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Should triathletes swim with a watch in the pool?

Coach Darian Silk makes the case for ditching the watch when it comes to swim practice.

With an increasing number of options available on the market for triathletes who want to log every metric of their triathlon training, many products can now function in the pool as well as on land. No more losing track of how much you’ve swum or having to do mental math to figure how long until your next interval – the watch will do it for you, right?

Here are a few reasons why as a swim coach, I think you should keep that watch nice and dry and swim without it.

1) Using a watch in the pool actually interferes with your technique.

Pushing off of the wall is the most common time you will use your watch. This is the time when you should be setting up your body in a streamlined and balanced position. Unfortunately, that is all but impossible to do while pushing a button on your wrist or looking at your watch face. Now, instead of developing good technique you are creating bad habits that can be hard to shake.  

Okay you say; I get it, I’ll just push the button before I push off, that’ll solve the problem!  That leads us to problem #2.

2) You are messing up everyone else in your lane.

When training with other people you need to work as one unit. This is what the pace clock is for. Everyone can see it and everyone can regulate their practice to this clock. Even if using your watch only puts you one or two seconds off from the rest of the group on each interval, this can lead to improper spacing between swimmers and interfere with the rhythm of the lane.  This makes meeting the goals of the workout harder for you and everyone else. There are also those times when the watch just doesn’t work the way you want it to. I have seen many an athlete stuck at the wall frantically pushing buttons on their watch while their training partners swim away, and their heart rate drops out of the correct training zone.

Fine you say, but that doesn’t apply to me – I swim alone!  Okay, well here’s problem #3.

3) You cannot look at your swim watch while racing

Looking at your watch during the swim portion of the race will interfere with your technique and rhythm and slow you down.  If you have come to rely on the watch to track your pace you may have failed to fine-tune the body-awareness needed to have a successful swim. You can end up under-performing or overreaching in the swim and suffering for it later.

Okay, so you’re telling me to throw away the watch?

No, that’s not what I’m saying – just use it sparingly if you must. Turn it on at the beginning of a practice and then turn it off at the end. Unless there’s no pace clock around, don’t look at it during practice.  Do this and you’ll have all the data you need for a full analysis of the practice later without letting the watch interfere with your training or your technique.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Certified Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  He can be reached at darian@teamatomica.com.