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BTW your HR in the water when you are swimming will be lower for the same effect than when you are training out of the water. How much lower I am not sure, but because your body temp is lower because of the water, your HR does not get as high, yet you get the same effect. I am sure you could find HR training zones in water pretty easily.
Actually, you can get your HR just as high as if you were outside of the pool (cycling for example). It's just a lot harder because of the extremely high intensity we have to be at to do that. And for most of us, myself included, it's just too hard to concentrate on keeping that intensity while maintaining our rhythm, breathing, form, etc.

Even trying to monitor your HR alone in the pool is hard enough. There's so much else going on that it's nearly impossible to hear a beep to know if you're in your target zone and everything else (if you use a watch). If you use the pulse method, by the time you stop to take your pulse, your HR has probably already dropped nearly 10-15 beats.

Probably the best way to get a good cardio workout is to do a "field test" to find out what you swim for a 100 or a 400 meter swim for example, and then develop paces and go by a specific pace based on your time from those field tests. That way you'll know which intensity you're at and how hard you should be going. :)
 
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