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Heart rates when swimming are usually significantly less than when undertaking other sports on dry land. You may have noticed you feel to be working really hard in the pool but if you measure your heart rate it is much lower than you expect if you are used to monitoring your heart rate when running for example.

This is thought to be a result of several factors, first, the body is in a horizontal position so your heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood around the body against the effects of gravity. Second, the cooling effect of the water reduces body temperature and decreases stress on the circulation. Thirdly, the dive reflex is known to lower heart rate and blood pressure which is a neurological response to immersion in water.

Traditional ways to calculate maximum heart rates and the 5 heart rate zones are always estimates and may be more inaccurate for swimmers because of the reasons already explained. Formula such as max heart rate = 220 minus your age has been found to have a relatively large error rate. There are other formulae which are finer tuned and adjusted for sex but a far more accurate way to work out your specific heart rate zones is by specific testing.

The latest version of the PoolMate software incorporates a simple swimming 6 minute test which will calculate your maximum swim heart rate and your 5 swimming heart rate zones automatically and specifically for you.

Simple Swimming Zones with the PoolMateHR

Equipment- a PoolMateHR  heart rate monitor set to vibrate at 1 minute time intervals

v2.15.0.3 of the PoolMatePro software available from


The test score factors how good you are at keeping a steady heart rate for 5 x 1 minute intervals at increasing intensity and how quickly you recover. From this we can work out your maximum swim heart rate (MSHR) and each heart rate training zone you should be using in the pool.

The Test (6 minutes)

Warm up for a few minutes until you are at an RPE of 5 and working somewhat hard but are still comfortable. Stop swimming and indicate when you are ready to start.

Press the start button on the PoolMateHR, let the watch acquire your heart rate, press start again

Swim 1 minute RPE 5 comfortable 60-70% Max
Swim 1 minute RPE 6 more challenging 70-80% Max
Swim 1 minute RPE 7 tough, you’ll need to push yourself 80-85% Max
Swim 1 minute RPE 8 challenging, you are breathing deep and rapid 85-90% Max
Swim 1 minute RPE 9 uncomfortable, almost your max, you really want to stop 90-95% Max
Rest for 1 minute stay still and avoid talking and unnecessary movements

Upload your data to Swimovate’s PoolMatePro software, select the session and click Setup on the menu bar, check the Calculate zone based on Zones test button and click calculate zones.



  • Try to keep a steady swim intensity through each minute, this will improve your pacing ability
  • The drop in heart rate during the 1 minute recovery is a great indicator of your fitness, as you get fitter your heart rate will recover quicker and further.



Your Maximum heart rate may vary by 10bpm on a daily basis depending on how rested you are, your temperature and your hydration. Try to carry out this test every 4-6 weeks under similar circumstances to get more accurate results.

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About Swimovate

We always lost count of the number of laps we swam which was really annoying. Our research told us we were not alone. We wanted an affordable, fully automatic solution so we made our own- the PoolMate.

We pride ourselves on our customer service so please get in touch with any queries or requests for  new features and we will be happy to help.

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We prefer email and will get back to you as soon as we can, usually within a few hours

0044 (0)1784 481562

Swimovate Ltd
4 The Worple
TW19 5NY
United Kingdom

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