The pace clock is a very big clock at the end the swimming pool with a large hand moving round it.  One end of the hand is either red or yellow,  the other end black.  The clock has 12 big numbers from 5 to 60  going all the way round and in between each of the big numbers are little black marks.  Each big number marks every 5 seconds, each little black mark represents one second.

We use the clock to:

  • Know when to start swimming
  • Know how much rest to take between swims
  • Time our swims


Using the clock to know when to start swimming

Your coach may ask you  to swim 100m and to “go at 10 second intervals”.  This means that each swimmer leaves 10 seconds after the swimmer in front.  The first swimmer may be asked to go at “red top” – the red hand on the pace clock will be pointing at the top of the clock (big number 60).   After this each swimmer in the lane will look at the clock and begin their swim 10 seconds after the swimmer in front of them.  So if the first swimmer starts at red top (big number 60),  swimmer no. 2 will start to swim ten seconds later at ‘red ten’ – the red hand pointing at big number ten.  The 3rd  swimmer will follow on ten seconds later at ‘red 20’.  How many seconds later would swimmer 4 start to swim?  What big number would they start on?  What times will swimmers   5, 6, 7, and 8 start to swim on?

Now see if you can work out a 100m swim, starting red top,  with 8 swimmers going at 5 second intervals.  Now try a 100m swim starting at red top  with 6 swimmers going at 15 second intervals.

The first swimmer will not always be asked to start swimming at ‘red top’.  Sometimes it could be ‘black top’.  All that means is that the black half of the large hand is being used instead of the red part.  Sometimes the first swimmer may be asked to start swimming at black 15 – can you work out when the next 5 swimmers will start to swim if they are going at 5 second intervals?


Using the Pace Clock to rest

If your coach asks you to do  “ 8 X 25m front crawl kick with 10 seconds rest” you will kick for one length, look at the pace clock when you finish, rest for 10 seconds and start your next length.  This means that if you finish your length when the red hand is pointing at big number 15, you will wait 10 seconds until the red hand is pointing at big number 25, and then start your next 1 length kick. If you finish the next length with the red hand pointing at big number 55, what time will you start your next length?  Because you have been asked to swim ‘8 X 25m with 10 seconds rest' this means you will swim 1 length 8 times resting for 10 seconds between each length.    What would you do if you were asked to swim 4 X 50m breaststroke with 15 seconds rest?

It is very important that you look at your own times and count your own rest.  Although you may start a 4 X 50m set at 10 second intervals, it is unlikely that the 10 second interval between swimmers will remain at exactly  10 seconds throughout the whole set.  The swimmer in front of you may be swimming a bit more quickly than you – don’t start your swim 10 seconds after them, start your swim 10 seconds after you finished your 2 lengths.

Sometimes you will not finish your swim exactly on a big number.  You may finish on 2 black marks (seconds) after big number 5.  In that case, if you are taking 10 seconds rest, you start to swim 2 black marks (seconds) after big number 15.


Using the pace clock to “swim and rest”

Sometimes your coach will ask you to “swim and rest” off a particular time.  This means that you will look at the time you start your swim, look at the time you finish your swim, and whatever time is left from the time you were given to  ‘swim and rest’ is the time you take to rest.  For instance, if you are asked to  “swim 6 X 50m front crawl off 1 minute” this means that you have been given 1 minute to swim 2 lengths front crawl before having to start your next 2 lengths front crawl.  You do this 6 times.  So you look at the clock at the start of your 2 lengths and again when you finish.  If you have started with the red hand on big number 10 (red 10), you will wait until the red hand gets round to number 10 again before starting your next swim.  If you finished your 2 lengths on red 50 and don’t have to go again until red 10, you will have had 20 seconds rest.  Maybe you will swim the next 2 lengths on a similar time and finish on red 50 (or maybe red 50 + 3 black marks which makes it red 53), you will still go on red 10.  The next 2 lengths may take a little longer if you are getting tired, but you will still start on red 10, so if you don’t get in (finish your swim) until red top (red hand on 60) you will only be getting 10 seconds rest.  If you don’t get in (finish your swim) until red 10, then you have no rest and have to start swimming again straight away because you are ‘going off’ 1 minute.  If you take longer than the minute then your coach will have noticed that you are struggling and will discuss with you why that might be.

As you get more experienced and move through the squads, you will find the pace clock is used in a slightly more complicated way to help you get the best from your training.  By getting used to working with the pace clock early on in your swimming career and understanding how to use it to calculate times, it will be very much easier for you to use it in more complex ways as you progress through the club.

When you feel you understand how to use the pace clock, try doing something at home using a clock or watch with seconds which you can help you get used to “working off the clock”.  Try doing 6  short “run and rests” off 20 seconds.  Try another 6 run and rests off 45 seconds.  Continue different variations until you feel you really understand how to work them out.