Where’s my Apple Watch rest day?

Dhanisa Mashilfa

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

It’s not like Apple hasn’t known about this problem; I’m not the only person to write about it. And the last time I did, I received emails like, “Hey, you know you’re not supposed to lie on the couch on rest days, right?” Yes, but unless I’m deliberately incorporating hills, I don’t usually break 100 bpm when I walk, and the Watch doesn’t read it as exercise.

I bought an Apple Watch during the pandemic because the main way I distracted myself was by taking very long walks, and I wanted to know exactly how long the 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 primes you for seven workouts a week, trying to close all three rings every day, and so on — immediately started driving me nuts again.

I’ve figured out a way to cheat, but I shouldn’t have to. Rest days matter. Sick days do, too. One of my colleagues told me that while she was sick with COVID, her Apple Watch kept encouraging her to close her rings. Reader, that is insane.

Overtraining is a real risk for athletes! It’s one reason why recovery is important. Plus, like, I’m not a pro athlete! I work out to enjoy myself, not because it’s my job. But the setup of the Apple Watch’s rewards doesn’t acknowledge 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 exercise ring is closed, and you just did some self-massage.

Apple’s next WatchOS software doesn’t acknowledge this either, despite rumors that the company will release a more rugged, sport-focused model. The Oura Ring and Whoop’s tracker let you focus on rest, but they have pricey subscriptions attached. So, for now, I guess I’ve gotta lie to my wrist computer to actually be healthy. It does seem ironic, though, that I’m cheating at my health devices’ goals to actually take care of myself, doesn’t it?

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