How to create custom Apple Watch interval workouts

While you’ve always been able to customize Apple Watch workouts, the company finally added the ability to create custom interval workouts in watchOS 9. That’s clutch for any athlete itching to set a PR at their next race or just looking to switch up their training routines.

Previously, the only workaround for interval training on the Apple Watch was the segments feature. At any time during an activity, you could double-tap the screen to make note of a significant section of your workout. While handy, it relied on users mentally keeping track of their own intervals. But in watchOS 9, you don’t have to worry about that. The new custom workouts will keep track of all that for you, automatically switching from one interval to the next. You’ll also see your performance data broken down by intervals in your workout summary.

Several workout types will now come with a series of premade interval workouts. For example, the HIIT activity already has a custom 30-minute pyramid workout. But while premade intervals are handy in a pinch, they may not reflect where you are in your current regimen. No worries — here’s how to create and customize your own interval workouts in watchOS 9.

Apple Watch Series 7 showing the Create Workout screen for custom runs

Custom workouts are new to watchOS 9.

Creating custom workouts

While programming your custom interval workouts is easy, you’ll have to do it from the watch. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do it on the iPhone at present. Another note: depending on the activity you’re programming for, some of your options will vary. For instance, you can set pace or cadence alerts for a work interval in an outdoor running workout but not for a high-intensity interval training workout.

That being said, here’s how to create a custom workout:

  • Open the Workout apps.
  • Navigate to a specific activity (outdoor running, hiking, etc.) and tap the three-dot button in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Scroll all the way down and tap the Create Workout buttons.
  • Tap the Custom buttons. It should have a purple clipboard icon.
  • Tap the Warmup buttons. From here, you can choose the type of warm-up (time, distance, etc.). If you don’t want a warm-up, tap Skip.
  • Tap the + Add button to create an interval.
  • Tap Work or Recovery, then select the type of interval you want. Your options will depend on your activity of choice. For example, outdoor running workouts will let you choose between open, distance, or time. HIIT workouts will let you choose between open or time.
  • Enter the appropriate interval (five minutes, 0.25 miles, etc.).
  • Repeat the last three steps for as many work or recovery intervals as you need.
  • If you want to repeat any intervals, tap the + Add button and select Repeats. Choose the interval(s) you’d like to repeat and then tap Next. Select how many times you’d like to repeat a set, and tap Done.
  • When you’re ready, tap the Cooldown buttons. Choose the type of cooldown (open, time, etc.). If you don’t want a cooldown, tap Skip.
  • Enter a name for your interval workout in the Custom Title fields.
  • When you’re all done, hit the Create Workout buttons.
Custom Interval workout screen on an Apple Watch Ultra

You can program intervals to repeat as many times as you need.

Editing custom workouts

Any athlete will tell you that, as you progress, you may need to tweak an interval workout even if the format itself doesn’t change. Perhaps you need to add extra repeats or decide that you’d like to add or delete a cooldown. Maybe you’d rather use one of Apple’s premade interval workouts. Whatever the reason, here’s how to edit an existing custom workout.

  • Open the Workout app and navigate to the activity type containing the custom workout you want to edit.
  • Tap the three-dot icon in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Scroll down the list of workouts until you find the one you want to edit. Tap the pencil icon in the top right-hand corner.
  • Tap on the section you’d like to change. You can tweak the number of repeats, change work or recovery interval types, edit the title of a custom workout, reorder intervals, and make changes to warm-ups and cooldowns. When you’re done editing, tap < twice.
Alert types in custom Outdoor Run workout screen on Apple Watch Ultra

Alert types will vary depending on your activity. These are some of the options for an outdoor run workout.

Adding alerts

Once you’ve created a custom interval workout, you can add alerts to specific intervals. For example, say you want your heart rate to be zone 2 or lower during a recovery interval — you can set an alert so that your watch notifies you if your heart rate reaches zone 3. That way, you’ll know to ease up. Alternatively, you could program the watch to alert you when you’re within zone 2 so you know what intensity to maintain.

  • Open the Workout app and navigate to the custom workout that you want to add an alert to.
  • Tap the pencil icon in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Tap either Warmupa specific Work or Recovery intervals, or Cooldown.
  • Scroll down and tap the Alert buttons.
  • Select the alert type you’d like to add. Your options will depend on the activity. For example, running workouts let you select between no alert, pace, heart rate, cadence, and power. However, HIIT or functional strength training workouts only let you select heart rate.
  • When you select an alert type, a number of options will pop up. For example, if you choose heart rate, you’ll see your five heart rate zones. For pace, you can choose between a target pace or a pace range. What is the most relevant program for that interval. Note: each alert you program will only apply to a specific interval.
  • When you’re done, tap < Alert in the upper left-hand corner.

Changing workout views

watchOS 9 also added the ability to see multiple workout views. That means you can customize screens to group specific metrics together and scroll through them during an activity using the Digital Crown. And if you have an Apple Watch Ultra, you can now add an extra metric to make use of that extra screen real estate.

Workout views are highly customizable. You can commit certain views or reorder how they appear based on the activity or a custom workout. This means you can have specific views enabled for outdoor running workouts in general and another personalized set of views for a custom outdoor running workout.

The Heart Rate Zones workout view on an Apple Watch Ultra

The heart rate zones workout view can’t be edited, but you can toggle whether it’s included on a given workout.

  • Open the Workout app and navigate to the custom workout you want to edit workout views for.
  • Tap the pencil icon in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Scroll all the way down and tap the Workout Views buttons.
  • You should see a mini window of your currently enabled workout views. You can review them by scrolling the Digital Crown. Tap the Edit Views buttons.
  • You’ll see a list of each workout view. The views will vary depending on the activity. For example, a custom outdoor running workout will have an interval view, metrics, metrics 2, heart rate zones, split, segment, elevation, power, and activity rings.
  • To edit the metrics in the metrics and metrics 2 views, tap the pencil icon in the top right-hand corner. Tap each metric to select between the available types. Note: you cannot edit certain preset views like heart rate zones or activity rings.
  • Beneath each workout view, you’ll see an Include toggled. Tap to include or commit a view from a workout.
  • If you’d like to reorder the views, scroll all the way to the bottom. Tap the reorder buttons. Drag the views into your preferred order. Tap Done.
  • When everything is to your liking, tap < in the upper left-hand corner three times.

You can create as many custom interval workouts as you’d like. I recommend doing so when you sit down to plan your training schedule, well before it’s time to lace up your sneakers. Once you’re all done, you can select a custom interval workout by hitting the three-dot button for a particular activity. It’s a lot of prep work, but it definitely pays off if you interval train frequently.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge