Swim tracking is starting to become a part of the fitness wearable furniture, but is it getting as much love as running or cycling does? Probably not.
Apple, Samsung and Fitbit have introduced swim-friendly features to its smartwatches, while they've been a staple for sports watches for some time. The likes of Garmin, Polar and Suunto all offer solid swim tracking support. But what if you wanted something that's specifically built to improve your performance in the pool?
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Canadian startup TritonWear has devised a swimming wearable that it believes delivers just that. Since launching its TritonWear device at the end of 2015, the wearable has been used in over 35 countries around the world with a focus on competitive swimmers. But that could soon change as the startup eyes up taking its tech mainstream so everyone can use it.
A coach on the back of your head
The main component of the TritonWear setup is about the size of a cigarette box, and either clips to your goggles, or tucks under your swimming cap. There’s nothing to wear on your arms or chest, and because it sits behind your head, it shouldn’t make you any less aerodynamic. “We wanted it to be completely non-invasive so it doesn’t interfere with your training,” explains Tristan Lehari, TritonWear’s CEO.
This unit analyses your stroke based on the movement of your head – it can tell a lot more than a wrist-based sensor like in a smartwatch, as the head tends to lead the stroke. A smartwatch for instance, will also only show information from one arm, which won’t help much with stroke technique. This gives you information like push-offs, turns, breathing events, dolphin kicks underwater, breakouts and more, which it sends wirelessly to a secondary, poolside unit called the Triton Connect. This then sends the data over Bluetooth to the coach’s tablet, where it’s presented in real-time as graphs rather than as a stack of numbers to trawl through.
Coaches can quickly see whether their swimmers are maintaining their pace, or, if they’re dropping off, whether they’re compensating for their tiredness with poor stroke technique. It can stream data from up to 50 swimmers at once. And with multiple profiles for each device, swimmers can share their TritonWears among them without losing their data. “It’s like having a personal coach for every swimmer in the pool,” says Lehari.
The more detailed analytics come post-practice, including benchmark data for all levels of swimmer so the coach can see how their swimmers stack up. It also recommends training programmes to reduce the swimmers’ workloads in terms of volume and intensity, to reduce the risk of injury.
“Coaches waste a huge amount of valuable pool time collecting data,” says Lehari. “Our device lets them ditch the stopwatch and focus on stroke mechanics and skills – in other words, actually coaching, instead of the tedious work of data collection.”
Taking those tentative first strokes
With a background in engineering, and having captained his university swimming team, 30-year-old Lehari can come at swim tracking from both a technical and athletic perspective. After graduating from university, he started a company tracking similar metrics of hockey players. After leaving that company, he studied for a European master’s in sustainable energy engineering. In 2013, he returned to Canada and started TritonWear. His aim was to overcome one of wearables’ biggest problems: How to keep people using them months and years down the line.
“A ton of different sports wearables were getting a lot of initial adoption, but they had a massive problem with retention,” he says. “Huge percentages of their customers were stopping using these devices within a few months. We really didn’t want to fall into that bucket, so we thought ‘How can we provide genuine value to customers beyond that initial honeymoon period of getting a new device?"
The solution was to produce what he calls, “probably the most accurate tracking device in the swimming space”. He claims it’s more than four times more accurate than Garmin and other players. “Accuracy is the foundation of everything we do,” he goes on. “It’s what the product lives or dies on. The first thing a coach is going to do is compare you against a stopwatch. If you don’t match up, you’re going to have a lot of trouble winning over that customer.”
TritonWear, however, has won mainstream acceptance in the swimming world, being used by the official swimming teams of Canada, Australia and France, as well as colleges, local teams and swim clubs across the world. It’s even been sanctioned for competition use in some countries, with those tournaments being ‘powered by’ TritonWear. This recognition has been hard-won.
“Sports like swimming don’t have a ton of tech yet, because there’s not much equipment involved, so there are some cultural barriers to break down,” Lehari says. “You have to educate people as to the benefits of the data.”
It’s just one of many obstacles to overcome with making a swimming wearable, and that’s before you get to making something that works in the water. But the biggest challenge remains: Making a consumer model.
Better swim tracking for everyone
Despite TritonWear’s success, Lehari is apprehensive jumping head first into the consumer space.
“Going there too early is a huge mistake,” he says. “You might get some initial uptake from the excitement around the product, but if it doesn’t work how consumers want it to, and they get no value from it, that’s going to be a big problem. We’ve seen it a lot in our industry.”
Lehari has hinted that a consumer version is in the works, though. He says it would be focused on the user, instead of the current model’s “coach-centric” approach. “We would also look at how do you make training fun and engaging enough to stick with, while also giving the same quality experience so the user can see how they’re improving. Stroke analysis would play a big part, as would the community engagement tools that users want."
Poorly served swimmers are more ready than ever. “They want this information because they’ve seen what it can do in other sports where this kind of tech is more widespread,” Lehari says. “Tech like this is making a huge difference to people’s lives. It’s a super exciting time to be in this field.”
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