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. Thereâs nothing to wear on your arms or chest, and because it sits behind your head, it shouldnât make you any less aerodynamic. âWe wanted it to be completely non-invasive so it doesnât interfere with your training,â explains Tristan Lehari, TritonWearâs CEO.
This unit analyses your stroke based on the movement of your head â 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 wonât 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 coachâs tablet, where itâs 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 theyâre dropping off, whether theyâre 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. âItâs like having a personal coach for every swimmer in the pool,â 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 swimmersâ workloads in terms of volume and intensity, to reduce the risk of injury.
âCoaches waste a huge amount of valuable pool time collecting data,â says Lehari. âOur device lets them ditch the stopwatch and focus on stroke mechanics and skills â in other words, actually coaching, instead of the tedious work of data collection.â
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 masterâs in sustainable energy engineering. In 2013, he returned to Canada and started TritonWear. His aim was to overcome one of wearablesâ biggest problems: How to keep people using them months and years down the line.
âA ton of different sports wearables were getting a lot of initial adoption, but they had a massive problem with retention,â he says. âHuge percentages of their customers were stopping using these devices within a few months. We really didnât want to fall into that bucket, so we thought âHow 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, âprobably the most accurate tracking device in the swimming spaceâ. He claims itâs more than four times more accurate than Garmin and other players. âAccuracy is the foundation of everything we do,â he goes on. âItâs what the product lives or dies on. The first thing a coach is going to do is compare you against a stopwatch. If you donât match up, youâre going to have a lot of trouble winning over that customer.â
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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. Itâs even been sanctioned for competition use in some countries, with those tournaments being âpowered byâ TritonWear. This recognition has been hard-won.
âSports like swimming donât have a ton of tech yet, because thereâs not much equipment involved, so there are some cultural barriers to break down,â Lehari says. âYou have to educate people as to the benefits of the data.â
Itâs just one of many obstacles to overcome with making a swimming wearable, and thatâs 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 TritonWearâs success, Lehari is apprehensive jumping head first into the consumer space.
âGoing there too early is a huge mistake,â he says. âYou might get some initial uptake from the excitement around the product, but if it doesnât work how consumers want it to, and they get no value from it, thatâs going to be a big problem. Weâve seen it a lot in our industry.â
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 modelâs âcoach-centricâ approach. âWe 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 theyâre 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. âThey want this information because theyâve seen what it can do in other sports where this kind of tech is more widespread,â Lehari says. âTech like this is making a huge difference to peopleâs lives. Itâs a super exciting time to be in this field.â