SWOLF is an efficiency metric that can help swimmers improve technique and performance. Read on to learn how to use it for swimming success.
Swimmers know that swimming fast means swimming efficiently. Whether you’re a beginner or an elite swimmer looking to maximize performance on race day, a more efficient stroke conserves energy and maximizes speed.
One metric for measuring the goal of ultimate efficiency is SWOLF, a data point that tallies your stroke count and splits to give you a score.
In this article, we will dive into what SWOLF is, why you should use it as part of your training, some tips for improving your score, and devices and apps for tracking this metric.
Let’s dive right in.
What is SWOLF?
SWOLF is a portmanteau that combines “swimming” and “golf.” It combines stroke count and time, giving you a score.
The lower the score, the more efficient and fast you are swimming.
The formula for SWOLF is simple and as follows:
SWOLF = Time to swim a lap (seconds) + Strokes to swim a lap.
For example, if you swim 25-yards in 15 seconds and take 12 strokes, you’ve earned yourself a SWOLF score of 27.
But if you can swim that same 25-yards in 15 seconds and 11 strokes, you’ve decreased the score to 26 and demonstrated greater swimming efficiency.
The great thing about SWOLF is that it gives you two variables to adjust to find that sweet spot where you swim most efficiently.
Benefits of Tracking SWOLF
The benefits of tracking SWOLF include encouraging greater efficiency in the water, identify stroke weaknesses, added motivation, and improved race strategy.
The greats in the pool, whether we are talking about Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, or Caeleb Dressel, all make it look easy as they haul across the length of the swimming pool at Mach-5.
SWOLF is an excellent metric to get your efficiency on, helping you stay mindful of swimming with a long and fluid stroke every time you hit the water.
Technique can often fall to the wayside (or in our case, the pool gutter), as a swim workout progresses, and having a clear metric like SWOLF can help swimmers remain focused on swimming long and strong at all times.
Better swimming technique
SWOLF scores help you stay focused on swimming with awesome technique. Hitting those target numbers means every lap, stroke and push-off are done to precision.
A tight streamline. A clean break-out. Strong underwater kicking. Finishing each stroke. Full catch.
A SWOLF score won’t automatically fix bad swimming technique, but it can be the coach you need in your ear, reminding you to hit that elbow recovery and engage the core for a hydrodynamic body position when swimming.
SWOLF is a great example of a metric that can be used to monitor improvement and progress in the water, especially when you look back at your scores at the beginning of the season.
The reality of swimming is that you aren’t going to go a personal best time each time you dive into the water. Even in-practice bests can be hard to come by. Which can leave swimmers wanting for more motivation as the season drags on.
While you won’t always be able to hit those top speeds or swim to a new in-practice best, you can always hit those stroke counts.
Efficient swimming isn’t just about making things look “easy” in the pool. It’s about managing effort so that you can finish races like a champion.
Using SWOLF tracking during high-intensity efforts can teach you how to maintain a steady pace, whether that’s for a distance event or so that you aren’t spinning your wheels at the beginning of a race and hitting a wall halfway through.
SWOLF can be used as a tool for fine-tuning race strategy, giving you a clear idea of how different stroke rates and stroke lengths impact speed and effort.
Tips for Improving SWOLF Scores
Ready to up your SWOLF game (by lowering it, obviously)? Here are some top tips for better SWOLF scores.
Count your strokes.
Counting your strokes is a skill every swimmer should master, whether or not you use a swim watch or some other sort of waterproof fitness tracker.
Not only does stroke counting help you focus on efficiency while swimming, but it also helps you stay present and reduces some of the inevitable mind wandering from circling the black line.
Over time, you will have clear expectations of how many strokes you should take at varying levels of effort.
For example, when sprinting a 50m freestyle, you may take 34 strokes. When swimming at a cruise, DPS pace, it may be 30 strokes.
These are things you learn and can use to gauge performance as you become proficient at counting strokes.
Focus on excellent body position.
If there’s one technique tip that cuts across all strokes and distances, it’s a high body position in the water.
Engage the core, extend fully with the lats, shoulders, and arms at the top of the pull, and try to swim “downhill” to keep the hips high and drag profile low.
SWOLF scores are ultimately a measure of how much drag you can reduce while swimming fast, and optimal body position in the water is fundamental to making that happen.
Keep push-offs consistent.
One sneaky little trick swimmers will pull (author included) to shave a stroke or two off SWOLF scores is to extend their underwaters by adding a dolphin kick or two into the breakouts.
Sure, technically this reduces your SWOLF score, but it just means you have to set a new baseline.
Be consistent with your push-offs and dolphin kicks to give yourself the most accurate metrics possible to track improvement and progress.
Use your core.
Lowering your SWOLF score requires a strong core.
Because the core is the power station of the body for swimmers, exerting power through the limbs through every phase of the stroke cycle.
Whether you are trying to balance your body in the water, catch more water, hit just the right hip roll, or maintain a tight streamline when pushing off, a strong core is essential.
Adding core exercises like planks, side plank, rollouts, and bird dogs to your training regimen will increase power and speed, reduce injury risk, and help you keep your stroke together at the end of a hard main set or in the final 5m of a tight race.
Don’t forget to kick.
The pulling motion gets most of the attention in the pool. And with good reason. Studies have found that the pull contributes to 85-90% of propulsion when swimming.
But a strong kick does more than just fill out the last 10-15% of velocity; it also helps swimmers maintain a higher body position in the water, increasing efficiency (Gourgoulis et al., 2014).
Also, when swimming at full speed, the kick becomes even more crucial.
A study (Morouço et al., 2015) with national-level swimmers found that when doing all-out tethered swimming, the kick contributed to 29.7% (males) and 33.4% (females) of total propulsion.
Build up those legs. They will help set up a stronger pull, improve body position, and give you a better SWOLF score.
How to Track SWOLF Scores
Tracking SWOLF can be done using your brain and memory or one of the many swim-tracking devices and wearables on the market.
Tech has come to the swim pool in recent years, from custom-gasket swim goggles to heads-up displays inside goggle lenses. Wearables have also gotten a LOT better, with many now spitting out reams of data from DPS to GPS to exact splits to heart rate.
Thanks to the detailed reporting, slim watch casing, and easy-to-see screens, the swim watch has become an essential swim tracking tool which can be used to track and store SWOLF scores.
Devices and apps that track SWOLF include:
Garmin watches – Garmin watches are synonymous with multi-sport training thanks to rugged design, long battery life and detailed tracking. Most of Garmin’s watches, including the Forerunner, Fenix, and of course, the Garmin Swim 2, come standard with swim tracking, including SWOLF metrics.
Apple Watch – The Workout App on Apple Watches tracks SWOLF scores (click on “show more” next to Auto Sets to see it). Third-party swim apps like MySwimPro and Swim.com also track SWOLF.
FORM Swim Goggles – The FORM Goggles are a game-changer in swim training, with a heads-up display for real-time tracking of swim workouts. The dashboard on the display can be figured to show your SWOLF scores and is available post-swim in the app, too.
Swimmers can also go the old-school route and use their brain and memory to track SWOLF scores.
Obviously, limitations abound in this instance, so doing this should be limited to the most important repetitions in your swim workout.
Wrapping Things Up
Swimming faster requires a lot of things to happen. Proper hand entry. High elbow. Hip roll—but not too much hip roll. So much so, that swimming properly can feel like you are trying to do 43.5 things at once.
Reducing your swimming to a metric like a SWOLF score is a great way to sharpen your focus on the things that matter most and keeping things simple in the water.
Try playing around with SWOLF at your next swim practice. Experiment with it at different speeds and explore that sweet spot in your stroke and swimming where you swim fastest.
Swim efficiently. Swim fast.
ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY
Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, author, swim coach, and certified personal trainer. He’s the author of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook for competitive swimmers.
It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, anecdotes, and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.
Ready to take your mindset to the next level in the pool?