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On The Next Red Top - How To Use The Swimming Pace Clock

Swim training has it's own special language and terminology that only swimmers understand. It's a right of passage to learn this language so you can understand and communicate with your fellow swimmers. The first time I joined a swim club, I can remember the lane leader giving me instructions which resembled:

"We're swimming these in 1:30 on 1:50 and descending as we go. We're off on the next red quarter past".

It took me a while to work out that he wasn't a Russian spy and I refrained from telling him that the "grey squirrel would not be flying in the midnight hour".

So what does all this mean?

First things first, is there a pace clock on the pool wall? Most pools have a large clock which runs constantly. It takes 60 seconds for the needle to go fully round and generally one half of the needle is red and the other half black.

Swimmers use the clock and the colour of the needle to determine when they are going to swim their next interval. For example, if a swimmer says we're starting on RED TOP, this means you start when the red part of the needle hits the top of the clock (60). You can use any variation of this:

Red bottom or red half past
Red quarter past or quarter to
Red 10 etc

*If you prefer black to red, feel free to change the colour...

In 1:30 On 1:50??

You'll frequently hear swimmers using the terms 'IN' and 'ON'. For example, If you are swimming 10 X 100m (10 reps of 100m), you may swim them in 1:30 on 1:50. This means that you are trying to swim each in a time of 1:30 (if you start on red top, you should be on red bottom after rep 1).

The term ON 1:50 means that you start a repetition every 1 minute and 50 seconds. If you swim each repetition in 1:30 and 'leave' on 1:50, you will get 20 seconds rest. However, if you start to get tired and swim them slower, your rest would be less. For example, if you swam the 100m repetition in 1:37, you would only get 13 seconds recovery before you start your next rep.

Why use IN and ON?

Sometime swim coaches will tell you to take 15 seconds recovery following each repetition, the issues are as follows:

1. If you swim slower / easier, you still get 15 seconds recovery
2. It's sometimes difficult to work out as you need to look at the time you swam, add 15 seconds and then work out on the clock when to start. Most people therefore just guess at 15 seconds then go again.
3. Most swimmers wait much longer than 15 seconds before they leave as there's no cue to start

Where Do I Start?

1. Look at the swim set for the day, is it 50m, 100m or 200m intervals? How long do you think you will take to swim each?
2. What is the recovery for the session? Is it 10, 15 or 20 seconds between repetitions?
3. Add the 2 figures together and round it to the nearest number (up or down - choose wisely).

For example:

The session is 10 X 100m with 20 seconds rest between each. I generally swim 100m repetitions in a time of 1:47 (somewhere between 1:45 and 1:50). Add 20 seconds recovery to 1:47 (2:07) and lets round it up to 2:10.

For the session your target time is to swim IN 1:45-1:50, ON 2:10. Now, imaging the clock in front of you, we're going on RED TOP, when you finish the first 100m glance and check the IN time. When the RED needle gets to 10 past, you leave the wall and as you come in, glance at the clock and check your IN time. If you're good at maths, you'll have calculated that we're leaving again on RED 20 past.... and so on.

Why don't the Swim Club sessions use this format?

Simple, I don't know how fast you can swim, hence I will simply state 20 seconds rest etc. You need to do the maths and adjust your session for the pace clock.

Go forth and practice my dolphin friends and when we meet in the pool, use only the language of the swimmer to identify yourself.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

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