Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?

If you like gadgets and/or swim toys you may have found yourself, at some point over the past couple of months, drooling over the FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor. And after playing with one for a few weeks now, I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool.

Before you fork over $200, though, consider the question: What does the Swimsense – and swim watches in general (e.g., the Swimovate Poolmate and Oregon Scientific’s watch) – offer that a simple pace clock doesn’t?

At this point (early 2011), the features offered by swim watches basically boil down to:

  • keeping time
  • counting laps
  • counting strokes


Obviously, a pace clock is great at keeping time. Did you know it can also count laps? Assuming you keep a roughly steady pace, you can almost always use the pace clock to verify the lap count on a long swim. During my 10K Postal swim last fall, I had a direct view of a large digital pace clock at the end of each 100m lap. Whenever I pushed off the wall to begin a new lap, I glanced at the clock on my first breath. This helped me keep a perfect lap count for 10,000m, without having to consult my human counter. And, since I looked at the clock at the same point every lap (~5m off the wall), I also got my 100m splits to an accuracy of less than 1 second.

What about counting strokes? OK, pace clocks can’t count strokes. But really, is it that difficult to count your own strokes? (Especially in a short course pool.)

The Swimsense has some interesting additional features – the ability to upload workout data to your PC, for example – but that’s more about the “platform” than the watch itself. It still just keeps time, counts laps, and counts strokes. No integrated heart-rate monitor or anything (yet).

Pace clocks even have a few advantages over swim watches:

  • you don’t have to strap them to your wrist
  • you don’t have to carry them in your bag or worry about losing them
  • you don’t have to fumble with any buttons to activate them as you’re pushing off the wall

So actually, pace clocks are pretty awesome. Indeed, a swim watch would have to be quite a bit more awesome – $200 more awesome, in fact – to justify the purchase. Does the Swimsense clear the bar? Stay tuned. For now, I’ll list a few situations that might alter the calculus slightly toward investing in a swim watch:

  • your pool doesn’t have a pace clock
  • your pool has a pace clock, but you can’t see it from your lane
  • you swim primarily long course, so counting your own strokes is somewhat more mentally cumbersome
  • you’re training for a marathon swim and do regular long steady-state swims where you just want to zone out and not worry about counting laps

On that last point – unless you’re training for a marathon swim, there’s really no reason to be doing lots of steady-state swimming (unless you enjoy it). Interval training is far more effective, and a lot more fun!

8 thoughts on “Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?”

  1. I’ve got a Poolmate.
    It’s good at counting laps, but the strokes is only close.
    I can count and it’s normally within 2 or 3 strokes.

    I have to agree on the pace clock. I glance at it to help count
    laps and keep my pace. Can’t do that with a watch.
    And It always starts when I start a swim. I hate finishing
    a swim to discover I didn’t push the button correctly when I started.

    But I have to use the watch at the Y i swim at. The pace clock is
    almost impossible to see from the lap lane.

    FYI.. I did a 2:13 200 at practice last week 🙂
    But Jim did a 2:07 (Ouch!!)
    I drafted on the 1st 100 and then he took off as usual.

    1. Hey Bo! Thanks for the info on the Poolmate. That’s the only one of the current crop of swim watches I haven’t tried. Nice job on that 200 – and the Miami meet, too!

    2. Yeah the YMCAs around here put their pace clocks above the end of the lane instead of the side (near the end) so they’re impossible to see whule swimming crawl. Several competition pool specs dictate placement on the side near the start end so I’m going to use this as ammunition to ask them to change.

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