Understanding how to improve your swim efficiency is a massive element of learning to swim faster without wasting energy in the water. As water is 1,000 times denser than air, there is a lot more initial and ongoing resistance to overcome. Therefore, technique wins over force every time for swimming, and it is much better to focus on reducing drag and becoming more streamlined for front crawl.
There are 3 ways to swim faster:
1. Train your aerobic system more - (vo2 max) > 85% effort or max heart rate
2. Train your anaerobic system - lactate threshold heart rate 80% effort or T pace
3. Improve your economy
The first 2 methods hold true for most swimmers and triathletes, but there is a limit to the amount you can push your body, before you become injured or over trained and feel stale.
The 3rd method is the one which has the most potential beneficial gains. This is by improving your technique, and swimming efficiency.
We call measuring your swim efficiency swim golf or "SWOLF". You may have seen this metric on your garmin or suunto swim / multi-sport watch or similar. It's also related to your distance per stroke (how much water your pull yourself over on each stroke).
Swolf is a great way of measuring where your sweet spot is for pacing and stroke count.
Try performing the following swim set:
SWOLF Swim Efficiency test
Count your strokes and time the 50m. Add the 2 together
50 FC counting strokes
50 FC stroke count minus 2 (from 1st 50m)
50 FC stroke count -2 (from 2nd 50m)
50 FC Stroke count holding-2 (from 3rd 50m) and swim 1-2 seconds faster
Single arm balance test
Then download this spreadsheet, key the times and stroke counts of each 50 metres into the table and send us the details for interpretation:
Ideally you should be able to reduce your stroke count on the 2nd and 3rd 50 metres, and then swim slightly faster over the last 50 metres.
This is where your swimming technique comes into play much more. As you try and hold that slightly faster time, and slightly reduced stroke count, you must think about all aspects of your technique and pulling yourself over the water and using it as efficiently and as effectively as possible!
Part 2 on Swolf and swim efficiency will follow explaining how the following areas all combine and work together
Stroke count (or distance per stroke)
Technique and how much water you're pushing behind yourself
Pacing and the law of diminishing returns
Read part 2 here
Front crawl coaching to all levels of swimmers, held at Guildford Lido in Surrey:
Front crawl video analysis in an endless pool at Tribal in Chertsey:
Swim squad for intermediates at Guildford Lido:
Online training plans for swimming and triathlons:
Copyright © Speedy Swimming
Nick is a level 3 British Triathlon Coach, Level 1 Training Peaks coach, and Training Bible coaching Master endurance coach with 25 years' experience in triathlon, founder and Head Coach for Speedy Swimming.
Photos by Finis