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Technique and Training

Embrace the Pace

Five reasons to watch the clock during your workouts

Terry Heggy | June 9, 2016

Being a clock watcher in your office is probably a sign that you’re not loving your job. But in the pool, learning to use the pace clock is an important part of becoming a better swimmer. Here are five specific benefits you’ll earn:

1. Training Feedback

The most obvious pace clock benefit is that you can see how fast you are right now. But you also get feedback for:

  • Race entry predictions—Yes, you will go faster in a race than you typically do in practice, but your practice times give you a baseline for race calculations.
  • Recovery needs—If your practice times are significantly slower on a given day, it may indicate that you need additional recovery.
  • Goals—Workout speed tracks your progress toward your goals, and lets you know when it’s time to adjust those targets.

2. Race Pacing

In addition to technique, strength, and fitness, successful racing requires a well-executed pacing strategy. Whether you’re a sprinter or distance swimmer, the only way to pace well in a race is to practice your target pacing. You may think you’re negative splitting based on the way you feel, but your senses are probably lying to you. The clock will tell you the truth.

If you predict your time before each workout swim and then compare that prediction to your actual performance, you’ll develop a good sense for how your level of effort relates to results. This leads to knowing how it should feel to take out a race at a specific tempo.

3. Technique Testing

If you don’t have a coach to give you stroke feedback, timing yourself while trying technique variations might help you discover your best form. Keep in mind, though, that learning a brand new technique (flip turns, vertical forearm, alternate breathing, etc.) will initially slow you down as you implement the change, but will pay off once you achieve mastery.

4. Lap Counting

If you know your expected pace and can watch the clock as you swim, you can track your distance without having to count lengths. For example, if you swim each 100 at 1:45, you can calculate that your expected 100 times will be 1:45, 3:30, 5:15, 7:00, and so on. Therefore, if the seconds are showing 30 as you make your turn, you’ve gone 200.

It takes time to learn the math for your specific pace, but it really helps you develop a great sense for where you are and how fast you’re going. Start with a spreadsheet or pacing chart and think through what you expect to see on the clock as you swim a specific distance. Master this technique and you’ll be known as the swimmer who never loses count.

5. Social Prowess

Knowing your times helps you in your relationships with others, too!

  • Lane etiquette—If you’re always aware of how fast you’re going, you’ll be able to confidently tell your lanemates where you belong in the hierarchy for any particular set. Prior to starting a set, if Kim says “I’ll hold a 1:27 pace,” and Desmond says “I’ll do 1:28,” then Kim should go first. This is a far more reliable way to determine lane order than saying, “I’m tired,” or, “You should probably go.”
  • Program development—Discussing your workout times with your coaches can help them design workouts to strengthen your weaknesses and move you toward your goals more quickly. The pace clock will also tell you whether you hit your time targets during practice.
  • Water cooler coolness—Workouts are the most popular conversation topic whenever athletes get together. It’s always fun to talk about how you were able to nail that descending set of 100s, or how your 50s with fins were all below your swimming PR. If you weren’t watching the clock, you’ll be unable to participate in such scintillating conversations, and you wouldn’t want to be left out, now, would you?

Get on the Pace Clock Bandwagon

If your pool doesn’t have a pace clock, consider asking them to get one. Another option is to get a waterproof wristwatch. If you have trouble reading the time, pick up a pair of prescription goggles, as well. These products are available through USMS sponsors.

Then, the next time someone accuses you of being a clock watcher, you can smile with pride!

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About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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