Monday, April 18, 2011

Triathletes...A Power Meter for the Pool?

“Like a Power Meter for the Pool?  Will new swim training devices have a similar impact on swim training as Power Meters did on Cycling?”
By Coach Karen Mackin

When I first found out about two new downloadable performance monitors by Finis (Swimsense) and Swimovate (Poolmate Pro), I immediately thought wow!  Finally, I can see swim workouts like cycling workouts, track peak swim paces, and monitor performance as easily as I do for cycling!  I started wondering if these devices would do for swimming, what Power meters did for cycling.  On the one hand, skeptics bring up the fact that pool swimming is so consistent (going back and forth over the same exact course, and with a big Pace Clock at one end of the pool, they ask, what more do you need?   Well, for those who are “lap counting challenged”, the distance display on the watch certainly helps.   However, I feel that the real power behind them is two fold 1) simply having a detailed record of your true pace, times, stroke counts, distances, for all of your workouts and 2) post workout analysis by yourself and/or your coach.

Unfortunately, software lags hardware in this case, and while the watches collect a ton of very valuable information, currently software is playing catch up.    Training Peaks is in the process of integrating this data into their web based software, but as of this writing I am still waiting.  So, most of the analysis potential has yet to be tapped.   Currently, both company’s offer some rudimentary charts and graphs.  However, the flexibility to create your own graphs and charts can only be done by exporting to CSV (which both have) and utilizing spreadsheet charts (or some clever programming of your own).

Even without the advanced software, the raw data that these watches provide can be very useful. Since most swimmers do not have their own personal swim coaches on deck recording times and stroke counts, the only way to get the kind of detailed information needed to help in the following areas would be to use one of these watches.

  • How well do you pace your intervals?  Do you start out really fast and slow down, or always build your intervals.   When does your pace begin to drop or speed up?   Is it right at the end or early on?  Do you start out too fast? 
    • Sometimes a peak at the pace clock in the middle of a long hard interval is difficult or impossible and often not easy to remember the details even if you could take a peak. Perceived exertion can be very deceiving with the answers to these questions, HR data won’t provide the answer, only detailed lap splits can answer this.  So, unless your coach is on deck for all your workouts taking splits, you won’t get this kind of detailed information without a watch that provides durations for every 25!    Nailing your pacing on longer intervals can go a long way to improving the effectiveness of your workout.
  • Are you improving your efficiency (getting more distance per stroke) over time, from one workout to the next, from last month to this month?   How consistent is your stroke rate or distance per stroke?   Does it improve or decline by swimming faster?  Is it the same at the beginning of your workout as it is at the end? 
    • Sure, you can spend sections of your workout focusing on this and counting and timing, but what happens when you are not focusing on it?   And, are you going to remember all the counts and times from one workout to the next without the detailed downloaded data?

Coach/Athlete communication:
  • Does your coach know exactly what you did in your swim workout?  
    • Sharing the details from your download with your coach is probably one of the best ways to enable your coach to stay on top of your swim times and paces, allowing him/her to better fine tune your swim training.

And when the software develops more fully, this list of benefits will grow as well.   I can see the day when I track peak swim interval times on a handy quick view chart and have accurate swim TSS scores to allow me to use the performance manager for season planning and monitoring.