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How to Play Swim Golf (SWOLF)

How to Play Swim Golf

Like so many others, swimming has been my weakest link in triathlon races. Although I can usually make the top 10 and even podium, I know I’m not racing to my full potential because I’m always trying to play catch-up on the bike and run. This month, I’ve decided enough is enough and I’ve gotten serious about swimming. Significantly, getting serious about swimming has helped me get more serious in biking and running as well. The reason is data collection. I’ve usually wear my Garmin 910XT for training, but haven’t really been analyzing the data with anything more than casual amusement. Now that I’m getting serious about swimming, however, I realize that the only way to know if I am improving is to analyze the data to see if the changes I’m making are translating into speed. One of the data points I am looking at are my scores in Swim Golf, otherwise known as SWOLF.

How to Play SWOLF

Playing SWOLF is quite easy. Simply count how many strokes it takes you to get to the other end of the pool, then add that number to the number of seconds it took to get to the other side. That’s your SWOLF score. So, for example, if you are swimming in a 50 meter pool and it takes you 40 strokes to get to the other side, and you get there in 45 seconds, then your SWOLF score for that lap is 85. As in golf, the lower your score the better.

Why Play SWOLF

Playing SWOLF will help you improve your efficiency. When trying to improve your efficiency, always work on lowering your SWOLF score by first reducing strokes, then trying to swim faster. After a few practice sessions, you’ll notice that exerting more effort begins to rack up your stroke count fairly quickly. If those strokes don’t translate into enough speed to lower your overall SWOLF score, you aren’t improving your swimming efficiency. Of course, swimming efficiency is important for triathletes who may need to swim thirty minutes or more during a race. You don’t want to waste energy taking unnecessary strokes that aren’t translating into getting you through the swim leg faster. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, there is a simple equation for understanding your speed in swimming: Speed = Swim Rate (SR) x Stroke Length (SL). I guarantee you that you have the SR part of this equation down. Anyone can flail their arms quickly. So, when trying to swim faster, most people need to improve their stroke length – the distance travelled per stroke. Your SWOLF score is a good measure of how well you are using Stroke Length to create speed.

Tracking SWOLF with the Garmin Forerunner 910XT

The Garmin Forerunner 910XT automatically tracks your SWOLF scores when you swim in a pool. First, you have to tell the device the length of the pool you are swimming, then it will track your time to finish each lap, count how many strokes you took, and give you a chart of your SWOLF score.

How to play SWOLF

Looking at the above chart, which is a screen shot from my profile page at Garmin Connect, you can see that on my first lap, my SWOLF score, shown by the red line, was 76. When swimming in a 50 meter pool, Garmin Connect also does a calculation for what your SWOLF score would be in a 25 meter pool, shown by the blue line.

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Peter Prestley is an attorney living in the Northern Mariana Islands. In his spare time, he kitesurfs and competes in triathlons throughout the Pacific region, including the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines. You can read his blog at TheTriGuy.com
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