If you're looking to get fit, lose weight or generally improve your physical health, competition can be a great way to motivate yourself when the going gets tough. To this end Apple has been gradually increasing the social elements offered in its Apple Watch Activity app, culminating (as part of the watchOS 5 update) with direct competitions.
In this article we explain how competitions work, and offer guidance on setting them up and making sure you win (without cheating, of course!). If you'd rather compete only with yourself, read How to use the Workout app and How to get every Apple Watch badge.
How to set up an Apple Watch competition
Challenging a friend or colleague to a competition is easy.
You need to be sharing Activity data with them already: if you're not, open the Activity app on the paired iPhone, go the Sharing tab and tap the plus sign at the top right to issue an invitation.
Once they accept the invitation, tap the name of the contact on the Sharing tab and then tap 'Compete with [name]'.
How do Apple Watch competitions work?
Before we can crush all-comers, we need to understand how the competitions work.
There are always two competitors. Apple doesn't (yet?) allow more than that to compete together.
The competition lasts for seven full days, which means it doesn't start until the next midnight after you start competing. In each of the seven 24-hour periods you can each get a maximum of 600 points. At the end of the week, the person with the most points wins, and gets a badge. (Two badges, in fact. As well as the winner's badge, there is also one for taking part, which you'll both get.)
Note that badges may take a while to appear: you may have to restart your iPhone. And if you tie, you'll both get a winner's badge and be credited with a victory.
The extra round mentioned above is only a suggestion. At time of writing the competitions have no built-in tie-breaker mechanism.
What do the points indicate? They are percentages of your rings. If you go out and get 30 minutes of exercise, that's one full rotation of the green ring, so 100 points.
You can carry on drawing points from any given ring as heavily as you like, up to the maximum of 600 - in theory you could just get six times your Activity target for a perfect score, with nothing in the other rings at all.
Needless to say, having a lower Activity target gives a large advantage. We strongly recommend syncing your targets before starting the competition.
How to win Apple Watch competitions
Now we know how the competitions work, we can work out a good strategy.
(Note that the real purpose of competitions is to have fun and motivate each other to get fitter, so it could be argued that the best strategy is to exercise hard, while maintaining good form, eating healthily etc. The following tips are not about that; they are about winning.)
1. The green Exercise ring is clearly the most important one. It gains points more quickly than the red ring (unless your target for that is set absurdly low) and isn't capped like the Stand ring, which has a maximum of 24 hours in a day (200 points) and a realistic maximum of around 19 (158 points).
If you've got an Activity target of 500, you'll have to burn 20 calories just to get 1 point, whereas each Exercise minute will be worth about 3 points and each Stand hour gets 8-9 points.
2. With this in mind, the best way to acquire points is to do exercise that is strenuous enough to get your heart rate up and trigger the Exercise ring, but gentle enough to do for a long time. Go out for a 90-minute walk (at a reasonably brisk pace) on the weekend and that's 300 points right there, plus whatever you get for the red ring.
3. The Stand ring is less important but it's also basically free points - not tiring at all - so make sure you get as many as possible. Our normal (bad) tendency when not competing is to stop bothering after we get 12 in a day, but you can't afford to leave points on the table now.
4. To maximise your point total, make sure to record every bit of exercise you do - give the Apple Watch the maximum information so it knows exactly what's going on. We found that doing a weights session without bothering to start the appropriate workout earned us almost no points at all - you might think the watch would notice the heart rate, movement and so on, but it doesn't really.
Since the launch of watchOS 5 the Apple Watch has been able to detect workouts automatically, but you still have to accept the suggestion, and for some workouts - weights sessions in particular - the detection is not very reliable.
5. If you haven't already realised this, you don't need to be outdoors, or in a gym, to close your rings. If it's late and cold outside, don't worry about hitting the streets: jogging on the spot in your kitchen (registered as an indoor run workout), or even doing the hoovering can do more good than you'd expect.
5. Finally, never assume your opponent is as far behind as you think. If he or she is swimming and away from their iPhone or has turned on Airplane Mode, or if your internet connection is playing up, you may be behind, and find that they suddenly get a bunch of points at 11.45pm. This can be distressing. Go for the full 600 every day - it's absolutely possible.
7. Indeed, despite what we said about cheating, if you're really desperate to win you could turn on Airplane Mode when on a low score, get in your exercise, then turn it off just before midnight - you may catch your opponent napping.