Week 2: Conor’s strength training diary – Strong but shallow with the Apple Watch

Getting to grips with tapping my wrist
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In case you missed the big news, I've embarked on a strength training diary series. Throughout the weeks and (hopefully) months of this wild journey, I'll be putting wearable tech from the likes of Apple, Fitbit and Garmin through their paces in order to understand just how much they can help me to smash my strength goals.

Luckily for you, dear reader, there won't be endless mirror selfies from the gym's changing room to worry about – here, the focus will be assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each device and figuring out if any actually help me when I'm pumping iron.

Catch up: Week 1 – getting hench with wearable tech

I decided to kick things off with the Apple Watch and its smorgasbord of third-party apps, while I'll also be keeping tabs on the likes of body fat percentage with the Garmin Index smart scale, which hooks up to Garmin Connect. My goal is to get my body fat down to 10% – the readings so far have been a bit sporadic so I'll confirm where I'm at now next week.

Plus as a bonus, I'm also attempting to maintain reasonable posture with the Upright Go. Can't hurt, right?

Make me strong

So how was my first week of tapping my wrist and having strangers give me mildly disapproving looks?

Well, this week I've tackled one of the App Store's most popular third-party strength training apps, Strong. While there's no automatic rep counting or exercise detection here, I've found it to be a fairly straightforward system in terms of logging exercises.

The first step is firing up the companion app and deciding which exercises you're planning to hit once you're in the gym. This can be a bit of a handful at first, and while there are example routines for those who are looking for guidance, I wanted to pick and choose which exercises I'm used to. Annoyingly, this can't be done through the Apple Watch app itself, with routines and the number of sets all chosen within the app before being essentially transferred to the wrist.

Week 2: Conor’s strength training diary – Strong but shallow with the Apple Watch

While it may seem pretty barebones, though, it actually works quite intuitively once you're on the gym floor. Take for example a chest/tricep session – you simply sync the saved workout across to your watch before beginning the session and working through each set.

It can be easy to rush into my next set instead of looking at my tired, pathetic face in the mirror

I started with the bench press, at which point the Apple Watch prompted me to cycle through the weight and rep counters. Once I logged each set, it simply rolled across to the rest period, which I could tap to skip or use the Digital Crown to extend or cut short.

Since I'm a lone wolf in the gym, this logging time actually fills a nice bit of downtime in between sets while still keeping me focused. All too often it can be easy to rush into my next set after getting bored of looking at my tired, pathetic little face in the adjacent mirror and taking token swigs of water. So this isn't as annoying as I anticipated.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when I forget to add my reps or the app doesn't quite have the right kilogram measurement for me to log, but it's all pretty minor stuff. The bigger problems are when I've been in a full gym and needed to mix my routine up. You can add exercises from the Watch, but ripping through the Crown trying to find an exercise you actually know is a challenge unless you're a serious gym buff; there's no on-Watch demonstrations or further info, you're just expected to know what each exercise is.

Week 2: Conor’s strength training diary – Strong but shallow with the Apple Watch

Pay for Pro?

There's another problem with the exercises available, too. While the likes of a lateral press or seated row are more often than not performed with both arms, things like bicep curls can vary from arm to arm. My right side, for example, is stronger, so I often like to give myself extra work on my left side until failure – but that doesn't mean I want to attribute it to both arms in a separate log.

Despite having to move my training on the road for half of this week and sticking solely to dumbbells and a bench, though, logging was solid enough to feel the benefit. As always with tracking, looking back and comparing is always the biggest motivator to continue entering the details.

If you're not paying for the premium version of Strong, the insights are slim-to-nil – it simply stores your workouts and provides your total lifting weight, your one-rep max and time elapsed. Thankfully, while Strong has room for improvement, the fact that it links to the Apple Watch's Activity app gives you some neat heart rate and recovery metrics to look back on.

Still, over the next week, I'll be trialling the Pro version in order to figure out whether the app's charts, calorie tracking and more are able to turn this solid-but-shallow logging affair into something which can offer me more depth in my training.

Have you used wearable tech in the gym? Let me know what I should be testing in the comments below.

How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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