For those of you that are runners and have done speed work, you probably can’t imagine going to the track without a watch. How would you know your speed or rest interval? Your speed/effort and rest are what define your workout.
REST: There’s a big difference between doing, say, 15 x 400s at a 5K pace with 1 minute rest vs doing 15 x 400s at 5K pace with 5 minutes rest….that extra rest drastically changes the feel (and impact) of that workout.
In addition to paying attention to your rest – you also probably know your time for each of your 400s. If your first 400 was 90 seconds (or 2 minutes or 3 minutes – whatever your pace is), you will notice if by the 8th 400, you are holding 95 seconds….
This same concept applies to swimming. How fast you are swimming and how much rest you take defines your workout – and, to know your pace and your rest in swimming (just like in running) you must use a pace clock.
Time clock often seen on swimming pool decks. Garmin devices now make this much easier for many athletes.
(SIDE NOTE: The time clock is most helpful for athletes who are ready to ‘swim hard’ – if you are still learning your stroke, the time clock probably isn’t your priority yet.)
How do you use the Time Clock?
You use a time clock to measure your pace and rest just like running.
First, you have to just get used to watching the clock – after a while it becomes second nature – but at first it’s a pain (especially if you’re gasping for air). You have watch when you start and when you finish – it doesn’t matter if you’re swimming a 50 or a 300 – you need to be able to figure out your time.
Step 1 – get used to watching the clock.
Step 2 – Learn your 50 time. Figure out how fast you swim a 50. Your 50 time will probably be different if your rested vs tired. Maybe rested you swim 1 minute for a 50. But when you get tired, maybe you’re at 1:05 or 1:10. Start with noticing that – you’ll start to see that, just like in a track workout, those seconds make a difference. If you’re tired there, is a BIG difference between swimming a 50 in 1 minute vs 1:05.
It is in those seconds where your improvement in swimming lies – if you normally swim a 50 in 1:05 when you are tired – push yourself to get under 1:05 – b/c to get better you have to challenge your body.
Step 2 – Learn your 100 time….and then 200….etc.
Step 3 – Notice the impact rest has on your 50 and 100 time and do something about it. Use the time clock to challenge yourself….more on that on step 5.
Step 4 – Make a habit of holding yourself accountable to the clock. No mindless swimming.
Step 5 – Intervals. Intervals can be done in 2 ways – on a certain amount of rest or on a certain time interval. Example:
10 x 100 on 15 seconds rest. With this sort of ‘interval’, no matter how long your 100 takes you to swim, you get 15 seconds rest. This is ok for learning to use the pace clock – but it’s not for long term improvement….read on.
10 x 100 on 2:15. This means from the time you leave the wall, you have 2:15 to swim your 100 and leave again. So, if your 100 takes you 2 minutes, you have 15 seconds to rest. If your 100 takes you 2:10 you get 5 seconds rest. This is much more difficult than simply getting 15 seconds of rest no matter how long your 100 took. This is the kind of hard swimming that’s necessary to get better.
Last point – there are 2 ways to get better – either improve your speed or extend the amount of time you can maintain a speed. So, say you swim a ‘hard’ 100 in 2 minutes. You could either work to improve your 100 time – say try to get it down to 1:55. Or, you could work to extend the amount of time you can hold your 2 minute pace – eventually could you swim a 200 in 4 minutes? Both are great ways to get stronger in the water.
Getting faster at swimming requires consistent hard work – you can swim consistently but if you don’t really know how hard you’re working, then it’s hard to know if you’re training effectively. Learning to use the pace clock is a necessary first step towards really dialing in your swim training.