After a few weeks of working on stroke improvement, I like to use a method called “Golf Score” with my swim groups. It’s a good way to measure improvement, and find the sweet spot in your stroke timing. In golf, the fewest strokes wins. However, this does not directly apply in swimming. I could maybe swim 25 yards in just six or seven strokes, but I would have to glide a whole lot and I wouldn’t be swimming my fastest. Time is the second factor in the Golf Score Method.
The way this works is, you swim a set of repetitions going the same distance at an interval that allows for a sufficient recovery. Say, 8 X 50 on 1:15. Count your strokes and your time and add them together. 18 strokes at 45 seconds = 63. Now try to lower that number for each repetition. You can either reduce the number strokes or improve on you time. Ideally you want to do some of each--a few less strokes and a few less seconds. It’s a fun challenge.
Fast swimming is a balance between efficiency and turnover. That balance is different for each of us, due mainly to body types. There is something of a constant in the equation, which is power. (More about power later).
Efficiency is about minimizing drag, which is about keeping your profile as streamlined as possible with a clean recovery and catch that anchors the start of you pull (where power takes over).
Turnover is how many strokes it takes to get from one wall to the next. Too fast of a turnover tends to break down efficiency. I know if a try to swim too fast, I’m not as fast. When I smooth out my stroke, my times are better. And, when we’re talking distance swim events or open water, good technique always improves swim times.
The other day I was doing some Golf Score work for myself, and discovered that when I tried to swim with really long strokes and doing a three-quarter catch up, trying to be as efficient as I could, not only were my times slower, my number of strokes actually went up. I did a couple more 50s, settling into a little faster stroke rate, and I matched my best numbers for time and strokes. I found that balance point between stroke efficiency and turnover.
We each have a sweet spot where efficiency and turnover meet. I mentioned that “power” was something of a constant--but by that I mean, it’s a constant for each time you swim the set. Power is something developed over time with a better pull, body alignment and rotation, and of course conditioning. While you can cheat power on the first few reps with a bad pull or sloppy technique, you’re just cheating at golf.
I encourage all swimmers to periodically use the Golf Score Method to help them focus on good technique, measure their power, and monitor their conditioning. Plus it’s fun!