A guide to calculating your swimming pace

Whether you swim professionally or for leisure, tracking your pace is a great way to measure your progress, fitness and performance in the water. Pace refers to the time it takes to swim a set distance, and is usually measured in minutes per mile or minutes per kilometre.

Your pace can vary depending on many factors, including your daily energy levels and the water conditions. It’s easier to track your pace more consistently in a pool, as in the ocean the current of the waves can slow you down. Open water swimming also leaves you vulnerable to changing weather conditions, and the temperature of the water won’t be the same each time you take a dive. Whilst a swimming pool is a more controlled environment, tracking your pace is achievable in both settings.

The stroke you use can also have a huge impact on your speed, so always track your pace for each stroke separately. Front crawl is arguably the fastest swimming style, in which athletes can swim up to 6mph – but the average person achieves around 1.3 – 1.9mph. For long distance or endurance swimmers, you may opt for a breaststroke or backstroke swim style, which allows for slower movements and deeper breathing.  

To help you begin to calculate your swimming pace, we’ve created this helpful guide with everything you need to know.

Invest in a smartwatch

Naturally, you’ll need to start tracking your swims if you want to calculate your pace and improve your performance. Unless you’re swimming with a coach or someone who can stand on the side and time you, investing in a waterproof fitness watch is a great way to track your progress. There are many different models available, some with GPS features and some that upload your swim data to an app to give you a clear overview of your exercise. 

However, so long as your watch is waterproof up to 50 metres and has a stopwatch, you can calculate the distance yourself quite easily in a swimming pool. GPS features can be especially useful when swimming in open water where it’s harder to measure distance manually. Some watches also have heart rate tracking features which can give you in-depth information about your fitness levels, too. 

Set your goals

Calculating your pace is only the first part of the puzzle, as you’ll likely want to do so to track your progress. To stay focused and monitor your advances, set yourself achievable goals and work towards building your endurance and speed. With frequent swimming practice, you’ll see your fitness improve dramatically – which will in turn improve your pace.

You can make a note of your personal best, or PB, time and aim to improve it in small segments each time you swim. This way, you’ll build your confidence and fitness and soon be able to reach your goals without overdoing it and leaving yourself at risk of injury or burnout.

Use an online calculator

If you know how long it takes you to swim a set distance, you can use an online calculator to work out your pace. Knowing your pace is important if you want to enter races or swimming competitions, as it will give you a good idea of what is achievable for you. These calculators can also be helpful for easily switching between units, to see your pace over a number of metres, yards, miles or kilometres.

Once you know your pace, you can work out the estimated time it will take you to swim a set distance, then try to race against yourself and beat it the next time you’re in the water. Knowing your pace also helps you to set safe limits for yourself, which can prevent drowning. With a firm understanding of your pace, you can improve your overall swimming performance and reach your goals more easily. 

How to boost your swimming pace

There are some ways you can improve your swimming pace, from perfecting your technique to controlling the variables of your swimming environment.

Experiment with your breathing

If you usually breathe every three strokes, try breathing every two or even four and see how this impacts your pace. You can also track your pace against all of the different kinds of strokes to see which is your strongest. Regularly practising multiple strokes also improves your overall fitness and exercises different muscles in your body. 

Change strokes and swim patterns

Front crawl is typically the fastest stroke, but it is also the most taxing and exhausting. You can alternate between various styles if you want to be able to swim long distances and build your endurance, or variate from sprint laps and recovery laps for a thorough cardiovascular workout. Frequently changing which strokes you swim and the order, duration and effort levels you put in will keep you from becoming complacent and push your fitness to the next level.

Wear a wetsuit

If you’re swimming in cold water, such as in the sea or other natural bodies of water, you may find your performance improves if you wear a wetsuit. This will help your body to conserve heat, and may mean you can swim for longer periods of time. However, some people find wetsuits restrictive, so your overall speed may be affected. 

Reduce drag with proper technique

Working on perfecting your form and technique will also help you improve your pace, as you’ll reduce the drag from the water. Try to keep your body as streamlined as possible, and kick your feet close together when swimming in front crawl. When breathing, rotate your head along the axis of your spine rather than lifting it out of the water, and roll your whole body as you rotate your arms for maximum power.

Consistency is key

The key to consistently tracking and improving your swimming pace is consistency. The more you practise, the better you’ll be able to control your breathing and swim the distances set without becoming overly fatigued. A stable and consistent pace is the best way to swim for success, rather than beginning at full power and lagging at the end of a set. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to calculating and improving your swimming pace.

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