Swimming with FORM

wearables 1 Jul 2021

As someone who likes data, and swimming, it should come as no surprise that I have a pair of the FORM goggles. They're terrific, and unlike a lot of sports tech, which servers no purpose beyond enhanced navel gazing, I've been able to use the live data during swimming to determine my optimum stroke rate, which has allowed me to complete longer swims more comfortably, and with less recovery.

What are the FORM goggles?

Initially they look like a pair of goggles from the 1980s: no hydrodynamic styling, bulky, especially so on one side... that side houses a Bluetooth radio, a computer, and a projector that allows me to see metrics like heart rate, pace, stroke rate and swim distance live as I swim. No awkwardly looking at my wrist during turns, just clean, simple data floating in front of me.

Do they work with a snorkel?

This was a question I asked FORM, and to their credit, they managed my expectations down and said that I would receive compromised data. I decided that a) they were wrong b) they didn't know me and c) I was going to ignore them and try the goggles with a snorkel anyway.

I've had no issue with stroke rate data and a snorkel, and it's only slightly more awkward putting my Ameo Power Breather snorkel on at the same time, due to the Polar heart rate monitor on my temple. Stroke recognition is correct, as is distance.

What doesn't work is connection to a watch (Apple or Garmin), which is to be expected: without my head (and by extension the Bluetooth antenna) coming out of the water at regular intervals, the goggles can't get data from the watch. As this is only an issue with a small subset of the functionality, I'm not bothered: I can still see stroke rate and HR during OWS, metrics developed within the goggles.

How do they make things better?

While swimming up and down the pool, I see three four metrics: the top line is the workout timer, with the bottom line cycling between distance, heart rate, and stroke rate.

Distance

I'm awful at counting what length I'm on, I mean incredibly bad, so much so that I've gotten cross and ruined my zen swim state with frustration. I know, be more zen, just enjoy the swim, let go of the ego, because only the ego cares about distance. In the mean time, technology can do the distance counting.

Stroke rate

As I can see my stroke rate and heart rate while I swim, I can compare those data with how my body feels: over about 1km, I narrowed my optimal stroke rate down to about 57SPM. At that rate, I can concentrate on my technique, and decrease my overall time both in the pool and in open water.

Open water

My most common open water swim spot is the SF Bay, which has an average visibility of 30cm, stretching to 50cm on a rare occasion. Instead of gazing into the mirk for 40 minutes, I can watch my stroke rate and heart rate.

Garmin/Apple Watch integration

I'm not into this piece: the goggles ignore excellent HR data from the Polar unit, in favour of questionable data from the wrist delivered by the watch, over Bluetooth, in a poor environment. It's complex, doesn't work with snorkel swimming, and I'm generally not into it. If the goggles could pull HR from the Polar unit, instead of the watch, I'd change my mind, but I don't know if they can maintain two Bluetooth connections at once.

Heart rate

This requires either of Polar's two optical HR units, both seem to work as well as the other.

Battery life

So good that one could easily forget to charge them.

Stroke detection

On point.

App

Plain, simple, shows data, pushes data into Strava with a cute graphic.

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