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Garmin Advanced Swim Features | new to 945 & Fenix 6 Series

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Garmin Forerunner 945 & Fenix 6 | new Swimming Features |

New Garmin swimming features for pool and OWS have recently made their way to both the Fenix 6 series and Forerunner 945 after their debut on the new Swim 2 in October 2019. With a bit of luck, these same features might make their way to the Fenix 5 Plus watches but probably not to the earlier Fenix 5 series…only time will tell.

Background

Both pool and outdoor swim profiles have been around for a long time on Garmin multisport watches and these profiles have cleverly been able to be incorporated into many kinds of custom multisport profiles. For example, as well as a regular triathlon you could create your own pool-based triathlon profile.

That sounds relatively trivial but you’ll be lucky to find that sort of customisation available on competitor triathlon watches.

Then if you’ve correctly set your swim HR Zone in Garmin Connect (specific device settings>user settings), all your swimming efforts should hopefully be enumerated through all the Firstbeat physiology metrics on your watch.

 

And it gets better. The beauty of Garmin’s swimming offerings lies in their details. Soon after their introduction came swimming workouts (2016) and then the more advanced watches also include the ability to log drills and incorporate rest screens. Alerts? Sure. Metrics? Galore!

Since their initial introduction, MANY tiny improvements have gone under the radar. For example, look at the swim workout image to the right from Garmin Mobile where the last rest period in a repeat block is ignored. Just as it should usually be

I’m sure you don’t use the Garmin Swim features to their fullest and neither do I. However the features you do use probably aren’t available on competitor watches either. For example, of those features I just mentioned, I only use the REST screen…yet you won’t find that on a Polar Vantage.

Current Swim Feature Set

This section talks about the current SWIM feature set. It will never be implemented in full on all swim-capable watches BUT WILL probably be implemented in full on the current crop of top-end watches and beyond ie it is already on the Swim 2, Forerunner 945 (v3.77 beta), Fenix 6 (v5.72) and it will be on this 2020/21’s 955 LTE.

I will go through the JUST-added features in a minute but first here’s a quick recap and summary of what swimming features are available.

Available swim profiles (new ones in  red**) Pool swimming, open-water swimming (OWS)*
Open-water swim metric categories (distance, pace, stroke count/rate, stroke distance, swim efficiency (SWOLF), HR, calories) OWS
Swim metric categories (lengths/intervals, distance, pace, time, HR, stroke count, swim efficiency (SWOLF), rest/repeat, calories) Pool
Stroke type detection (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly) Pool
Swim Dead Reckoning (predictive positioning applies pace to last known location) OWS
Drill logging Pool
Basic rest timer (up from 0) Pool
“Repeat on” rest timer Pool
Auto Rest Pool
Time and distance alerts Pool/OWS
Pacing alerts Pool
3s countdown start Pool
Pool swim workouts & Tests Pool
Critical swim speed (CSS) Pool
Underwater wrist-based oHR heart rate (newish)
Pool/OWS
Heart rate from HRM-TRI/SWIM (real-time during rests, interval and session stats during rests, and automatic heart rate download post-swim) Pool/OWS

* There is also a special Otillo/SwimRun Profile which has an auto-sport change (not tested)

** Depending on when you read this they might still be in public beta

OK, finally, here are the new features in more detail and I’ll cover some of the older features a little too.

AUTO REST

You may currently have a manually triggered rest screen. I have my rest screen to display white text on a black background so that it’s clear it’s in rest mode when I press the lap button. My customisable rest screen pops up data metrics like REST TIMER and LAST INTERVAL DISTANCE, other people in my lane choose to also show the REPEAT ON metric.

With AUTO REST enabled, the rest mode is automatically entered once you have stopped swimming. It automatically clears when you start swimming. No surprises there!

However, the definition of how well this feature works must include how correctly and how quickly it recognises rests at the end of lengths. So, for example, in a crowded lane, you wouldn’t want to identify inadvertent mid-lane stops as a rest. Auto Rest seems to work well, though, by allowing itself some delay/leeway when entering or leaving that mode…ie it gives itself time to make sure you’ve stopped/started and it might even factor in your average time to do a length as a further sanity check.

Based on limited swimming usage this seems to work OK. I’ll update if more swims change my opinion on this (or ping me below if I forget and you want to know…it is turned on NOW 😉 )

Rests are then stored in the FIT file and shown appropriately on Garmin Connect and elsewhere.

Underwater oHR

I use this all the time now, despite initially vowing never to let oHR near my wrists ever again. On the occasions that I checked the numbers, it certainly was NOT correct BUT the HR was accurate enough to get my time-in-zones vaguely accurately, and that’s all I personally need for my training load calculations. The HR graphs produced at the end do look sensible despite containing numerous inaccuracies, like this…

I can only apologise to you all for letting my HR data gathering standards drop 🙂 I’d say, “I won’t let it happen again, but I will.”

An interesting alternative way for you to approach HR is to enable oHR AND wear a chest strap. That way you can see live HR from the wrist and the chest strap’s track might overwrite it. I say ‘might’ as I’ve not tried that for swimming and, on the occasions I’ve REALLY looked inside a FIT file on a line-by-line basis for oHR/chest strap combo details, there were times when both sources were mixed and matched throughout a (bike) workout, so the same might happen for swimming. (FYI: the innards of a FIT file can show the sensor responsible for certain records, like HR)

See also FORM Goggles for live HR via HUD

CSS Support

Every triathlete reading this will benefit from understanding their CSS speed and training to raise it. CSS is your best 1500m pace, ie your threshold pace, and it’s estimated from two shorter efforts that form a CSS test as Paul explains in this GOOD video.

 

You’ve guessed it, that CSS test is now part of Garmin’s swim features and it’s delivered using a pre-made Garmin structured workout.

If you’ve already done the test, you can instead use Swimsmooth’s CSS calculator, here.

Swim Workouts

Garmin’s workout creator was ported to Connect Mobile some time ago and, at least to me, it’s always delivered a logical way to structure and create Run & Bike workouts. Applying the same principle to swim workouts seems wholly sensible.

Garmin has even tweaked the features a little, for example adding the ability to say which of your swimming toys you should be using – and you can see on one of the following watch images that a tiny POOLBUOY icon appears indicating its expected usage.

 

SWIM DEAD RECKONING (OWS)

I’ve not used this at all.

In OWS Swim mode you can follow a course, compass heading, or follow a map as you swim.

My guess is that the SWIM DEAD RECKONING ability kicks in when you are following a COURSE or BEARING/HEADING. Your Garmin has an idea of when it last knew where you were and there might also be confidence limits attached to the accuracy of that information. Thus, in the absence of a decent GPS signal, it also could estimate your speed from either your stroke rate and/or your normal speed. With that information, it can effectively guess your position based on an assumption that you are following the heading/route correctly.

Having said I’ve never used this feature, I’m not sure I ever will either. I’ve never got lost when swimming, then again I’ve never done Otillo.

Swim Futures

I would not be at all surprised to see new features this year that use CSS. For example, CSS-based watch metrics like “Last Set % CSS”. This could then be expanded upon by improved, basic reporting of CSS-based performance in Garmin Connect.

Swimmers tend not to use electronic gadgets as much as cyclists or runners. Maybe that will change in the future?  Who knows? Sometimes technical innovations create a need in the market rather than just responding to one….if swimmers can see a ‘game-changer’ invention, like Nike Next% shoes for runners, I reckon they will go for it, as evidenced by the now-banned swimming body skins

I suspect that the features Garmin offer on the wrist are close to ‘peak-swim’. Not too much more can be meaningfully added to a watch. Yet there are plenty of advances in poolside/coaching tech that are possible, including technique analysis such as with Incus Nova or TraineSense Paddles and then different feedback mechanisms such as those already offered by the excellent FORM GOGGLES which I now regularly use myself. Just as Garmin bought Alphamantis (Garmin Vector Air) for cycling I could easily see Garmin buying FORM Swim, even though the Incus Nova is a more similar type of product to Garmin Vector Air.

Having suggested that we are close to ‘peak swim’ with on-the-watch features, triathletes can still hold out for the introduction of AUTO-TRANSITION which might already be in the SwimRun profile in some form and which builds on some of the logic already used in the swimmer’s AUTO-REST feature we discussed earlier.

Thoughts

Swimming has always been fun for me. Challenging but fun. Tech wasn’t THAT useful for group lane swims where my goal was ‘keep up’ and try to progress furter up the lane order – until another ‘new fast guy’ joined the club and demoted me #Sigh.

From a data point of view, I just used to try to collect an accurate HR track (as an input into my overall load calculations) and then to look at the approximate total distance swam and then, from time-to-time, check specific times over specific distances to verify that I was indeed going the same speed that I always used to go at!

Yet over the last 6 months, the ever UNchanging world of swim has changed for me. Here’s how

That’s WAY too much change for 6 months. I need to calm down a bit and put my running shoes on.

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