Apple's Watch is a great device to help you improve your fitness, whilst also offering smartphone notifications. Whether you're hoping to get fit through running, cycling, swimming or various machines at the gym, or whether you are just trying to motivate yourself to get off the sofa, Apple's wearable does plenty more than alert you to a new message or email.

This feature covers everything you need to know about the Apple Watch and its fitness features, from making sure you select the right workout and changing your Move goal, to competing with friends and using third party fitness apps with it.

How to track your exercise with Apple Watch

Apple Watch fitness is primarily centred around three rings: Move, Exercise and Stand. The target is to complete each ring every day. Complete all three and you complete the day, get seven in a row and you get a perfect week. Complete a Ring and you'll get a spinning Catherine's wheel firework indicating you've "done good", while at the end of the week you'll also get notifications if you've had a "perfect week".

All you have to do is put the Apple Watch on and it will start tracking you. 

There are a number of ways of keeping track of your rings throughout the day. You can opt for the dedicated Activity watch face, or you can choose an Apple Watch Complication if you want to be a little more subtle.

What are Ring targets and how to set them?

The Exercise and Stand Rings aren't customisable. The Exercise Ring (green) is set at 30 minutes a day, while Stand (blue) is set at 12 times. Exercise doesn't need to be running, swimming, or a HIIT session though. It can be as simple as walking quickly, but you'll need to be walking briskly to complete the exercise ring if you choose walking as your activity.

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To complete the Stand Ring, you'll need to be standing and moving for more than one minute per hour. Do that for 12 hours and you complete the blue ring.

The Move target (red) is customisable and it refers to the number of active calories you burn in a day. The idea is to set it to be achievable, but not without some effort. Make your Move goal too low and you won't try, set it too high and you'll give up so be realistic.

What's a good Move target?

Your Move target will depend on how active you want to be. Active calories are calculated based on a number of parameters including heart rate, movement, activity, and many other factors.

For example, a 30-minute HIIT indoor cycle workout gives us around 260 active calories and around 300 total calories. These 260 active calories go towards our Move target, while the total calories are simply and indication of all the calories burned throughout the day, even when you're sitting.

Most people we know, including ourselves, aim for something around 600-700 as a Move target. It's a number most find is achievable, but also requires you to be active at some point in the day. That said, some active people we know struggle to hit 400, while others easily smash 1000 a day so it is very much dependant on you.

A week with the Apple Watch and you'll soon realise what your daily totals are though, allowing you to set your Move target accordingly. If you're still unsure, every Monday morning the Apple Watch suggests what your Move target should be for the week ahead based on the previous week's activity.

Bear in mind it is just a suggestion. You can always ignore, dial down, or even dial up the target depending on how you are feeling or what you've got planned for the week ahead. To change your Move goal, force press on the activity app on your Apple Watch and press Change Move Goal.

How to track your daily performance with Apple Watch

You can track your performance in a number of ways, either via the Apple Watch or via the Activity app on your iPhone. The Apple Watch only shows you your performance for that day. If you want to see how you did on previous days, you'll need to open the Activity app on your iPhone.

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There are a number of different Watch faces that allow you to do see your daily progress though. The Activity Digital face prominently features the Rings, as well as the specific number of Move points, exercise minutes, and Stands you've done. The Infographic Modular Watch meanwhile, is a good option if you want to use your Watch for other things too.

There are also several Apple Watch faces that allow you to add the Rings as a Complication, so you can still see how you're getting on without the Rings taking centre stage on your wrist.

TIP: A swipe from right to left on your iPhone's home screen can reveal the Activity widget, which when tapped on will reveal further breakdowns of your Ring data, and the ability to look at historical data. To add the Activity widget on your iPhone, swipe right to left, scroll to the bottom and press edit. Find the Activity widget and press "+". Use the lines on the right to re-order your widgets. 

How to earn badges on your Apple Watch

Complete your Rings, do a workout for the first time in each discipline, or complete a streak and you'll earn badges.

There are virtual awards for completing set tasks, such as completing a new "Move Record" or a "Perfect Week" and there are also monthly challenges that award you further badges for doing certain activities.

The monthly challenges are typically multi-event tasks to encourage to you stay active across the month. Previous Challenges set by Apple have included performing a set number of workouts, doubling your move goal a specific number of times, or doing a certain number of workouts for a set time across the month.

How to manage your alerts

The Apple Watch delivers various daily notifications from reminding you to stand up in a given hour or telling you to take brisk walk for a number of minutes in order to complete a Ring, to messages of encouragement.

The alerts are designed to trigger you to move and therefore complete your Rings, but being told a brisk 14-minute walk is all you need to complete a Ring at 11PM on a rainy Wednesday can be irritating.

How you respond to these notifications is up to you. They can be dismissed or turned off completely if you find them annoying. Head to the Apple Watch companion app > Scroll down to Activity > Set your notification preferences.

Share performance with friends

You can agree to share your Rings with your friends and family so you can see how you are doing compared to them - devices like Fitbit also offer this kind of feature. It won't work for everyone, but a bit of friendly competition never hurt anyone in our book. 

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It's possible to add multiple friends and choose whether or not to get alerts when they complete Rings or do exercise. 

TIP: Choosing to share your activity with friend may sound harmless but we've been able to determine when people we've shared data with are on holiday (a different time zone means different activity patterns), when they've overslept, and when they've stayed out partying. So, think twice before you accept or invite people to share your Watch data. 

How to challenge a friend to a Competition

For those needing a little more of a push, there are Competitions. Available in WatchOS 5, you can opt to compete with a friend or family member over a seven-day period to see who is most active. You'll earn a set number of points, up to a maximum of 600 points per day. The person with the highest score at the end of the week wins the badge. Warning: There's a Total Wins section so if you lose, you'll be constantly reminded.

Competitions can only be one-on-one, but you can have multiple competitions running at the same time with different people. From our experience, winning is all about stealth exercise. If you want to catch the other person out, waiting until 10pm to put in that 10km run is normally a good winning tactic.

Set up: Open Activity app on iPhone > Go to the Sharing tab in the bottom right > Tap on person icon in top right > Select contact to compete with > Press Compete with [contact name]. The challenge starts the next full day.

How to pick the right Apple Watch Workout

Apple Watch currently offers 13 workout options: Walking, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Running, Pool Swim, Open Water Swim, HIIT Workout, Outdoor Cycling, Indoor Cycling, Rowing, Hiking, Yoga and Other. Picking the right one is vital to the Apple Watch understanding what you are doing.

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Workouts are all available via the Workout app on the Apple Watch, which can be accessed as a Complication or via the app icon on the app screen. The Apple Watch will also recognise you're doing a workout after 10 minutes of activity and automatically suggest starting a workout for you, though it isn't flawless.

There is also no backtrack option, as there is with devices like Fitbit, so if the Apple Watch fails to recognise your Workout, you won't be rewarded. We've also made the mistake of selecting Outdoor Cycle instead of Indoor Cycle only to do 30 minutes of exercise and get no closer to our Move target so pick right.

Tracking Workouts: Open, Calories, Distance, Time

The Apple Watch orders the workout list in the Workout app based on what you do and each workout option features further settings to help you sculpt what you are doing. For example, you can set the pool length when using the Pool Swim workout.

Depending on the Workout you select, you can choose an Open Goal, or you can choose to work towards a specific goal by tapping the three dots on the Workout card you're choosing. The specific goals include Calories, Distance and Time, but Distance isn't available as a goal for an Indoor Cycle or Elliptical, for example.

Set your target and the countdown begins. The Apple Watch delivers different stats for different workouts, though in most cases, you'll get time, active calories, BPM, average speed, and distance travelled. In workouts like Yoga, you'll simply get active and total calories, along with your heart rate, while in workouts like swimming, your stroke will be automatically recognised based on your hand movements.

Open the Apple Watch companion app > Scroll down to Workout > Select Workout View. From here you can customise the type and order of metrics shown for each workout.

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HELPFUL TIPS: Swipe left to right on your Apple Watch to end or pause a workout (although Apple Watch will also auto-pause if you stop to cross the road for example). Swipe right to left to access Apple Music. When swimming, turn the Digital Crown to unlock the display and pause or resume your swim workout by pressing the Digital Crown and side button together. 

Tracking heart rate with Apple Watch

Within the Apple Watch companion app on your iPhone, you can opt in or out of the Apple Watch tracking your heartbeat within the Privacy section. If you opt in, the Apple Watch will track your current heart rate and monitor for issues, but it will also feedback data on how it's changing as you are doing exercise.

You can also access your heart rate data with the dedicated Heart Rate app on the Apple Watch. It will allow you to take your heart rate reading at any time, but also works in the background to monitor your resting heart rate and walking average. The Apple Health app on the iPhone allows you to delve deeper into the data. 

Using the ECG feature

Currently only available in the US, the Apple Watch Series 4 has an ECG feature that can take electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) readings. Apple's ECG app can tell whether your heart rhythm has atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm) or a normal sinus rhythm. Apple Watch Series 4 users will see it once WatchOS 5.1.2 is installed on their device.

Getting a reading is as simple as placing a finger on the Digital Crown of the watch and waiting 30 seconds. ECG data will then be collected from the Watch electrodes and displayed in the Health app, which in turn can be shared via a PDF report with your doctor. Apple claims the test is 99 per cent accurate.

Outside of the US, Apple confirms to Pocket-lint that it still going through the process of getting the feature approved. It said it is "working hard" to roll the feature out globally.

Apple Activity app

The Activity app on your iPhone is where all your Apple Watch fitness data ends up. You'll find your daily performance, historical performance data, all your workouts (which can be filtered by specific workout too), your sharing status and find all badges you've earned. There are four tabs to navigate: History, Workouts, Awards, and Sharing.

History goes back as far as you've been wearing the Apple Watch, recording your Move, Exercise, and Stand totals when you wear it during that time. You can't edit or erase the data.

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Workouts lists all the Workouts you've done. Click on the Workout tab and you'll be presented with a list of months, with a summary under each month of the number of Workouts you did, along with the total and average time and total and average calories. Tapping a month offers a breakdown of each Workout and further tapping each individual Workout offers all the metrics for that particular Workout.

As an example, for swimming, it details active calories, total calories, distance, total time, average heart rate, number of lengths and pool length. It will also show you average pace with stroke splits. For running, you'll get splits, a map of your run, and data including elevation gain, average cadence (steps per minute). During your running workout, the Apple Watch will also show rolling kilometres so you can see your split for the preceding kilometre to see if you're on track.

Awards is where you'll find the badges you've earned, as well as see what you have left to earn. Sharing meanwhile, allows you to manage how you share your data with your friends, including whether to mute their notifications, remove them completely, or compete with them in a seven-day challenge. You'll also get a break down of how they've been active when they've worn their Watch.

Using Third Party exercise apps with Apple Watch

There are many third-party exercise apps that are compatible with the Apple Watch too, allowing you to record your workouts and activity on the Apple Watch.

Apps like Strava will allow you to not only complete your Rings, but also record your run or workout on its platform. Vitality uses the data you create to track how active you are and report back to give you discounts on health insurance. The Apple Watch also works with apps including Nike Training Club, SwingTM Tennis Tracker and Kayla Itsines Sweat.