Rest Days that Don’t Break Your Apple Activity Streaks!

If you ask around the internet about rest days, you find a debate between the “be active every day” crowd and those who insist that your body needs recovery time. And honestly, the answer is somewhat in the middle. If you’re doing something that requires regeneration, such as strength training to build muscle, than yes, a rest day is critical to give your muscles time to heal. If you’re power walking, which is one of my main forms of workout (e.g., walking at a pace of a 13:30 mile, or about 5.5 MPH), you will find there are mornings your legs are on fire from last night’s walk. And if you walk outside, like I do, you also have the weather to contend with. Hard to go for a long walk or run when it’s pouring out (Although I have been the crazy guy out there in light rain with an umbrella walking!)

Sometimes walking in the rain and snow is pretty, though.

However you feel about rest days, one thing that’s very clear is that Apple doesn’t give you any days off if you’re a fan of the mantra “Close Your Rings”. Heck, it wasn’t even until last year that they gave us the option to change the amount of exercise minutes and stand hours (It was previously set to a hard 30 minutes and 12 hours, respectively). Plenty have complained that this is unrealistic – why should your 400+ day move streak end because of circumstances outside of your control. What circumstances, oh…

  • You get sick
  • Your family is sick and you have to care for them.
  • Your Apple Watch dies temporarily or permanently.
  • You decide to go on a technology-free retreat.

Plenty of reasons you might not be able to log your move calories, your exercise minutes, or your stand hours. Should you just let the streak die? No!

Well, perhaps Yes – you see this all gets into how you measure your own success. Unless you’re competing with another, the majority of the time you’re using your rings as a way to be honest with yourself. Closing them gives you a sense of accomplishment, earning badges gives you small boosts of dopamine that say “I’m doing stuff…”. And failing to close them can make you discouraged if it was due to circumstances not related to your fitness. I’ve certainly had friends joke “If you workout and your watch doesn’t record it, what was the point?!?” – And for some of us, psychologically, there is a grain of truth there. So should you let a streak die? Here’s my simple rule:

  • If you view your streaks as part of a life change that you want to affirm to yourself regularly – if you’ve assigned substantial meaning to them, then you should keep the streak going even if you didn’t technically do the work on a given day due to things you couldn’t control. After all, your intention was still there.
  • If you view your streaks as simply metrics on what you’re doing, in the way that you might view any other number without emotional connection, then just let them die.

I’m assuming if you’ve made it this far, you fall into the “Save my Streak” category, so I’m going to use the rest of this post to tell you how to do that without having to install any special software. Turns out there is a way to preserve your streaks without much effort.

The Obligatory “Why I Figured This Out” portion of the Recipe

So I know you just want to know how to do it, so skip this unless you know me personally and are curious. Anyway, as of today, here are my streaks:

As of August 6, 2021

As you can see, I have been working out a lot over the past year. As I mentioned in Part 3 of my weight loss story, I really wanted to make it to 365 days. Which I did. Then I kept going. But at some point the streak that I set each day became further affirmation of my changing body and mind, and I really wanted to keep it. So much that I changed my move goal from 810 calories to 480, my workout goal from 30 minutes to 10, and my stand hours remained at 12. Now here’s the kicker – I’ve never needed to “use” these lower levels, on average – over the past 90 days, my average Move is 880 calories, and my average exercise minutes is at 72 minutes. With the exception of a few days of driving for summer trips, I don’t need to use the lower goals to maintain the streak.

This got me thinking: What if there were a way I could return to my actual goals, but still have the security of being able to persist in my streaks even if my watch dies (like it tried to do the other day), or in an emergency I can’t work out. And maybe, just maybe, it would be useful if I wanted to give myself a “day off”, but more on that later.

Then I realized – Apple lets you do this already, all you need to know is where to look.

How Do I Fill My Rings Manually?

It’s easy – follow these steps:

  1. Open the Apple Health app on your iPhone.
  2. Go to Browse and type “Workouts” in the search.
  3. Open the Workouts data, and choose “Add Data” at the upper right.
  4. Enter whatever activity type you like (while not completely accurate, a rest day could be “Preparation and Recovery”, or just use “Other”)
  5. Enter the calories burned, These will increase your red move ring.
  6. Enter a start and end time, These will be counted toward your exercise ring.
  7. Hit “Add”

And there you have it – You should see the Apple Activity app on your watch update as well as on your phone. You’ve essentially done exactly what your phone would have done if you’d worked out, but you entered it in manually. Yes, the iPhone will flag this as “Entered by user”, but it will still count it.

When Should You Use This Power?

Again, this question is largely up to you. But one thing that I have thought a lot about lately is “rest days” – as in, days when either my Oura ring outright tells me to rest…

The Oura Ring telling me to “Pay Attention” in Readiness

Or on special occasions – a holiday or a day I feel I’ve earned a break. I’ve considered having 10-15 days per year that I could “use” (Sort of the equivalent of workout “paid time off”) as I like. I haven’t decided yet on if I will do this, or how I would track it, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this “nonsense” (Which I put in quotes because sometimes the realist in me calls my mind out and says “Dude, this stuff doesn’t really matter – health is for you, who cares if a stupid smart device confirms what you already know!”). Are streaks meaningful? Do you care about a sleeve of virtual medals? If so, why? If not, why not? And will you “cheat” or stay honest in your streaks?

8 Replies to “Rest Days that Don’t Break Your Apple Activity Streaks!”

  1. You captured my thoughts precisely – I love setting goals and maintaining streaks. I recently transitioned from a Fitbit to Apple Watch and I noticed that the screenshot you have for your streaks is different than anything I’ve been able to find. Do you mind sharing what app you are using?

  2. Does it work for days in the past? I have entered an exercise with the remaining calories for 3 days before today but my exercise ring for that day is still incomplete.

    1. I don’t believe it will work for rings in the past, however you could enter it in for historical accuracy. Once your rings are completed for the day, I don’t think you can re-edit them to restore a streak.

  3. Will this continue a streak if you add the workout the next day? I have a 645 day streak and didn’t realize I missed my move goal by 18 calories until today!

    1. That’s a good question. I haven’t tested that but it would be worth a shot. I vaguely remember someone saying it doesn’t work, however.

  4. I am very skeptical about this. If you have to resort to machinations to preserve “streaks” then the very notion of a streak seems misguided what exactly is the point of a “false streak?” I’ve solved this issue by moving to the Gentler app which is far more forgiving and has other advantages as well.

    1. Well, you’re welcome to being skeptical of the usefulness of preserving an arbitrary streak psychologically, but the method does work. In the end I’m not sure why I care about streaks, but since writing this I have just started adjusting my rings down when on vacation or sick, which is another method if one cares.

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