- What the Heck Is SWOLF?
- SWOLF score explained: Everything you need to know to make you a better swimmer
- How is the SWOLF score calculated?
- What does average SWOLF score mean?
- What is a Good SWOLF score?
- What can SWOLF tell us?
- How to Lower SWOLF & Improve your SWOLF Score
- What SWOLF am I?
- What do the charts mean?
- Why is SWOLF not a good measure?
- Best watches to track you SWOLF score
- Why Training to Improve Your SWOLF Score is Worthwhile
- What does my SWOLF score tell me?
- What’s a good SWOLF score for a 25m pool?
- Is a 25m pool too short for SWOLF training?
- Can you train without a swim watch?
- SWOLF – Swimming Efficiency Test
- Similar Tests
- What is SWOLF? | Whiteboard Wednesday
- Different Strokes, Different SWOLF
- The Swimming Equation
- Looking at the Metrics
- SWOLF Workout
- SWOLF (Swim Golf): Everything About This Swimming Measure
- What is SWOLF Score?
- Why is SWOLF Important?
- How to Track your SWOLF Score?
- What is a Good SWOLF Score?
- Swimming with SWOLF: How to use Swim Golf to improve your efficiency in the pool
- Okay, what is SWOLF?
- How do you train with SWOLF?
- What are the limits of SWOLF?
- SWOLF tracking wearables
- SWOLF and swimming efficiency
- Interpreting a SWOLF Score
- What can SWOLF tell us? Interpreting Swim Data from your GPS Watch
- So this begs the question…what can SWOLF tell us?
- Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions
What the Heck Is SWOLF?
SWOLF is a weird-sounding thing: It’s built into pretty much every Garmin watch from the Vivoactive 3 on up; it’s in the Polar Vantage M (and its fancier older sibling, the Vantage V); it’s in Suunto’s offerings as well.
You’ll hear coaches asking about what your SWOLF is, and you might even hear some of your more obsessive tri friends bragging about their SWOLFs while sipping post-swim lattes.
While a SWOLF may sound big and mean, it’s actually a simple and useful measurement that can help you become a faster and—more importantly—a better swimmer.
Coach Dan Szajta is a former collegiate swimmer and the owner and head coach at Richmond, Virgina-based Grn Mchn Multisports. He uses SWOLF with his athletes to help develop their efficiency.
“Athletes swim a set distance, typically 50-100 yards/meters and count their strokes along the way,” he says. “Stroke count is added to time for a SWOLF score, with the goal of achieving the lowest score possible.
” If an athlete swims 40 seconds for 50 and takes 34 strokes, the score would be 74. Take an average of each trial for a good baseline before making changes.
Szajta believes that distance swimmers, particularly triathletes, can benefit from the SWOLF score because there is so much opportunity for triathletes to save energy while still swimming near their peak output. “When covering long distances or competing in a triathlon, energy conservation is key,” he says, especially knowing that the race isn’t even remotely over once a triathlete gets the water.
For his athletes, he s to do two sets of 2 x 50y mixed in with drill work to compute SWOLF scores. He also finds it important to keep track of them over time, with the goal of lowering the number as much as possible. This simple test helps balance speed (a faster time is obviously better) and stroke rate (a lower stroke rate uses less energy and implies more efficiency).
But it’s only effective if there’s consistency in the test. “A SWOLF score could easily be manipulated by a really long underwater kick-out,” he cautions. “Therefore, athletes need to be honest with themselves and their coach and make the details of their efforts as repeatable as possible so that stroke efficiency is highlighted.”
The fun side of SWOLF is that, particularly early on, there are a host of ways to lower your score that would surprise you. In fact, SWOLFers are encouraged to play around with their stroke to see what works. “Lowering a SWOLF score is highly dependent on the athlete.
One athlete may need to develop better body position, while another may have a weak kick or catch phase of their stroke,” Szajta says.
He recommends video to help nail down the obvious low-hanging fruit that can help lower your score or using a set of trusted eyes, a coach, to help get started.
When it comes to using high-tech gadgets fully loaded with SWOLF capabilities— the ones we mentioned above—if you think automatically calculating your score will make you use it more, then go ahead, but don’t forget devices smart watches are far from perfect. Be sure to use common sense and check in the old-school way when you can.
“The watch can be used to record times, but stroke count should be taken manually as some variables impact SWOLF score on a watch: The wrist the watch is worn on, which hand starts swimming after a breakout, and which hand finishes to the wall can make a significant impact on the stroke count,” warns Szajta.
“If an athlete switched their watch to their other wrist, their score will change, potentially by 2-3 strokes.”
SWOLF score explained: Everything you need to know to make you a better swimmer
What is an SWOLF score is the topic of our blog this week as we attempt to help you with SWOLF score explained: everything you need to know to make you a better swimmer. So what does SWOLF mean? Essentially SWOLF is an abbreviation for SWim gOLF. This magic number will help bring more science to your swim training and improve your performance.
If you have a multi-sport Garmin watch such as the 920XT or 935XT or a FINIS Swim Sense you will have seen SWOLF. You may well have read with interest your SWOLF score after a swim but ignored it.
Dismissing it as something relatively useless with the number meaning nothing to you. Is a big number good or bad? What number should I be aiming for? How is the number calculated? We will try and cover all of this and provide the answers.
Don’t ignore SWOLF as this is a useful indicator of your swimming efficiency.
How is the SWOLF score calculated?
Garmin SWOLF score explained
Starting with how the number is calculated. Your SWOLF score is the sum of the time for one pool length (assuming a 25m pool) plus the number of strokes for that length. For example, 30 seconds plus 15 strokes equals a SWOLF score of 45.
For open water swimming, SWOLF is equally calculated over 25 meters. SWOLF is a measurement of swimming efficiency and therefore golf, a lower score is better.
So stop beating yourself up if you keep getting a smaller number! It isn’t a measure of speed alone though so don’t use your SWOLF score alone to determine your finishing time in your next race.
What does average SWOLF score mean?
Every 25 meters of swimming produces a unique SWOLF number. At the end of your set these scores are summed and then divided by the number of 25m increments. Thus giving you an average of the individual scores through the set.
What is a Good SWOLF score?
The basic idea of SWOLF is that the fewer strokes and less time you take, the more efficient your are in the water. As a result you should use the SWOLF score to track your efficiency in the water which for triathlon is almost as important as your speed.
Essentially it helps you track how much juice you will have left after the swim leg before you hit the bike. What you are looking for is a quick time the water that you can deliver efficiently enough to still perform well on the bike and run.
It isn’t a replacement for a CSS (Critical Swim Speed) pace but is good to help with that efficiency question. Speed = No. Efficiency = Yes.
What can SWOLF tell us?
SWOLF is better than simply counting strokes because you can lower the amount of strokes taken by gliding along in the water. This slows you down, something the SWOLF score will indicate. So, there is no point in gaming the score.
Swimming with a very slow glide through the water using few strokes. This is technically efficient you might as well just be doing breast stroke and potter around while having a chat.
This will equally leave you exiting the water with plenty of energy but so far behind the pack even a Tour De France paced bike leg is unly to help you.
An SWOLF score isn’t an exact science as you need to consider we are all different sizes. It is a relatively good indicator if coupled with pure time and CSS type inputs on your performance. General consensus across the experts is that a score in the region of 35-45 is good and no need to keep pushing yourself harder than you already are.
How to Lower SWOLF & Improve your SWOLF Score
If you are knocking around a score of 50 then your goal is essentially to get this number as low as possible. There are three different ways to do this and reduce your SWOLF score:
1) Reduce the number of strokes you take but maintain the same time per length of the pool
2) Maintain the same stroke rate but reduce the time taken per length.
3) Or most ly achieve an improvement against both with less strokes and less time over 25 metres.
Technique and efficiency is something that you can only develop through practice. Strength and overall fitness are enhanced through training. The SWOLF score shows that optimal swimming is a balance between efficiency (stroke length) and power (stroke rate).
SWOLF is a pool drill designed to measure efficiency in swimming. It’s been used by some of the best swimmers in the world. Including Olympic champions, and some of the sports’ leading coaches.
It is worth noting that SWOLF is not particularly meaningful in comparing different swimmers.
What SWOLF am I?
So where am I in the world of SWOLF scores to give some sense of reality to this? On a good day I push a sub 40 SWOLF score with a more lazy session leaving just the wrong side of 40. Swimming is in reality my strength in the triathlon three disciplines and in most pool sessions I can hold my own.
Tee me up next to a proper dedicated swimmer though and I have my arse kicked all over the pool. In most races to date I tend to find myself in the top quarter of the pack. So if you are struggling with your swim and you have an SWOLF score in the 50’s a good target may be to try and get your score to around 45.
This should see you find yourself competing in the thick of the pack.
What do the charts mean?
When you track your swimming the SWOLF score can be tracked in a multi-sport app such as Garmin Connect.
You can review your swim within this application but what do the charts mean? The chart provides each interval SWOLF score which from the below diagram you can see as the purple block of results.
The app then allows you to overlay this result with either your Pace measured over 100 metres or your stroke rate over a 35 metre distance. If doing structured swimming you can adjust your stroke rate and effort to get the right balance for efficient swimming.
Why is SWOLF not a good measure?
SWOLF is intended to give you a metric of the efficiency of your swim. It is ultimately flawed as it isn’t actually measuring effort.
There is no heart rate element to the score so impossible to determine effort applied. It is merely combining time with stoke rate.
To be truly effective it needs to combine heart rate into this number seeking a lower heart rate linked to lower effort.
Best watches to track you SWOLF score
While you could track your SWOLF score manually we would recommend using a specialist watch for this. Below are our favourite watches for tracking your SWOLF score.
1. Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro – £169.99
For those who love Android Samsung’s cheaper fitness wearable a good choice. The Samsung offers stroke recognition, lap counting and heart rate tracking. It will track best and average length duration, pace and SWOLF score.
2. Garmin Swim 2 – £219.99
If you need a purist swimming watch it would be hard to beat the Garmin Swim 2. Every type of swimming statistic is included for both pool and open-water swimming. Garmin has added additional features which help you to stick to a preset pace, log drills and set rest periods to follow. This is a serious watch for competitive swimmers.
3. Apple Watch Series 5 – £399
As Apple have continued to develop their watch technology it has increasingly become a serious contender as a sports watch. The Apple watch since becoming waterproof has been making more frequent appearances at masters swim club sessions.
The Apple Watch’s swim tracking features got a major upgrade with the release of watchOS 4 in 2017. The Watch not only tracks distance, lengths and time, but also automatically recognises your stroke type.
You can also use the Apple Watch to track open-water swims, when it uses the device’s built-in GPS to provide a map of your route afterwards.
The watch uses a unique water locking system to seal the inner workings and protect the technology.
4. Garmin Forerunner 945XT – £519.99
The Daddy of triathlon watches and a masterclass is swimming smart watch technology. Unfortunately all that pedigree and capability also comes with an eye watering price tag against others in this line up.
Garmin have worked to refine the recipe since the 80’s inspired 910XT. Each rebirth of this classic has added more functionality and slimmed down the profile. The latest model being lighter and thinner than any previous while still delivering a wrist based heart monitor.
If you are serious about triathlon this is a real contender.
Still looking for ways to improve your swimming? Check out our triathlon blog article on swim parachutes: do they help improve your swimming for further tips to improve in the pool. Or check out all our most popular swimming posts right now.
Why Training to Improve Your SWOLF Score is Worthwhile
There's a lot of interest in swim tracking and SWOLF scores, but not much information that explains what these scores mean, and how they can benefit your training. In this post, we go over what a good SWOLF score would be for a 25m pool, and why training to improve in this area is worthwhile.
If you’re not familiar with the subject, you can learn more in our dedicated What is SWOLF? post… but here’s the short version: It’s a measurement that adds the number of strokes you take with the amount of time it takes to swim the length of a pool. the sport of golf, the lower your SWOLF score is, the better. (Its name comes from combining the words swim and golf.)
SWOLF isn't the ultimate metric that determines whether you’re a good swimmer or not. Just think of it as a drill that can improve your efficiency and speed in the pool — and potentially give you faster times in open water as well.
In an odd way, working on your SWOLF score is similar to practicing the high jump in track and field. In order to most effectively hurl your body over the horizontal bar at higher and higher heights, you need to experiment with different techniques to figure out what works best for you.
It’s the same with your SWOLF score. In order to bring the score down, you need to experiment with different variations, intensities, and repetitions of strokes and kicks to determine what combination delivers the lowest score.
What does my SWOLF score tell me?
Athletes are judged equally on time. If you want to set a new world record in the 1500 meter freestyle, you need to do so in a shorter amount of time than the current record holder. Your SWOLF score is different because it’s a personal metric.
Your best SWOLF score gives you a personally-tailored target to shoot for the next time you're training in the pool.
Taller people with long arms tend to have lower SWOLF scores, because their larger bodies traverse the length of pools more readily.
This doesn’t mean that they’re faster and more efficient swimmers, it just means that the benchmark for their personal SWOLF score may be different than a shorter athlete.
Your best SWOLF score gives you a personally-tailored target to shoot for the next time you're training in the pool.
What’s a good SWOLF score for a 25m pool?
If your score is in the mid or upper 30’s, you are a pretty stellar swimmer. For example, if it took you 19 seconds to swim the length of a 25 meter pool, and you took 16 strokes, that would be a SWOLF score of 35. That’s a great SWOLF score for a 25m pool. A good score would be a little higher than that, in the low 40’s.
Remember… this a training drill, not an exact science. Different body types and effort levels can result in varying and potentially contradictory SWOLF scores. This is a tool you can use to improve as a swimmer — not a number that determines your worth as an athlete.
Now, if you start off with a running dive, or you push off from the wall and perform a lengthy, porpoise-inspired streamline to improve your score, go ahead. Just know that you’re essentially just goofing off if you do so. The point of doing SWOLF drills is optimize your stroke to achieve the fastest times, not to measure how skilled you are at being a human torpedo.
This is a great training routine to revisit. Is your SWOLF higher or lower than it was last season? Not sure? Get in the pool and find out.
Remember that SportTracks displays your SWOLF scores and many other swimming metrics (Interval, Time, Pace, Stroke, Stroke Rate, Stroke Distance and Efficiency).
You can learn how to determine your current swimming pace zones, and add them to SportTracks in this post.
SportTracks also enables you to easily filter your workout data over specified lengths of time. You can quickly view your swimming history, and judge your performance from season to season.
Is a 25m pool too short for SWOLF training?
Working on your SWOLF score in a short pool can be beneficial, but, to keep the golf analogy going, it’s a 9-hole course — not the standard-bearing 18. You can turn at the wall of a 25m pool and swim it again for a 50m effort, but the interference will skew the results, and the information won’t be as accurate.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother with SWOLF if you don’t have access to a pool that’s longer than 25m. Working out and performing training exercises is always better than sitting on your butt. That said, if you have the option between a 25 and 50m pool, definitely do your SWOLF training in the longer one.
Can you train without a swim watch?
If you don’t have a swimming watch that can track your SWOLF score ( the Garmin Swim, 920XT, 910XT, or the Suunto Ambit3 or Ambit2), you will need a poolside partner or a coach to keep time and visually count the number of strokes you take. You won’t have all of the advanced swimming metrics to analyze and review in SportTracks, but you can still improve your efficiency.
Swim Golf perhaps isn’t as fun as Marco Polo, cannonballing, or human torpedo dives, but it can help give you a competitive edge and push you toward new PRs.
SWOLF – Swimming Efficiency Test
Home > Fitness Testing > Tests > Swimming > SWOLF
SWOLF is a measure of swimming efficiency. It is a simple and general measure, calculated by adding the time (in seconds) to the stroke count, for a given distance.
Essentially the fewer strokes and less time you take, the more efficient you are in the water. As your swimming technique improves you should reduce your score.
The name swolf comes from joining swimming and golf, as swimmers attempt to lower their score.
purpose: to get a measure of swimming efficiency
equipment required: a swimming pool (25m or 50m), stopwatch and an assistant. Many smart watches are also coming with a swolf measurement mode.
procedure: After a standardised warm-up, swimmers are required to swim once over a set distance (50m is suggested – any shorter distance can be too variable), with the time taken to complete the distance and the number of strokes recorded. A stroke is counted as the number of hand entries – left and right combined.
The swimmer may start the swim in the water with a push start from the wall, or a dive, however this must be replicated if swolf scores are going to be compared over time. Many smart watches have swolf measurement capability built-in which makes this measurement much easier.
Otherwise, it is best to use an assistant to time the swim and count the strokes.
results: Use the time in seconds and stroke count for the swim and the formula below to calculate swolf. The swolf score will be different for each swim distance.
For each swim distance, swimming faster will improve your score, and equally, your score can be improved with better swimming technique to lower your stroke count. As a guide, a swolf score of between 35 and 45 over 25m is very good, or over 50m scoring in the low-70s is excellent.
Apparently Russian sprint champion Alexander Popov scored 45 in a 50m pool – 25 seconds at 20 strokes!
SWOLF = swim time (seconds) + number of strokes
usage: It is difficult to compare swolf scores with other swimmers because each individual has different physical attributes (e.g. longer arm length therefore longer stroke) and swimming skill. It is better to focus on improving your own swolf score.
target population: this is a test for swimmers.
advantages: this is a simple test and calculation, and the whole testing can be done by the swimmer.
comments: it is possible to try and lower the swolf score by taking fewer strokes, but if this is achieved by gliding along in the water for longer then the time will be negatively impacted. This is why measuring stoke count only is not as good.
notes: if the fitness tracker has a GPS built-in, it is possible to measure Swolf in open water swimming. In this case, the swolf score is computed over 25-meter intervals.
- Critical Swim Speed — determining the theoretical swimming speed that can be maintained continuously without exhaustion.
- Swimming Beep Test — conducted in a 25m pool, starting at a speed of 1 m/sec and increasing by 0.05 m/sec every two minutes
- Swimming 7 x 200m Step Test — comprehensive measurements from multiple swims used to monitor changes in swimming specific aerobic conditioning.
What is SWOLF? | Whiteboard Wednesday
Your SWOLF score is a rough measure of efficiency, and it’s calculated per-length as the sum of the time it took you to swim the lap, and the number of strokes it took you to swim it.
SWOLF isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid way to measure improvements in stroke efficiency over time. Sometimes it’s hard to compare stroke count and time if you swim in different pool lengths.
Efficiency fixes this problem, so you can compare apples-to-apples in different pool lengths. If you sometimes swim in a 25 yard pool, and sometimes in a 50 meter pool this is what you’ll want to look at.
Interested in learning how SWOLF works and how to improve it?
Check out this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday!
Different Strokes, Different SWOLF
Each stroke carries it’s own metrics including stroke count, lap slits and SWOLF score. For freestyle and backstroke, stroke count is calculated each time an arm pulls underwater.
For Breaststroke and Butterfly, a stroke cycle is completed when both arms complete a pull together. As you can see in the 4 x 50s IM set below, each stroke carries a different pair of metrics.
The highlighted repetition is the 50m butterfly.
Looking at the graphs you can see this swimmer averaged :15s per 25m of butterfly taking 7 strokes on the first length and 8 strokes on the second length. The resulting SWOLF is 22 on the first 25m and 23 on the second 25m. This is very good, but remember that SWOLF is relative to your own swimming.
The Swimming Equation
ST represents total Swimming Time. This equation represents two components, the under water over time and over water time.
Underwater time is made up of Underwater Time plus Turn Time. The Overwater time is a function of Cycle Count multiplied by Stroke Rate.
The units for Stroke Rate is in seconds/stroke.
ST = (UT + TT) + (CC*SR)
- ST = Swimming Time
- UT = Underwater Time
- TT = Turn Time
- CC = Cycle Count
- SR = Stroke Rate
Looking at the Metrics
Because SWOLF is a function of both Split Time and Stroke Count it’s important to monitor both as they relate to your swimming efficiency. Looking at the example set below of 6 x 50s Freestyle @ :40, you can see the second repetition of the set broken out by stroke count, split time, and the result SWOLF score.
Analyzing this set, we can see that the swimmer’s efficiency dropped on the second length of the 50m swim because the stroke count and lap split both increased. Most ly this swimmer was fatiguing through the set and you can see this with an increase in heart rate.
Below is a very detailed analysis of a workout performed with the Apple Watch Series 3 running the MySwimPro Work the Day.
Read more about this workout analysis and the advanced analytics available on the MySwimPro platform here.
I hope this video was helpful in understanding how SWOLF is calculated and how you can use it as a metric to improve your swimming performance over time.
Until next time, happy swimming!
Archived in Technique & Training, Whiteboard Wednesdays. Bookmark the permalink.
SWOLF (Swim Golf): Everything About This Swimming Measure
Today, I will try to explain almost everything about the SWOLF (Swim Golf), what it is, why it is important, and what is good Swolf score.
In today’s world an incredible number of fitness monitoring devices and applications are available for amateur fitness enthusiasts to track and analyse every movement of their exercise, be it duration, distance, cadence, heart rate and more.
Most of these fitness trackers can record and display data of exercises performed over land with reasonable accuracy.
However same is not true for swimmers.
Few average fitness devices can survive the rigours of being immersed under deep water, let alone perform accurately. Hence swimmers have to depend on dedicated swimming trackers that come at a premium if they are looking for lasting service and accuracy.
Most of these devices provide a swim specific metric that is known by SWOLF Score.
What is SWOLF Score?
SWOLF Score is a measure of swimming efficiency and is calculated by combining your stroke count with the time taken to cover a specific distance in water. Commonly referred to by swimmers as Swim Golf, the objective of this measurement is to lower your SWOLF score which reflects increased stroke efficiency.
Why is SWOLF Important?
The idea of SWOLF score is to take fewer strokes while covering a particular swimming distance.
This can be achieved by simply swimming faster but can also be achieved by taking fewer strokes and gliding along in the water while actually swimming slower.
However the actual health benefit comes into play only when the time factor is introduced and the distance is covered in lesser time with improved efficiency, thus requiring a better swimming technique.
Hence you should practise the following progressive actions to better your SWOLF Score.
- Initially you should try to swim the distance with lesser number of strokes and incorporate more gliding action at or after each stroke to improve upon your stroke efficiency. Practising this overtime will result into betterment in your swimming technique.
- As your swimming technique improves, you should slowly start to swim faster to cover the same distance. This will cause improvement in your overall SWOLF score and actually contribute to a better health.
How to Track your SWOLF Score?
SWOLF score can be tracked by a variety of means.
Most swim watches nowadays are able to record swimming distance, duration of swimming and number of strokes taken by a swimmer and hence are able to provide the SWOLF Score easily.
However you should always make sure to set your swim tracker correctly before every swimming session as well as try out a few test runs in order to get an accurate reading from your device during the actual session. Since swim watches use internal accelerometers to count number of laps, they work by tracking change in the swimming direction. A good push off the wall during starting of each lap works best for most trackers.
Alternatively, you can also count the stroke in your head and use a stopwatch for recording the time taken to cover the distance. Then you can calculate your SWOLF score manually.
What is a Good SWOLF Score?
It is not meaningfully right to compare SWOLF Score of one individual with another due to differences in their physical attributes such as build, limb length & structure, height etc. Hence improving upon your previous SWOLF score is the way to go.
Initially you must try to cover 1 metre of swimming distance with each stroke and then try to gradually improve upon this by reducing the time.
However although a difference in physical attributes makes a benchmark SWOLF score practically impossible, a SWOLF score of 35-45 over 25 metres is a great score for an amateur swimmer.
Whatever the means of measurement or whatever the initial score, an improvement in your SWOLF score will always reflect an improvement in your swimming technique and hence of your overall health and fitness.
Swimming with SWOLF: How to use Swim Golf to improve your efficiency in the pool
“What the hell is a SWOLF?” “How do you calculate SWOLF?” “Is it a contagious disease? It sounds contagious.”
Those are just some of the questions you might have asked when hearing about SWOLF, a swimming metric that's been showing up in more and more sports watches and fitness trackers. If you've used a Samsung, Garmin or other wearable to track your pool session, you might have seen your “SWOLF score” in the post-workout breakdown. But is it worth paying attention to?
Big pool test: Four smartwatches compete on swim tracking
Here, we break down the meaning of your SWOLF score, why you should care, and how you can improve it. We also look at some of the wearables out there you can use to track your SWOLF score with.
Okay, what is SWOLF?
SWOLF is a portmanteau of “Swim” and “Golf” – see what they did there? – and is a measurement of your swimming efficiency. It measures speed and distance per stroke, usually in a pool, though it can be done in open water with intervals.
Charged Up: It's time for swimming goggles to get smarter
Your SWOLF score is calculated by adding together the time taken to complete a length and the number of strokes needed to do so. And just in golf, the lower your score, the better. For example, if it takes you 40 seconds and 30 strokes to complete one length, you would have a SWOLF score of 70. Pretty straightforward, right?
The aim is to optimise your efficiency by getting from one side of the pool to the other with the least amount of effort in the shortest time. SWOLF can technically be measured in any length pool, but ideally you want something longer than 25m. If possible, a 50m pool is more ideal.
How do you train with SWOLF?
“Swimmers can benefit from monitoring SWOLF regardless of swim ability or experience,” Evan Morrison, marathon swimmer and co-founder of the Marathon Swimmers Federation, tells Wareable.
The best way to improve your SWOLF score is to first actually calculate it by swimming one lap. Then, continue to repeat over a preset number of lengths while trying different stroke lengths and rates.
By doing this drill you should soon find a method that results in the lowest SWOLF score – thus improving your efficiency.
Oh, and keep the gliding to a minimum, as this isn't going to help give you an accurate idea of your score, or how you're improving.
“If a given individual lowers his or her SWOLF significantly over time, it's indicative of improving efficiency,” says Morrison. However, note that he's only talking about comparing against yourself. This is important: due to differences in body type, comparing your SWOLF score against another person's isn't going to tell you much.
“Having a lower SWOLF due to being taller or longer-limbed is not necessarily indicative of better efficiency than a shorter person,” says Morrison. So while your SWOLF score might be 70 and your friend's is 80, it doesn't necessarily mean you're more efficient.
What are the limits of SWOLF?
It's important to know that SWOLF is not the be all and end all of being a great swimmer.
“It's a useful tool for the toolkit, but swimmers shouldn't get too obsessed with it,” says Morrison. “It's not perfectly precise and should be used in combination with interval training and stroke analysis from a qualified coach.”
While SWOLF is an indicator of efficiency, it's not the only one. Factors heart rate and VO2 Max can also be thrown into the equation, and more capable wearable tech is starting to allow for that (some the Samsung Gear Sport do track heart rate in the water, but the combination of optical sensors and water don't make for a foolproof system just yet).
SWOLF tracking wearables
As more wearables have become waterproof, we've seen SWOLF creep in, and these days you'll find it on most fitness platforms with a decent swimming facet. Some, Fitbit, still don't, but below are a handful of sports watches and fitness trackers that will track those strokes so you don't have to keep count yourself.
But note that not all of these are going to be perfectly accurate, and in testing we've found some amount of variation. Garmin and Apple have produced the best results, but even then it's worth remembering that these aren't completely foolproof.
Got any questions about anything we've discussed above? Let us know in the comments section below.
SWOLF and swimming efficiency
by Evan Morrison. 04 April 2012.
- Stroke count games
- A better SWOLF formula
- Controlled stroke count drill
SWOLF, an elision of “swim golf,” is an imperfect but useful metric of swimming efficiency. You only need a pace clock to measure SWOLF, although it is now included on many multi-sport watches such as the Garmin ???.
In brief: SWOLF is the sum of time (in seconds) and stroke count to complete a given distance.
Traditionally, that distance is 50 meters (or yards) – but there’s no reason you can’t get a SWOLF score for a longer distance. I once did a SWOLF face-off with David Barra for the buoy line at Lake Minnewaska, New York. I would not recommend measuring SWOLF for distances less than 50m (e.g., one length of a short-course pool) – the variability is too high.
Traditionally, “stroke count” means strokes (one arm = one stroke) rather than stroke cycles (two arms = one cycle) – but as I will argue later in this article, stroke cycles may be preferable.
In the interest of terminological precision, SWOLF is defined as the measure itself (40 seconds for 20 stroke cycles = SWOLF score of 60); and swim golf is defined as the process or exercise of trying different combinations of stroke rate and stroke length to find an optimally efficient stroke (lowest SWOLF).
It’s important to understand how to use it correctly. Here’s the drill:
- Swim one length of the pool
- Count the number of strokes you take
- Get your time (in seconds)
- Take the sum of (2) and (3). That is your SWOLF score.
- Repeat steps 1-4, trying different combinations of stroke rate, stroke length, and effort. Which combinations produce the lowest score?
- “Number of strokes” means total number of hand entries – left and right combined. It is not the number of stroke cycles – as the FINIS gets it right on its website but wrong on the Swimsense.
- “One length of the pool” means one length of a 50-meter pool, starting from the wall. No long streamlines – that’s cheating. This doesn’t mean you can’t do SWOLF in a short-course pool. However, two lengths are necessary for a sufficient sample size (of strokes and seconds); and SWOLF scores are less meaningful if they include a turn.
The golf analogy works better in a 50m pool, too. An excellent swimmer will score in the low-70s (e.g., 40 seconds in 32 strokes, or 35 seconds in 37 strokes) – just a “scratch” or zero-handicap golfer. The (unofficial) world record for SWOLF is held by the great Russian sprinter Alexander Popov: 20 strokes + 25 seconds for a mind-boggling SWOLF score of 45.
Interpreting a SWOLF Score
SWOLF is an indirect measure of swim efficiency. Conceptually, swim efficiency can be thought of as [Speed / Effort]; however, measuring effort (% of max HR, V02, blood lactate, calorie burn, etc.) can be inconvenient in the pool. SWOLF uses stroke count as an indicator of effort – but it’s not a particularly good indicator.
An illustrative example:
Here is the famous final length of Sun Yang’s world-record setting 1500m last year (33 strokes in 26 seconds = SWOLF score of 59):
And here’s the final length of Janet Evans’ gold-medal winning 800m at the Seoul Olympics (49 strokes in 30 seconds = SWOLF score of 79).
Should we interpret Sun Yang’s much lower SWOLF score to indicate he is a much more efficient swimmer than Janet Evans? No. He is probably slightly more efficient, because he’s slightly faster – but we know nothing about their respective levels of effort. Sun Yang’s stroke count is lower than Janet Evans’ because he is 6’6” and she is 5’4”. He has a naturally longer stroke.
I can pretty easily hit the low-70s for SWOLF; does that mean I’m more efficient than Janet Evans? Not ly.
The point being: SWOLF is usually not meaningful in comparing different swimmers. It’s meaningful in comparing different data-points for the same individual. If I can move from a SWOLF of 75 to 70, that probably means I’ve improved my efficiency. But my SWOLF of 70 doesn’t mean I’m more efficient than someone else with an 80.
(Though, this rule has a limit: What about a SWOLF of 110? Most ly, I’m more efficient than that swimmer.)
At any given level of effort, each swimmer has a certain combination of stroke rate and stroke length that is most efficient in producing speed. SWOLF is a great drill to help swimmers zero in on that combination.
To watch a video of me doing SWOLF drill, see this post.
Evan Morrison coaches at Fog City Masters in San Francisco, California. He is a USMS Level 1 and Level 2-certified coach.
What can SWOLF tell us? Interpreting Swim Data from your GPS Watch
With the rise in swim watches that use accelerometer devices that can count strokes, detect how many lengths of the pool we’ve swum and keep track of our pace and time for every lap and repeat, triathletes and swimmers are now asking questions about what they can do with the information obtained.
The two most popular sites that currently track and report this type of data are teh sites of the watch makers themselves, Garmin and SwimSense. Training peaks also can import this data but as of this writing they lack a robust reporting feature.
The most easily obtainable and somewhat interesting metric reported is the SWOLF score. SWOLF is an abbreviation for “Swim Golf”, and is a score obtained by adding together your strokes per length, and the time for the length.
e.g. 25 yards swim at 30 seconds in 20 strokes is a SWOLF score of 50.
Below is a screenshot of such a reported metric from Garmin Connect:
And here is a similar example from Finis, the makers of the Swim Sense.
So this begs the question…what can SWOLF tell us?
It’s been suggested in the past by many coaches that SWOLF is a measure of efficiency…that a lower SWOLF score is a more efficient stroke and we should strive to get SWOLF as low as we can.
However, that line if the analysis is misleading for two reasons.
In the rest of this article I’m going to discuss these two reasons and at the end suggest a better way to use SWOLF…and possibly better ways to use your free time the pool.
The first reason that the SWOLF score is not a very good measure of efficiency…if it can be considered a measure at all, is that efficiency is the relationship between the amount of work energy that goes into an activity relative to the work output, or forward movement achieved.
For example, if we could measure how much oxygen a swimmer was consuming while swimming in a flume at a specific speed, then we could measure his or her efficiency. External measuring tools of oxygen consumption are needed.
So while we can’t get an actual efficiency number from a swim watch, what we can do is incorporate certain clues that may tell us something about the efficiency of the stroke.
But more interesting is the second reason that SWOLF can’t tell us much about the efficiency. Even though SWOLF is derived by adding two parameters together…namely Strokes per length (SPL) and the time in seconds for the length, we still need to know both the SPL and the TIME independently to make any sense of the SWOLF number.
Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions
Let’s create a possible matrix of SPL and Time parameters, to keep it simple let’s just use HIGH and LOW for SPL and time and see what may happen to SWOLF and what it means. If it seems confusing at first, keep reading…please…you have to trust me…
Here are four hypothetical scenarios which I describe in a bit more detail after each one.
If if SPL * rate = time, then we are curious about what SPL + time or SWOLF can tell us?
A) SPL is high and time is high = high SWOLF and inefficient swimmingB) SPL is high and time is low = medium SWOLF and improved efficiencyC) SPL is low and time is high = medium SWOLF and very efficient swimming
D) SPL is low and time is low = very low SWOLF and inefficient efficiency