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Understanding the Pace Clock in Swimming

You’ve probably heard conversations about pace clocks and intervals around the swimming pool. You might have even felt a little dumbfounded when swimmers have talked about them. You should learn to read a pace clock if you’re getting more serious about lap swimming, thinking about joining a team, or already on a team. Although figuring out the pace clock may seem tricky at first, it will be as easy as reading a regular clock once you get the hang of it.

Why Use a Pace Clock

When you’re swimming sets, one easy way to keep track of your progress is to pay attention to the pace clock. Watch the clock when you leave the wall, then glance back up at the clock when you come back to the wall. This allows you to figure out what your time was by doing some simple subtraction. If you do that for every repeat, you can see if you’re speeding up or slowing down.

A pace clock is not only good for monitoring your swimming progress. It also helps keep your mind fresh and alert. Understanding a pace clock is beneficial for you in so many ways!

If you’re on a swim team, either your coach or your lane-mates will decide on an interval that’ll be used for a set. After the interval is decided, you’ll need to pay attention to the pace clock to stay on the interval, not confuse your lane-mates, and not interfere with others’ workouts.

How to Read a Pace Clock

Traditional Clocks

A traditional pace clock looks like a large analog clock with a few small tweaks: There’s no hour hand, and the clock has seconds written on it instead of hours. This means that there’s a “60” written at the top of the clock instead of a “12.” This is why swimmers often refer to the “60” as “the top.”

Similarly, the 30, called “the bottom,” is on the bottom of the clock. When doing a set, you might hear a coach or fellow swimmer say, “Let’s leave on ‘the bottom.’” This means leave the wall when the second hand gets to the 30. When reading the clock, the main hand that you need to pay attention to is the second hand.

Digital clocks

Although most pools still use traditional pace clocks, some universities and well funded pools now have digital clocks. These clocks work similarly to the traditional clock: The minutes and seconds are displayed, but in a digital format. Once again, you mainly need to pay attention to the seconds.

Although not as intuitive, the lingo used with digital clocks hold the same meaning : The 60 is still called “the top” and the 30 is still called “the bottom.”

How to Use a Pace Clock

You can use a pace clock for a few functions. Monitoring your speed and managing intervals are two key uses.

Timing Yourself

If you’re wondering how fast you’re swimming, you can utilize the pace clock to find out your speed. Knowing your speed is a good indicator of how well you’re swimming. If you’re faster today than you were yesterday, you should work on your stroke or practice habits. If your times are improving, you know that you’re on the right track.

The best way to get your time is to leave on “the top”. Leave the wall when the second hand gets to the 60. After you’ve swum the distance that you want to time, glance back up at the clock. This will help you determine what your time is.

For example: Say you’ve sprinted a lap of freestyle. When you touched the wall, the second hand was at the 23. That means you swam the lap in 23 seconds.

It gets more complicated if you leave the wall at a different time. If you left the wall on the :10 and touched the wall on the :37, then you’ll have to do some math to figure out your time. Take the first number and subtract it from the second to get 27. This means you swam the lap in 27 seconds.

Swimming Sets

Another instance where you’d use a pace clock is if you’re using intervals in practice. When keeping track of intervals, you’ll have to do some math.

For example: If the interval is the 45, then that means you’ll leave 45 seconds apart for each repeat. Say you leave on the :15 for the first repeat. You’ll add 45 seconds to that to figure out when you’ll leave for the second repeat. That means for the second repeat you’ll leave on “the top.” For the third repeat, add another 45 seconds to leave on the :45 and so on.

Hot Tip: Follow the Leader
If you’re not comfortable reading the clock yet, have someone else go first in the lane. That way, all you have to do is follow their lead. Make sure that you leave 5 or 10 seconds after the person in front of you.

If you’re still confused, think about it like this: If you left your house at 7:00 and you need to be somewhere in 45 minutes, you’d have to be there by 7:45. Use this same math when you’re reading the pace clock.

The Benefits

Learning to read a pace clock can be a little tricky at first. But if you relate it to understanding a regular clock, it can make more sense. The more you practice reading a pace clock, the easier it will get. Keep in mind that utilizing the pace clock will help both your mind and body. You’re certainly on the right track to a fit and healthy lifestyle!

Paying attention to pace clocks and intervals while swimming can feel like a lot to handle. If you're having trouble keeping track, this guide gives you good pointers.
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