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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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.
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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.
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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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