Training Tuesday: setting up swim intervals with your Garmin watch

A few months ago, I wrote a post about setting up run intervals on Garmin watches. This turned out to be a pretty popular topic, because it’s a very useful feature, the alternative being to write your intervals down on a piece of paper and use your watch or stopwatch to track them. Garmin Connect has a similar function for swim intervals, and I’ve recently started using it, but it has a few quirks you should know about to make most effective use of it.

Let’s build an example workout based on what my coach, Jon Fecik, gave me today:

  • 4×500 (15) as…
  • warm up choice
  • 50 stroke focus/50 swim…for stroke focus… continue to swim freestyle but focus on 1. more catch up and high elbow, 2.) extend back end of stroke, 3.) finger tips close like the finger tip drag drill, 4.) tight kick, 5.) drive hips
  • Paddle pull with buoy…moderate effort
  • swim easy cool down

This is pretty simple, which is good, as Garmin’s swim interval tools aren’t quite as powerful as the ones for managing run intervals.

Start by logging into Garmin Connect, then in the left navigation bar choose Training > Workouts. That will take you to the Workouts page, which looks like this:

Start with your workout list, which may look different from mine

At the top, click on the “Select a workout type…” pulldown, choose “Pool swim,” and click “Create a workout.” That will take you to the interval builder, which you may remember from my earlier post. By default, you get a workout with a warmup, a two-repeat interval, and a cool down:

You get a warmup, a cool-down, and a two-repeat interval for free

Before you do anything else, check the “Pool size” field on the right and make sure it’s correct. Trust me on this. You might also want to use the pencil icon at the top to edit your workout name, so you don’t end up with 10 “Pool workouts” in your list.

The controls for each item in the workout are pretty much self-explanatory: the “Duration” field lets you control whether the interval is based on time or distance, and the “Any stroke” pulldown lets you choose the stroke type if you want to specify one. Keep in mind that Garmin’s watches will try to automatically detect your stroke but they don’t always get it right if you swim like I do.

Super important note: if you’re doing drills as part of a set, set the “Any stroke” control to “Drill.” If you don’t do that, the watch won’t count your distance– for example, if you have a 200yd kick set, and thus aren’t moving your arms, the watch will sit patiently at “200 y remaining” forever because it doesn’t see you swimming.

Note the “Rest” control. This is important too. By default, every interval in the set will have a rest after it, of whatever duration you specify. However, the last interval in a repeat will always have a “rest until button press” added to it. Read on and I’ll show you why that is.

The “Equipment” field is important too, and it’s not present in the run interval builder. This is where you specify what pool toys you’re using for a given interval.

Armed with that knowledge (oh, and the knowledge that the “+” and “-” buttons in the repeat block will do what you expect), let’s build my workout. Start by setting the warmup and cool down distances to 500yds of any stroke… that’s easy enough.

The main set is a problem. Jon wanted me to swim 50/50 x 5, where the first 50 is a drill and the second 50 is a normal swim. Garmin doesn’t let you have more than one item in a repeat– all you get is one swim and one rest per repeat set. I don’t know why this restriction exists, as the run interval tool lets you add steps to a repeat, but whatever. So the best I can do is this:

Remember, only one swim step per interval

I’ll have to remember to split the 100 up so that the first 50 is focused on each of the items Jon asked me to focus on. Note that I set the rest duration to 15 seconds, as directed. The builder automatically inserted a rest step after the interval– notice that it even tells you “The last rest in this repeat block will be ignored by your device” in the workout builder.

Now I need a pull set, so I’ll click “Add a step” and set the step distance to 500yd and then use the “Equipment” link to specify paddles. Unfortunately, you can only specify one equipment item (kick board, paddles, pull buoy, fins, or snorkel) so it’s on you to remember if you need more than one item,.

There’s the pull set…

Then the cool down is easy– a distance of 500yd of any stroke.

The completed workout looks like this:

The full workout

Click “Save Workout” and boom, it’s saved and visible on my phone. A quick tap of the “Send to device” button and now it’s on my watch, ready to go.

Using the workout is a little more complex, but not really. On my Fenix3 HR, I just go to Training > My Workouts and pick the workout, then select “Do Workout”. Once you start the workout, the watch will track distance for each interval, giving you an on-screen countdown of distance remaining. It will buzz when you’re on the last lap of each step, so you know it’s about time to stop. Note that it doesn’t mark a step as done until you press the “lap” button– so, for example, when I’m swimming my 100s I have to press “lap” and then the 15-second rest period starts. When the rest period ends (whether that’s because you have a fixed rest or a fixed duration per step), the watch assumes you will start swimming again, so you don’t need to re-press “lap”.

Speaking of fixed time intervals– yes, you can do those. For non-swimmers: this is an EMOM-style interval where you’re supposed to swim a distance and then start at the same time. The faster you go, the more rest you get. For example, if my coach says “swim 100 every 2:15”, if it takes me 2:00 to swim the first 100, I get 15 seconds of rest. If the next one takes me 1:55, then I get 20 seconds. And so on. To set these up, set the rest period in the repeat to “Fixed repetition time.”

Timed repeats are the devil

That’s it– happy swimming! (Oh, in case you were wondering: no, I don’t know which specific Garmin devices support this– certainly the tri-focused Fenix3/5 and the 735/920/935xt do but I don’t know about any others).

 

 

 

 

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