(Warning: This is LONG. Notes are at the bottom.)
One of the biggest challenges of training for triathlon is dealing with the repetitive nature of the workouts, especially during the cold weather months. Unless you live in SoCal, where you deal with the cold weather months by pulling on a long sleeve tech shirt for your hill repeats. And while you can find ways to distract yourself, by looking a bit at scenery on the bike, or listening to music during your run (or nowadays even your swim), that distraction can come with a price; a price like losing track of your training.
That’s where all the lovely bits of technology that we as triathletes clamor for come in. Not only do they keep track of the things we don’t want to think about (did I just jog 10 miles or 12? Is this lap 50 or 51?) but they also give us tons of data that will let us or our coaches break down every second of our training in order to try and squeeze every last extra second out of our potential and bring it into our races.
And while technology empowers us, it has it’s limits. One of the biggest limits right now is that GPS doesn’t work indoors. If we could somehow make that work, several solutions on the market now (for example the the Garmin 310xt), along with a few add-ons, and every workout could be tracked through a single device and system. Until then, there will be a place for devices like the FINIS Swimsense.
|Swimsense Watch, charging/upload base, and cable|
I head about the Swimsense initially in a press release leading up to CES, and after reading about it, I just had to see one, and hopefully try one. I’ve always had trouble keeping track of laps on longer swims, and with my recent memory problems, even as few as 20 laps is long enough for me to possibly lose count. Pathetic huh? Anyways, it seemed like a device that might have some value to me in just it’s simplest functionality.
So what is the Swimsense, and how does it work? Think of it as a Nike+ system for the pool. Simply put it’s accelerometers and magnetometers inside a watch that along with a complex series of software algorithms can be used to keep track of not just how far you swim, but what type of stroke you swim, your pace, stroke count, stroke pace, distance per stroke, calories and other metrics. You can upload the individual workouts to the online Swimsense Training Log via a piece of desktop software called the Swimsense Bridge.
The Seimsense has an advantage over the Nike+, in that by telling the system how long your pool is, it knows how far you’re swimming each lap. It simply looks for a big change in direction and can use that to identify that you’ve completed a lap. You also select which hand you’re wearing it on so that the system knows which motions it should look for.
|Clearly, I didn’t take this picture|
That’s where the real trick with the Swimsense comes in; identifying which stroke you’re swimming at the time. To be sure the software supporting this process has to be pretty complicated as everyone’s swim stroke is different. As their Sales Manager pointed out to me, it’s one thing to track the swimming movement of world-class swimmers who have ideal form, and quite another to identify that of the everyday recreational swimmer who may have never taken a formal lesson.
|Swimsense training log dashboard|
The above screenshot is an example swim I had earlier this week. 850 yards in the 25 yard FitRec competition pool. 300 yards freestyle with the Swimsense on my left wrist, 300 with it on my right, 200 breaststroke, and 50 backstroke. If you were to see the details of this swim, you’d see that the Swimsense identified the first 300 pefectly, with all of the splits and strokes correct. The second 300 after I switched wrists and changed the setting on the watch, it recognized all of the splits bit it saw me as swimming mixed strokes instead of freestyle. I honestly would have thought my left arm had worse form, but it wasn’t the case.