Swimming with SWOLF: How to use Swim Golf to improve your efficiency in the pool

What can a SWOLF score actually tell you?
Swimming with SWOLF explained
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"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?

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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.

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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 like 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?

Swimming with SWOLF: How to use Swim Golf to improve your efficiency in the pool

"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 like heart rate and VO2 Max can also be thrown into the equation, and more capable wearable tech is starting to allow for that (some like 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, like 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.