For many years in the sports of swimming and triathlon, we’ve been able to take advantage of products that’ll make us swim faster thanks to extra buoyant materials such as neoprene. In multisport we’ve tri-specific wetsuits, and in the case of competition swimming, the tech advances culminated in Speedo creating the LZR Racer bodysuit, made from a mix of elastane-nylon and polyurethane that compressed the swimmer’s body and repelled far more water than plain old skin.
The LZR led to a flurry of world records falling between 2008 and 2009, so many in fact that swimming’s governing body, FINA, decided the advantage was too great and the suits were banned. The new regulations took effect on 1 January 2010, with the rules stating that swimwear must be made of woven materials.
The FINA ban has contributed to a greater emphasis being placed on the development of training tools to help swimmers and coaches learn how to make efficiency and technique improvements. So, while wetsuits can help you reduce drag, what technology can actually improve your technique and make you a faster swimmer? And what’s in store for the future? Let’s find out.
Swimming can be a lonely sport and, yes, pretty tedious during long pool sessions, meaning it can be difficult to keep your form perfect with an optimal stroke rate and cadence. A tool that’s been helping swimmers set their pace and monitor stroke rate effectively for a number of years now is the Tempo Trainer from Finis. It’s essentially a metronome, fitting under a swim cap and beeping at the exact stroke tempo you need to keep to.
One of 220’s swim experts, John Wood, is a fan of this simple yet effective device. “It enables swimmers to set their own pace and stroke rate, which is really useful for them and for coaches. The tech has been around for a long time, but it’s great that it’s now so widely available.”
The idea has made it onto more technologically-advanced products, such as the new FX-Sport bone-conducting swim headphones. Primarily they’re for listening to music while you swim, but they also come pre-loaded with a tempo trainer and lap-time pacemaker. For triathletes who like to train with music,
bone-conducting technology means we no longer need to wear earbuds that muffle sound and are liable to slip out of your ears when swimming fast or flip-turning on the wall. Examples include the Finis Duo and the Xtrainerz
For swim tracking, there are plenty of watches out there that can tell you time, distance and pace. Watches with open-water features such as the Garmin Forerunner 945, pictured here, will tend to use GPS, whereas in a pool the accuracy is best with an accelerometer that’s already programmed to calculate your number of laps.
While a multisport watch with GPS will be the best option for triathlon and open-water races, they’re often quite bulky and, in the pool, most competitive swimmers will prefer to keep their wrists bare to avoid whacking lane ropes and other swimmers. It’s why we’re seeing increasing amounts of wearable tech that fits under a swim cap or to your goggle straps, one notable example being the Polar OH1 optical heart rate sensor. This simply clips to your goggle straps, and you can share the data with your preferred fitness apps via Bluetooth for post-swim analysis.
We’re also seeing an increasing amount of software and performance analysis tools to
help swimmers and their coaches, For many years Swimming Technology Research (STR) have been at the forefront of this development. Their Aquanex analysis measures the swimmer’s hand force, active drag and swimming velocity (the distance travelled per second) using sensors attached to the swimmer, and feeds back to a coach from an underwater camera to their computer screen in real-time. STR also offer their Modél Optimál Natación (MONA) software, which depicts a biomechanical model showing perfect technique without any limiting factors. This can be used by coaches post-analysis to visually show their swimmers what they’re doing both right and, of course, wrong.
Many triathletes may also be familiar with the popular Swim Smooth coaching programme, pulling together numerous top-level swim coaches and plenty of technology to improve swimmers at all levels. Their Swim Smooth Guru is a one-stop-shop app with sessions, drills and a virtual coach to help you monitor progress and improve, while they also offer a free app called ‘Mr Smooth’ that, like STR’s MONA, demonstrates a perfect freestyle technique.
While we’ve been able to check on our pace, cadence and power in cycling for quite a few years now (and more recently for running with the Stryd power meter) swimming has somewhat lagged behind. Yet Dan Eisenhardt, the CEO of Form Swim, thinks his product might just be the breakthrough that’ll allow swimming to bring itself up to date alongside cycling and running analysis.
The Form Swim goggles have an augmented reality display that gives feedback in front of you, with a simple but effective screen showing you data such as your pace per 100m, cadence and distance travelled. This is also very useful for coaches, as the data can be shared instantly via Bluetooth from the goggles to Form Swim’s app.
“While we’ve had all manner of watches and computers available for cycling and running for years now, swimming has been in the dark ages,” believes Eisenhardt.
“The foundation of a technologically-advanced swim product is accurate tracking, which sets a baseline to get metrics from your device,” adds Eisenhardt. “The Form Swim goggles have machine learning and Bluetooth connectivity, so there’s definitely room for us to try new things in the future. In the next few years, we’re going to see the same kind of innovation in swimming that you already have in other sports.”
The Finis Tempo trainer and products such as the Platysens Marlin (a GPS tracker that clips to the back of your goggles) are capable of giving you feedback in the form of beeps or voice commands, but Form Swim have taken things to a new level by placing the data in front of you, which certainly beats the pool clock or checking a watch.
The next step will be introducing even more useful metrics to analyse alongside your speed and stroke efficiency. What if we could analyse our swimming ‘power’ in the same way it’s become so commonplace in cycling? It’s somethingWood wants to see.
“I want power to become a part of swim training in the same way you can measure power on the bike and run. It’ll be very useful for long-distance swimming and, when paired with the monitoring of a swimmer’s RPE (rate of perceived exertion), will also help us to understand improvements
Have Form Swim made the significant breakthrough that’ll allow us to analyse all the metrics in swimming that we’re used to seeing in the other tri disciplines? It’s the start of something bigger, and we expect more similar products with the ability to give real-time feedback to emerge over the next decade. So how far will swim tech extend in the future with the huge demand coming from both the worlds of tri and competitive swimming? We predict far more wearable swimming tech and, in our ultimate futuristic vision, we’d have a seamless display integrated into our goggles and real-time feedback being sent to our coach poolside... perhaps via the world’s first smart swimsuit!