You have seen them hanging on walls, placed on the deck at either end of the pool: large, small, old-school analog and fancy digital—they are called pace clocks.
Do you take advantage of them? Triathletes will often jump in the pool and just swim—no watch, no rest, no pace changes, no stroke changes, no kicking, no drilling, no plan. Then there are those who complete the same workout day after day without stretching or challenging themselves.
Learning how to use the pace clock to spice up your swim sessions will bring more purpose to your workouts, make the sessions fly by, improve your fitness, form, speed, and have you thinking and swimming like a swimmer.
How to Read a Pace Clock
Most pools have two pace clocks, either analog or digital (one at either end of the pool), that are synchronized with each other. This allows swimmers to get their time at either end of the pool.
Pace clocks run continuously so swimmers can keep track of their overall swim time and their work-and-rest intervals as well as to aid in keeping distance between swimmers in the same lane.
Analog clocks have two "hands," one black that ticks off minutes and one red that ticks off seconds. The face of the clock is marked in seconds (60 hash marks) and numbered by 5s with 60 "at the top" and 30 "at the bottom."
Digital clocks display the minutes and seconds continuously and re-set after 60 minutes (back to 00:00). Similar terms are used when "talking time" with both types of pace clocks (see notes at end).
Why Use a Pace Clock?
Using a pace clock helps you keep track of your progress during workouts. You can see how fast (or slow) you are going, monitor your overall pace, and time your rest intervals. Paying attention to the clock gives more structure and purpose to your workout, and you can utilize times from one workout to structure future workouts.
More: Dave Scotts's Guide to Efficient Swimming
As you become more experienced, you need to start thinking like a swimmer, and understanding how to use the pace clock can aid in your development in the pool.
Knowing how to incorporate it into your workouts can also make your transition from swimming alone to training with a team or group much easier.