Home Outdoor Sports FAQS Fishing Golf swimming Skiing and Skating Cycling Climbing Other Outdoor Sports Camping
Swimming Technique  Outdoor sports > Swimming > Swimming Technique > Step Up Your Swim Workouts With a Pace Clock

Step Up Your Swim Workouts With a Pace Clock

2016/7/21 10:45:47

You have seen them hanging on walls, placed on the deck at either end of the pool: large, small, old-school analog and fancy digital—they are called pace clocks. 

More: 7 Tips for Swimming Newbies

Do you take advantage of them? Triathletes will often jump in the pool and just swim—no watch, no rest, no pace changes, no stroke changes, no kicking, no drilling, no plan. Then there are those who complete the same workout day after day without stretching or challenging themselves.

Learning how to use the pace clock to spice up your swim sessions will bring more purpose to your workouts, make the sessions fly by, improve your fitness, form, speed, and have you thinking and swimming like a swimmer.

More: 3 Workouts to Improve Your Swim

How to Read a Pace Clock

Most pools have two pace clocks, either analog or digital (one at either end of the pool), that are synchronized with each other. This allows swimmers to get their time at either end of the pool.

Pace clocks run continuously so swimmers can keep track of their overall swim time and their work-and-rest intervals as well as to aid in keeping distance between swimmers in the same lane.

More: 10 Steps to Improving Your Triathlon Swim

Analog clocks have two "hands," one black that ticks off minutes and one red that ticks off seconds. The face of the clock is marked in seconds (60 hash marks) and numbered by 5s with 60 "at the top" and 30 "at the bottom."

Digital clocks display the minutes and seconds continuously and re-set after 60 minutes (back to 00:00). Similar terms are used when "talking time" with both types of pace clocks (see notes at end).

Why Use a Pace Clock?

Using a pace clock helps you keep track of your progress during workouts. You can see how fast (or slow) you are going, monitor your overall pace, and time your rest intervals. Paying attention to the clock gives more structure and purpose to your workout, and you can utilize times from one workout to structure future workouts.

More: Dave Scotts's Guide to Efficient Swimming

As you become more experienced, you need to start thinking like a swimmer, and understanding how to use the pace clock can aid in your development in the pool.

Knowing how to incorporate it into your workouts can also make your transition from swimming alone to training with a team or group much easier.

How to Use a Pace Clock

Keeping track of your speed and monitoring your intervals are two ways to use the pace clock.

Comparing the times of repetitions and sets from one workout to another provides great feedback on your fitness and form—if you are getting faster, able to hold a steady pace and/or swimming the same pace with less effort, your fitness and technique are improving. If not, you may need to adjust your workouts by including more drill work, completing shorter sets and overall workouts, and increasing the time of your rest intervals.

More: Four Focused Swim Workouts

The simplest way to get your time for a repetition is to the leave the wall "on the top," swim the distance and then look at the clock upon finish.

For example, if you completed a 50-yard sprint and left "on the top," came in with the red hand on the 45, your 50-yard sprint took you 45 seconds (:45). Keep in mind that 25s and 50s are generally easier to keep track of then longer intervals such as a 200 or 400. But, if you know that your average 50 time is :45, your 200 should be in the three-minute range (3:00) and the 400 in the six-minute range (6:00).

More: 10 Swimming Tips for Beginners

Timing intervals becomes trickier, as there is a bit more math involved to keep track of your time. For example, a coach may give you at set of 4 x 50 fast on 1:15, leaving "on the top." So, no matter what your 50 pace, you will always leave for the next interval in 1 minute and 15 seconds: No. 1 on the 60, No. 2 on the 15, No. 3 on the 30 and No. 4 on the 45.

If you are new to the pace clock and swimming with an experienced group, a good tip to follow is: don't be the first to "send off" in the lane. Follow a lane-mate who knows the clock and just leave :10 after they do and hope they are good at math.

More: 10 Elements ofa Perfect Freestyle Stroke Part 1

Mastering the pace clock may be frustrating at first. As with all new skills, it takes some time and patience.

Challenge yourself the next time you're at the pool to use the pace clock by setting appropriate and attainable time goals for your repetitions and sets. By monitoring your times with the pace clock, you'll be well on the way to thinking and swimming like a swimmer.

More: 4 Lessons From a Swim Clinic

Time Terms

  • Send-off—the time that a swimmer leaves the wall. Example: 4 x 200 on 3:00;
  • Off on:10—When several swimmers are in the same lane, this is a cue to a swimmer to leave 10 seconds off-the-wall behind another swimmer. Example: 4 x 200 on 3:00, "everyone off on :10;"
  • "On the top" or "on the 60"—On a traditional pace clock the beginning of a minute is "on the top" and the number is 60. For a digital clock the "top" would be 0;
  • "On the bottom" or "on the 30"—On a traditional pace clock the middle of the minute is "on the bottom" with the number 30, with the same number 30 for a digital clock;
  • Repetition or Repeat—the number of swims within a set. Example: 3 x 500—you complete three cycles of 500;
  • Interval—The amount of time that you have to complete the swim segment and to rest before you send-off for the next interval. Example: 4 x 50 on :60--you are always leaving "on the top" no matter what your swim time is;
  • Set—a grouping of certain swims. Example: 4 x 100 free, 5 x 50 free kick;
  • Rest Interval—set time for the rest between intervals or sets. Example: 10 x 100 on :30. No matter what time you do the 100 in, you will always have :30 rest.
  • Rounds—A certain number of repetitions in an entire set. Example: Three repeats of: (1 x 100, 2 x 50, 4 x 25) with a send-off base of  :30 per 25 and :60 between each round. The intervals would look like: 100 on 2:00, 50 on :60 and 25 on :30.
  • Straight set—The distance per repetition and interval per repetition remain constant throughout the set. The rest interval becomes dependent upon how fast or slow you swim the interval. Example: 10 x 50 on :60.

More: Body Position Basics

More Time Terms

  • Fixed rest set—the rest interval is always the same length of time. Example: 5 x 100 w/ :30 RI;
  • Pace—your swimming speed based on your time for a certain distance, usually 100 yards or meters. Example: You swim a 1,000 meter time trial in 21:20; and your 100 meter pace is 1:25;
  • Time—how long it took you to swim the distance;
  • Build—getting faster within a certain repetition or repeat. Example: 4 x 75 build by 25s, each length gets progressively faster within each 75 rep;
  • Descend—getting faster with each subsequent repetition or rep. Example: 4 x 200 descend each 200 by :05--start out slow so that you get :05 faster with each 200.
  • Ascend—opposite of descend—you're adding time to the interval. Example: 4 x 25 fast on :30 ascend :05, so #1 is on :30, #2 is on :35, #3 is on :40 and #4 is on :45--you will ideally have more rest with each rep.
  • Negative split—the second half of the repetition is swum faster than the first half. Example: You swim a 100 on 1:15 and the first 50 is :39 and the second 50 is :36;
  • Broken swim—a larger distance swim is broken into smaller segments with rest intervals after each segment. Example:  Broken 200 swim done as 50-25-50-25-50 w/ :15 RI
  • Pyramid—Sets that include ascending and descending intervals. Example: 7 x 50 on :50, :45, :40, :35, :40, :45, :50--here you get less rest on the way up and more on the way down the pyramid.
  • Ladder—sets that have times for specific repetitions (steps). Example: 400 on 8:00, 300 on 6:00, 200 on 4:00, 100 on 2:00.   

More: Decoding a Swim Practice

Active logoSearch for your next triathlon.

  1. Prev:
  2. Next:
Related Articles
Bring the Surfboard, the Body Will Follow
4 Drills for Backstroke Beginners
2 Pull Drills for Faster Freestyle
6 Ways to Swim Faster
2 Workouts to Improve Swimming Strength and Endurance
4 Tips For a Faster Freestyle Swim
Get in the swim, not swimmers ear
6 Sets to Build Swimming Endurance
4 Swimming Drills to Perfect Your Stroke
More Great Links

2 Workouts to Improve Swimming Strength and Endurance

Swimmers looking for an edge in the water should look to the road or even the trail. It doesnt

6 Ways to Swim Faster

One of the biggest misconceptions about swimming speed is that in order to swim faster you have

5 Fun Ideas for Summer Swims

With summer around the corner, its time to think about ditching the indoor pool workouts for s

Contact management E-mail : [email protected]

Copyright © 2005-2016 Outdoor sports All Rights Reserved