WatchOS 9: Running Metrics Explained

Apple has recently announced WatchOS 9 and it has a ton of new features, but one in particular that caught our eye is the addition of new running metrics.

We have maintained for years that the Apple Watch may prove to be a good lifestyle watch, but for athletes and especially runners, it has always come up short.

The problem was not primarily with the hardware, like all other popular running watches from Garmin, Polar, and Coros use more or less the same set of sensors. Apple simply didn’t catch up to these niche leaders when it comes to advanced running metrics driven by power algorithms.

Well, that seems to have changed with watchOS 9.

In this post, we will discuss how the new watchOS 9 features can help serious runners train smarter.

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WatchOS 9: Running Metrics

Though these metrics would be the first to show up on the Apple Watch, we are not unfamiliar with them. Athletes, mostly Garmin Users, would find a striking familiarity with the new watchOS 9 features.

We believe that as far as sports and especially running is concerned, watchOS 9 is loaded with enough firepower to topple Garmin’s monopoly in this domain.

Apple made it obvious by adding its own version of ‘Running Dynamics’ to the Apple Watch, and the surprising fact is: iWatch won’t rely on external sensors, but rather on the watch’s own motion sensors and advanced algorithms to estimate these metrics.

So without further ado, let’s discuss each new metric and running feature in detail.

  1. Vertical Oscillation: It is the measure of ‘bounce’ in your run. Or put another way, how much you move up and down. This important metric will tell you how much energy you are wasting on vertical movement, which has no impact on your forward momentum. A lower number here is good as it means you are not wasting any extra energy.
  2. Ground Contact Time: Ground contact time is the measure of how long your foot spends on the ground while running. It will directly impact your running economy and maximum running speed. As a rule of thumb, the less time your foot spends on the ground, the better.
  3. Stride Length: It is simply the distance between each footfall. A longer stride length means you are covering more ground with each step, and therefore running faster. Taking too long of a stride can lead to over-striding, which is inefficient and can cause injuries. Whereas,  taking too short of strides will limit your speed. So finding the right balance is key.
  4. Heart Rate Zones: Like Fitbit and Garmin,  Apple has also added heart rate zones to watchOS 9. There are five heart rate zones in total, with each zone representing a different level of intensity. This particular feature will be very useful for endurance athletes and fitness buffs.
  5. Running Power: Garmin has recently introduced native running power to the Forerunner 255 and Forerunner 955 watches. Well, Apple doesn’t want to give it a breath. Watch OS 9 will feature its own version of running power, which will be based on pace, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time. It is simply a measure of how much work you are doing while running. The higher the number, the harder you are working.
  6. Triathlon Mode: Watch OS 9 will now support triathlon mode tracking multiple sports activities such as swimming, biking, and running. The transition between each workout will be seamless, and you will be able to see all the important metrics for each activity on the same screen. Apple upped the ante in swim tracking by introducing SWOLF to measure your swim efficiency.

Apart from running, Apple has also added some new and exciting features to watchOS 9, such as advanced sleep tracking, a new sports model, Afib History, Medication intake, a new watch face, and more.

Important Note: Only the Apple Watch Series 4 and later iWatches would be able to update to the new WatchOS 9. Only the beta version of the OS is available, and that is too for developers.


WatchOS 9 is a big update for runners as it brings new features and metrics that were previously not available on the Apple Watch. With the addition of running power, triathlon mode, and heart rate zones, watchOS 9 has everything that a runner needs to train smartly and efficiently.

So if you are an iPhone user, there won’t be a need to leave the Apple Ecosystem to knock on the doors of niche experts like Garmin, Polar, and the Coros.

Apple needs to back these features with comparable accuracy and that’s a huge challenge. But we are hopeful, as the company has always set high standards for itself.