS software isn’t acknowledging this either, despite rumors that the company will release a more robust, sports-focused model. Oura Ring and Whoop tracker allows you to focus on rest, but there are expensive subscriptions involved. So for now I think I have to lie to my wrist computer to be really healthy. However, it seems ironic that I’m cheating on my health equipment goals to really take care of myself, doesn’t it?

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