Triathletes are well-known for their love of gadgets; they’re also well-known for (typically) not being the greatest of swimmers. The Incus Nova might be something a lot of struggling triathlon swimmers are suddenly incredibly curious about. Although it might look like a baby TV remote control, it’s actually an incredibly smart device (that weighs 30g) and is designed to sit in the back of a vest (well, it’s actually more of a crop top) that you wear as you swim. It captures all kinds of data (across nine different axes of movement), most of which you’d never be able to get your hands on unless you were in a swim tank for an extended video analysis with some expert eyes on you. More on that later.
Easy to use and set up
Provides extensive data and analysis unlike any other device on the market
Can be used for swimming and running (sport-specific kits needed for each)
Easy to get lost in the data—there’s a lot of it—and you might want a coach/expert to help you get the most from it
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The Incus Nova is the creation of British product engineer Chris Ruddock who has designed bike frames and equipment for the likes of British Cycling. Rewind to his teenage days and he was a competitive swimmer who lost hearing in one ear in his late teens. This led to him being interested in finding other (non-verbal) ways to get feedback in training, and he became intrigued with maximizing the analytical and numeric data you can get while swimming. The basic concept for the Incus Nova started out with him taping home-made electronics to his back and going for a swim. After many years of refinements—and some 140+ prototypes—the device is sleek, smart, and incredibly easy to use. It also provides you with more information about your swimming than you’ve ever seen before.
For a more in-depth feature breakdown, check out our extended review of the Incus Nova.
Incus Nova review: The basics
Before you begin your swim session, you put on the Incus vest (a crop top-type thing that looks like something Faris al Sultan used to race in 15 years ago), which zips up through the front. In the back of this garment is a sleeve/pocket that is designed to (very snugly) hold the device. You turn it on with one press (there’s a small button on the side of the device), and then before you start your session, you hit that button again, and it vibrates three times to let you know it is recording. All very simple. You then do your swim and can pretty much forget it’s there. You need to hit the button again to end the recording.
Once home from the pool, you can download the workout to the Incus Cloud app (this requires setting up beforehand on your phone, but is straightforward). It’s here that the fun really starts, as once the device has synced with the app, you’ll find your workout and a labyrinth of data in the summary section. Data includes:
- Total distance swam
- Session duration
- Average pace/100
- Average stroke rate/minute
- Average split time (per lap)
Under the “Session Breakdown” section you’ll see an interactive chart that gives you a breakdown of stroke and split time for every lap (it’s color-coded by stroke: light blue is freestyle, purple is fly, red is backstroke, dark blue is breaststroke). Beneath this info you can also see data for each set completed (if you were swimming sets, e.g., four rounds of 5 x 100), so you can compare and contrast times.
Beneath that you’ll find the “Pacing & Splits” section, which gives you your average pace per 100 as well as the average set time. It’s the next section, “Swim Economy,” however, where the Incus really comes into its own. Of course, much of the data mentioned above you can find on other wrist-based swim wearables/smartwatches, so it’s the swim economy feature that really sets this device apart from anything else we’ve ever seen or used.
Thanks to its positioning on your spine, the device is able to capture motion and data from your left and right sides independently (whereas a smartwatch measures one side of your body and assumes the other side is doing the same). This provides information such as stroke strength on both your left and right sides, as well as body pitch and roll. In short, it can really highlight asymmetries that you might not have been aware existed and, believe me, as someone who’s had a shoulder surgery as a result of overuse and asymmetries, this is information that can really prove useful, not just for improving swim efficiency but also in helping to prevent injuries.
RELATED: What Is The Ideal Stroke Rate?
Incus Nova review: The good
When first unboxing the Incus, it seemed like a lot: a vest to wear under your suit (what, really?), a tiny device, an app with an almost overwhelming amount of data, but in actual fact, it’s remarkably simple to set up and start using. It is a very smooth, integrated experience and it’s obvious that a lot of thought and intelligent design has gone into the user experience.
The standout feature of this device is undoubtedly the level of information and analysis it provides. My first session highlighted that my left stroke has an economy score of +15%, while my right side showed a score of +45% (the closer you are to 100%, the more efficient your stroke is—so the Incus was not liking my left side at all). The body angle data is also invaluable and incredibly interesting. I have been swimming competitively for more than 30 years, and I’ve never before seen such precise data on my body rotation (for both left and right sides) or my pitch angle. (For those curious, my body roll on my left side was 49 degrees in my first swim, 68 degrees on my right).
Incus Nova review: The OK
As you can probably tell from the data just above, the level of information and analysis this device spits out is incredible. It can also feel a little overwhelming, too, and that’s coming from someone who’s well used to getting in the weeds with nerdy training data. My word of warning with this device would be to use it with the help of a coach or swim expert who can really help you maximize the info and interpret it to make tangible changes to your stroke. Yes, there are tips and advice in the app that relate to your scores for each section, but for the novice or intermediate you might still want another set of eyeballs on it.
I must say, I also wasn’t a huge fan of wearing a crop top under my swimsuit. The old school purists among you might feel similarly. But it really isn’t that bad and you do soon get used to it. Men might also find it unusual. You definitely do want to make sure it’s tight and snug, though. And be sure to be very definite about pushing off and touching the wall in order to get the most accurate split tips/lap data. The device can be sensitive.
Incus Nova review: Conclusions
The Incus Nova is unlike anything else currently on the market when it comes to swim tech and wearables. It’s a cliche that is thrown around far too often by marketing wizards when new products hit the market, but in our expert view, this device—and all of the data it provides you—is a game changer. It won’t just change your swimming for the better, it’s going to change the world of swim tech wearables.
If you’re someone who is committed to improving your swimming then there is arguably nothing comparable that can help you raise your game (well, you’ve also got to do a lot of consistent training and ideally work with an experienced coach, too). If used in tandem with a smart, sustainable training program and a coach who knows what they’re doing, the Incus Nova will certainly help get you swimming faster, more efficiently, and with more knowledge than you ever have before.