Like any other athlete, swimmers are keen on tracking their efforts in the water. They'll want insights into the number of laps, stroke count and speed per session, to measure the quality of their performance. It's why instructors and coaches are always seen equipped with a trusty swimming watch strapped to the wrist.
There are many reasons for investing in such a tool, and a swimming watch is certainly not reserved for professionals. Hitting the pool could be your choice of daily cardio, and, as a casual swimmer, you'd still want to look back and scan the fitness metrics.
"A swimming watch is for anyone who wants to track their efforts, whether they might be training for an event or are simply curious about their progress. For instance, they might want to know how fast they're able to swim 100 metres or a kilometre, and what their stroke rate is," said Laurence Bathe, the managing director at Urban Swim Academy in Dubai.
Swimmers will find two kinds of watches in the market, says Bathe, those that only work in pools and those that can take on the salty open waters, as well. "Watches that only do pools record pace, number of laps, stroke rate and speed, whereas, open water watches will additionally monitor distance with GPS mapping, like running watches," she explained.
Besides making a note of swimming metrics, you can couple the statistics with other features to get a bigger picture. Muhannad Hamdoun, a Dubai-based private swimming coach, tracks his students' heart rates during laps to determine the rest period.
"Once the watch is around my student's wrist, I can track the swimmer's distance, time and the amount of rest they will need, from my phone," said Hamdoun. Smartwatches with Bluetooth functionality also help quickly answer important texts and calls in the water, he added. So, it's an excellent water-resistant tool that doubles as an everyday wearable tech.
'Dumb' watches can perform just as well underwater, while still offering stopwatch, timer and other basic stats. Only, with non-smart counterparts, you will have to sacrifice advanced features like swim stroke detection.
With the help of expert recommendations, we've curated a list of watches for swimming, across budgets and purposes. Triathletes, engaging in running, swimming and cycling, will benefit more from a multi-sport watch, says Bathe.
1. Best Overall: Garmin Forerunner 745 GPS
- Tracks pool and open water swimming, with distance, pace, stroke count and more
- Three global navigation satellite systems
- Stroke type detection
- Water rating of 5 ATM
- Music storage from streaming services Amazon Music, Spotify and more
- With GPS and music on, the battery lasts for up to six hours only
Bathe swears by Garmin watches for swimming: "Personally, I use Garmin's triathlon multi-sport watch, and for sure, you cannot go wrong with it. I've worked with them for many years, even for running. You can get the watch serviced here in the UAE, too." In the brand's wide range of watches for triathletes, Forerunner 745 with GPS offers top-of-the-line features. Swim, bike, run or do all three, with preloaded activity profiles in the built-in sports app. You can either dive into a pool or the open water - the watch is hardy against both. Track stroke count, distance, pace, calories burnt and underwater wrist-based heart rate. The best part is that it can collect other health metrics, such as sleep and daily activity, to give you a performance assessment and recovery time, just as a coach would do. When paired with a smartphone, you'll get text, email and call alerts. Plus, if you own swimming headphones, the watch can store up to 500 songs for listening as you clear laps. It has a pressure rating of 5 ATM, meaning the watch is able to withstand underwater pressure for up to 50 metres.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh156.18 for 12 months with select banks.
2. Best for Scuba Diving: Apple Watch Ultra (GPS + Cellular, 49mm)
- Apple Watch with multi sports functionality in pool and open water
- Battery life of up to 36 hours
- Water resistant to up to 100 metres
- Tracks stroke type, laps, distance, heart rate and more
- Cellular connectivity
If you didn't already know, Apple Watch Series 2 and above are all reliable swimming trackers. Bathe notes that the iOS watch is a popular choice among learners at the academy, and Hamdoun, who has eight years of coaching experience, prefers it for its long battery life and ease of use. The all-new Apple Watch Ultra surpasses preceding models with a water-resistance rating of 100 metres. It's also the only iOS watch that can survive water skiing and scuba diving in and out of the ocean. All you have to do is select swimming in the Workout app and pick from a pool or open water swim. Once your swim is done, go through key metrics on the watch, like time, stroke type, heart rate, distance, laps, calories and more. The Ultra edition is built for rugged activities, complete with a silicone wristband to withstand high-impact water sports. Unlike the Garmin Forerunner, this gadget has cellular connectivity as well.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh119.08 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh86 and two years for Dh141.
3. Best Battery Life: Polar Vantage V2
- Excellent battery life
- Works in pool and open water
- Stroke detection, and tracks pace, rate, SWOLF score, distance (GPS), and more
- Water resistant in up to 100 metres
- Display could be brighter
- Heavier than Garmin Forerunner
According to Bathe, Polar is another choice of brand among swimmers. Its premium Vantage V2 smartwatch is a multi-sport edition, fully equipped with four global navigation system satellites and a staggeringly long battery life of 100 hours. The gadget is water-resistant in up to 100 metres, like the Apple Ultra Watch. Swimming falls under the training category in the Vantage V2, where the pool and open water are options. It's also capable of detecting your stroke type, whether freestyle or butterfly. Other metrics include stroke rate, time, splits, distance, pace, a SWOLF score (how efficiently you swam), and a mapped route. Reviewers do note that it can be heavy for day-to-day wear, but in the water, it recognises strokes and fares well in the sea.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh152.46 for 12 months with select banks.
4. Best Value for Smartwatch: Coros Pace 2 Premium GPS
- Lightweight at 29 grams, despite having GPS
- 30-hour battery life, with GPS on
- Large, easily legible display
- Water resistant in up to 50 metres
- Tracks swim strokes, type, distance and more
- Doesn't have contactless pay or music
If you want an affordable smartwatch for swimming, then the Coros Pace 2 is your best bet. Weighing a mere 29 grams, the watch still brings you GPS functionality with triathlon training and underwater heart rate monitoring. Even with five navigation systems up and running, the watch will last you for up to 30 hours per charge. Swimmers in the reviews say they've gone nine days without charging, despite making good use of the GPS. Happy buyers come from previously owning Garmin and Apple watches, and attest to wearing the Pace 2 to the pool and open waters. It tracks stroke type, laps, distance and all the basic metrics. Some smartwatch-exclusive features, like contactless pay, map display and music, are absent, however.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh74.48 for 12 months with select banks.
5. Best Budget: Timex Ironman
- 30-lap memory recall
- Tracks splits and counts up to 99 laps
- Slim, narrow profile
- Water resistant in 100 metres
- No smartwatch features
If all you need is a lap counter, then a long-running, durable watch like the Timex Ironman will do. This sporty model is resistant to 100 metres, and comes with a simple resin build and strap. It's particularly useful for storing 30 lap times and can count up to 99 laps. Reviewers use the feature for both running and swimming, and mention being able to record splits as well. There's a built-in light to check the numbers, when swimming in the dark. They also note the petite profile, which allows for smoother strokes. It works in the pool and the ocean.
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