There are few sports tech companies that have really been as laser-focused on their niche as much as FORM has (makers of their heads-up display swim coach/goggle), doubters be damned. About the only other comparison in the sports tech landscape that comes to mind would be Stryd, makers of the running power meter footpod. Both companies operate in the realm of products that could improve performance for both beginners and advanced users alike, but can be challenging to get people over the initial purchasing hump.
In FORM’s case, they’ve continued to tweak their business model since launch 4 years ago, initially transitioning from a standalone tool to a swim training plan/coaching subscription service. However, pushback on that business model found them today’s more happy medium whereby users can still use the goggles as a swim ‘watch’ (except for your eyes), with all the metrics you’d normally get from a traditional swimming pool capable watch. And if users want more advanced features like training plans and other analysis components, they can buy-in to their subscription model.
All of which is a brief but long-winded background for today’s new feature, dubbed ‘HeadCoach’, which introduces real-time coaching analytics on your swim form. Or, at least your head form. Up till now, the device has been tracking your swim (e.g., pace/distance/etc), along with walking you through step-by-step workouts, all from the FORM goggle. But it hasn’t tried to change your swim form, or tell you what you’re doing wrong. That’s what HeadCoach is all about.
Swimming with HeadCoach:
Having just finished up at the pool, I’ve got some initial thoughts. First up, it’s worthwhile noting that HeadCoach is essentially two parts. The first part is the real-time coach you’ll see while swimming, while the second part is the app-driven analysis components that let you drill down into the head positioning data.
So, starting in the pool, you’ll select your workout or free-swim as normal. That’s actually all the same, which means you can still iterate through structured/coached workouts automatically. The difference though is that you’ve got the ability to toggle on/off a few different HeadCoach modules. Think of these as extra data pages. These modules are Head Pitch and Head Roll, though you’ll also get graded on Time to Neutral.
Again, what’s nice is that you can toggle these on/off at any time. So I did my first few intervals with them off, so I could establish a baseline of how my form was prior to focusing on it. Then, I simply paused the set and toggled on the specific module I wanted, which first was the ‘Head Pitch’ focus mode.
For head pitch, it’s aiming to get you looking at a specific angle forward. In my case, I’m actually reasonably good here by default, likely due to mostly open water swimming over the past 5-6 months, whereby I’m frequently looking up/head. Whereas if you were “following the black line” on the pool, you’d be looking more straight-down.
While swimming, you’ll see what are essentially the upper/lower limit of the head-pitch acceptable bounds, along with two dashed lines for the mid-point. Your head is that single dot (ball) in the middle. In my case, I would tend to be pitched just a hair down below the perfection line, but reasonably good. Once I focused on it, I could relatively easily keep on-target, albeit it would take multiple sessions of training for my neck to accept that position.
Next, I switched to another module, Head Roll. For this one it’s looking at how far you roll (rotate) your head to get air each breath. In some ways, this is sorta like a little game of Pong, where you’re aiming to keep the ball within the bounds as much as possible (where the ball here moves from center to either of the two left/right lines). Again, by default, I never crossed the unacceptable line, but I could tweak my form just slightly to minimize the extra head roll/rotation.
For each length I completed, I was still getting my various interval split details, but I would also get the score for that length (be it ‘Head Roll’ or ‘Head Pitch’ score). And certainly, it didn’t take long to see the impacts of focusing on either.
After this, I also used the ‘Set Pacing’ option within HeadCoach to pace some sets, albeit, mostly just to see how it would work. The lanes got a bit busier for these last few minutes, so pacing was more like obstacle avoidance.
Now, fast-forward to the end of my workout. I had initially selected just a 1,400m workout, as I was going to double-up on doing a few swims. But then instead I actually just ended up selecting to ‘repeat’ sections of the workout, which is a handy feature to ‘rewind’ (or fast-forward) to a section you want to re-do. In my case, I re-did some 200’s & 100’s. Point being, I modified the workout that was planned for me.
With that set, I cracked open the FORM app on my smartphone, and I could see the HeadCoach results. Here are the general results like usual (including which workout I had initially started with). However, you’ll notice the newer line of HeadCoach stats above the yellow button.
Here, we can start off by looking at ‘Head Pitch’. In this case, this score looks at my entire workout, which scores me at 78 (out of 100). You can see my head angle is slightly lower than ideal, at 27° versus 33°. Instead, it should be slightly higher.
If I tap, I can then see it by lengths or sets. This is notable as I can very clearly see the difference between an earlier set with HeadCoach turned off, where I scored ’69’ for Head Pitch, and then paying attention with it turned on, I scored ’88’. Though even more interestingly, I actually would score higher for shorter intervals than longer ones.
For example, all of my 50’s or 100’s, I actually seem to have better Head Pitch, or at least, initially for the first 25m (also, I seem to oddly swim each first 25m very fast compared to the rest).
Finally, there’s also a more general HeadCoach area that I can look at that has my overall scores to date, and would show trending once I’ve got five swims with it. In this case, it’s showing my current status, as well as which level I’m at. Admittedly, it’s rare that anyone says I’m an ‘Expert’ at any portion of my swim technique. But thankfully they can only see my head here. If they saw the rest of my swim form, I’m sure it’d be a negative level.
Nonetheless, the obvious idea here being to look at this over longer lengths of time and see if these drills are improving.
I think there’s two interesting take-aways from this. First, it’s been a while since I’ve swam with the FORM goggles, and had kinda forgot how nice it was to see the structured workout set details and splits and such without having to try and sneak a look at it on my wrist during each turn. Sure, I still wish there was better overall visibility of things around me on the goggles, but I’m the kind of person that loves the mindlessness of following a structured workout. Whether it’s here, TrainerRoad, or out on the road with a watch – I prefer to just settle in and do whatever the tech tells me to do.
In terms of HeadCoach playing Commodore 64 style graphical games inside a goggle while swimming, it works surprisingly well. No, this isn’t some fancy Apple Retina display, or even a Paris Hilton 360p video. But it frankly doesn’t matter. At no point while doing the HeadCoach drills did I think “You know what I need? More resolution!”. Instead, I thought “Keep the ball in the middle…keep the ball in the middle…keep the ball in the middle”. It’s surprisingly effective at forcing you to focus on that one thing.
That’s likely because it’s very singular in its task. As with any swim technique training, you need to usually focus on one thing at a time until that becomes muscle-memory. Then, you add more things. For most swimmers, the limitation is not strength or aerobic engine. Rather, it’s almost always technique (for which, I most definitely fall into this camp). In FORM’s case, they’ve focused on fixing one portion of that technique. Of course, there are many, many, many other portions that all need to be addressed. How or if FORM can tap into areas like elbow position or body position remains to be seen.
Still, for existing FORM subscribers, this is pretty cool. Speaking of which, the HeadCoach components are free to all FORM goggle users for a month, and then after that they’re only accessible to the FORM subscribers. When you buy a FORM goggle, it comes with a 1-year subscription, after which it’s $15/month. Not the cheapest thing out there, but roughly in line with running/cycling training plans/coaching platforms.
With that – thanks for reading!
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