Those Red, Green, and Blue Rings are Brilliant

When I first got the Apple Watch, I thought the three rings system was a clever way to track your activity, but ultimately thought it was inferior to apps like Runkeeper’s Breeze app, which have dynamic step goals. Now, after about 10 months working on filling those rings everyday, I feel safe saying this the the best fitness tracking system I have ever used.

The brilliance of this system is that it’s tracking more than just steps. Fitbit, Jawbone, and Breeze all use steps as the ultimate measure of how “active” you were in a given day. We all know that this is a pretty rudimentary way to track one’s fitness, but making pedometers is easy, and that’s just what we’ve done. Steps = health.

But there’s more to fitness, and the Apple Watch’s rings make you look at fitness differently. The Apple Watch tracks your steps, but it doesn’t count that towards your goal. The closest equivalent is the red ring, which tracks your calories burned due to activity. You can earn calories by walking around and could fill the entire ring just strolling around all day.

You can casually stroll around all day and earn your red ring goal, but your green ring isn’t going to move an inch if that’s all you do. This ring is looking for “active minutes,” which is essentially how much time you spend doing activities that raise your heart rate. You can fill this circle by picking up the pace of your walk a little bit or going for a run, but you can also get it by riding a bike or lifting weights.

The green ring pushes you to do a bit more than just get your steps, and it’s wonderfully open to how you get those minutes.

Finally, the blue ring that tracks how much you stood throughout the day. This is the least exciting of the rings, but it’s still valuable. In order to fill this one, you need to stand up for at least one minute during 12 different hours thought the day. As any Apple Watch hater will tell you, standing for a minute every hour isn’t going to make you healthy, but you have to look at the bigger picture to see the value of this ring.

Any idiot can feel that buzz before the end of the hour, stand up for a minute, and sit down as soon as you get credit, but that’s not the point. Sure I do this sometimes, but this ring has gotten me in the habit of finding things to do regularly throughout the day. It makes you think about how long you spend on your butt and shames you into getting up, even if it’s just for a little bit. It discourages a sedentary lifestyle, and that’s definitely a net positive1.

And then of course there are awards (Apple calls them badges) that you earn when you achieve certain goals such as hitting your activity goal 7 days in a row or achieving 2x your calorie burn goal in a particular day. These awards are a little silly and could be made more interesting in the future, but they’re a little bit of motivation to keep your streak going.

I wear my Apple Watch every day, and these three rings are a big reason I do. They’ve spoiled me for other fitness trackers like the Fitbit, which I used up until I got the Apple Watch. Judging my fitness progress based on steps seems so archaic now that I can’t see myself ever using a fitness tracker that just uses that as a metric. I feel like all the conversation around the Apple Watch is about what it doesn’t do well2, and we forget that Apple absolutely nailed a few things.

If you want to jump on the Apple Watch fitness train, there seem to be a lot of good deals out there lately that have it starting at just $249 for the Sport models. Best Buy currently as them starting at $249 and Target has had them down that low a couple times too, although they are currently starting at $299 there.


  1. I know that alert to stand up drives some people crazy, but I’ll remind you that the notifications can be turned off permanently in settings, or you can mute it for just a day of you don’t want to bother one day. 
  2. Although I’ll have some things to say about this later.