3 Lessons I Learned While Swimming With A Heart Rate Monitor

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The great thing about being a triathlete in the 21st century is that there is technology to measure almost every aspect of your workout; I received one such piece of technology for Christmas this year that I was sure I was going to love – a heart rate monitor for swimming. My excitement, however, wore off about 20 seconds into the first lap swim with my new device. This piece of equipment – both novel and intimidating – taught me three valuable lessons.

Lesson one: Results are not instantaneous

I was expecting to be able to look at my watch while I was swimming to see my heart rate, similar to running or biking, but that’s not how it works. Rather, to see my heart rate during a swim workout, I had to stop swimming and stand up in the pool to let the information sync to my watch. Though experienced swimmers may be thinking ‘duh!’, I’m a novice swimmer and wasn’t expecting to have to stop each time I wanted to see my heart rate – this was a bit irritating.

Lesson two: Heart rates aren’t comparable


After I figured out how to get my heart rate to appear on my watch, I noticed my heart rate was around 100 bpm for the warm up and 130 bpm for my intervals. This is significantly lower than what my heart rate is when I am running or cycling. What I did not realize is that dry land exercise heart rates differ from those in water. In fact, heart rates average about 17 beats per minute less when swimming, according to Livestrong. That means adjusting your swimming heart rate zones is crucial, which I did not do.

Lesson three: Research is key

Measuring my heart rate during running and cycling workouts helps me determine my intensity levels. When I’m warming up, I like to watch my heart rate hold steady at a semi-low rate. Likewise, when I’m doing intervals, I enjoy looking down at my watch to make sure I’m in the correct heart rate zones so I’m not over-doing it or slacking.

I hadn’t thought that a swim heart rate monitor would be different from my standard dry land monitor. It’s a new piece of technology, so even a little bit of research would have been beneficial.

Because normal heart rate monitors don’t work in water, I had never known the intensity of my swims – but with a swim-specific heart rate monitor I can now put numbers behind the results, a plus when trying to improve any exercise.

Was there an unexpected learning curve when it came to using a swimming heart rate monitor? Sure. But the value of information I have from here on out during a swim workout is worth it.

Do you think swimming with a heart rate monitor is valuable? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Adrienne Zimmer has been competitively running since she was 10 years old. She ran her first half marathon when she was 15 and her first full marathon at the age of 18. Since then, she has competed in more than a dozen half marathons, five full marathons, a dozen sprint triathlons, a half Ironman and a full Ironman triathlon. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and works full-time as a writer and editor. In 2017 she hopes to finish Boise's Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, dubbed the toughest half marathon in the Northwest.

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