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?
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 like 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 out of 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 unlikely 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 likely 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.
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.