Guide: Sports watches for swimmers | TechStage

Swimmers have different requirements than joggers. We show what swimmers should look out for when buying a sports watch or fitness tracker.

Most current smartwatches, sports watches and fitness trackers come with an optical pulse measurement. This shows the pulse in everyday life and during sport, with one big exception: swimming poses problems for these measurements. The devices usually use a green LED to measure the pulse under the skin. If there is water between the heart rate monitor and the skin, the measurement will be inaccurate. Most trackers therefore switch off the measurement in the wet. However, there are a few exceptions, individual devices are specifically advertised with functions for swimmers.

We sent a colleague armed with several watches to swim and give tips on which products swimmers should take a closer look at. Important for all such watches: The watch must be firmly against the skin in water. Ideally, you should tighten them before your hand gets wet. The swim watches usually track progress via two different systems: in the pool, whether outside or inside, they use the lanes and recognize when the swimmer turns around. To do this, the length of the web must often be set in advance. In the open water, if available, use GPS or other positioning services. Or they calculate the distance based on the swim strokes.

Most cheap fitness trackers are unusable in the water. Devices like the cheap Xiaomi Mi Band 4 (test report) are suitable for swimming, but the maximum time is measured. Railway detection is usually of little use. An exception is the Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro tracker (test report). It is at least dedicated to swimmers and comes with the app from the swimming equipment manufacturer Speedo.

The fitness tracker uses OLED – this ensures a crisp display.

The tracker primarily relies on the SWOLF value, a unit of measurement for swimming efficiency. This arises from the required swimming strokes per lane and the time in seconds. It is therefore important that the tracker reliably detects the tracks. If this doesn’t work, then the SWOLF value is no use either. With the Gear Fit 2 Pro, detection in the pool works well. The tracker has an integrated GPS and can download its own music playlists from Spotify via the WLAN.

Most sports watches from our individual tests come with a recognition for swimming training. But there are big differences. Specifically, we sent our colleagues into the water with the Polar Vantage M (test report) and the Garmin Venu (test report).

The verdict on the Vantage M is not very pleasant. First of all the track has to be at least 20 meters long, the 16.67 meter track of our tester could not be adjusted. He chose the next possible setting and started swimming. The Vantage M recognized the lanes in breaststroke well, but apparently had problems with the curly style and did not count these lanes. A second test on a 25-meter track showed a similar result: breaststroke was recognized, crawl was not.

It went much better with the Garmin Venu. According to our tester, the path detection was absolutely reliable, whether breast, crawl or dolphin swimming. However, the user guidance is not as intuitive as with the Vantage M. So a complete training session was lost because it was not clear how the session was finally closed. The option was somewhat hidden, and our tester had found it correctly for the next training sessions.

Garmin Venu

Accordingly, swimmers should not only rely on the “waterproof” ability, but should check with a multisport watch exactly how good the swimming function is. You should also make sure that an external heart rate monitor can be connected to the sports watch. These straps have heart rate measurement via electrodes on the skin and therefore do not suffer from the disadvantages of optical heart rate monitors. However, the radio connection between the heart rate monitor and the heart rate monitor may be unstable under water. Ideally, you should use both techniques. Garmin, Polar and Suunto can read external heart rate monitors.

If you really swim a lot, you should take a look at a dedicated swimming watch. As a representative of this category, we tried the Garmin Swim 2. The test result is very good. Like the Venu, the Swim 2 had absolutely reliable detection of the lanes. Our tester failed to get the Swim 2 out of step.

One point is the design of the Garmin Swim 2 and all other swimming watches. They just look too much like heart rate monitors and sports watches. Even if it were ideal for our tester in terms of profiles and performance, he would rather use the more chic Venu because of the better integration into an everyday outfit.

The swimming watches are suitable for everyone who can live with a separate device for sports, such as a real watch or another smartwatch. Here too, you should make sure that interfaces such as ANT + are supported by the watch in order to be able to receive data from heart rate belts.

Just because a fitness tracker is waterproof doesn’t mean it is good for swimming. As with normal sports watches and fitness trackers, there are massive differences in the quality of the tracking in the details. Classic manufacturers of sport trackers usually switch off better than manufacturers who come from the smartphone sector. The exception is the Gear Fit 2 Pro from Samsung. As always, it depends on the demands you place on the fitness equipment and how big your budget is.

We show more information about sports watches in our sports watch theme. There we published a comparison test on eleven sports watches and clarify in this guide what athletes and joggers have to watch out for.

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