SWOLF is a contraction of the words  Swim Golf or Swimming Golf.   This article will help you understand what it is, how it  is measured and how you can experiment with different ways to “play” swim golf in order to improve your swimming.  When you understand the different ways to use SWOLF, you can create a variety of interesting and engaging swim workouts that will help you become faster.

What is swim golf (or swimming golf)?

Swim golf is a fun way you can add some gamification to your swimming workouts in order to see if you are making improvements. Just like in regular golf, a lower score in swim golf is usually better.

How is SWOLF measured?

Your swim golf score is the total of the number of strokes you took, plus the time in seconds.   It doesn’t matter if you are swimming in yards or meters, and it doesn’t matter what length the interval is, as long as you are being consistent with your own measurements.

For example:  If you swim 50 yards in 45 seconds, your swim golf or SWOLF is 50 + 45 , or 95.

If you swim a 100 meter interval with a total of 40 strokes and swam it in 65 seconds, your SWOLF would be 105.

How do swim watches measure SWOLF?

Many swim watches such as the  Garmin Forerunner models, Garmin Swim 2, Moov Now, the Apple watch, Swimovate Poolmate, and many more will automatically calculate a SWOLF score for you.

These swim watches calculate the swim golf score by counting your strokes and time per length of the pool.  So whether you swim in a 25 yard pool, 25 meter pool or 50 meter pool, the calculation is based on 1 length of that pool.

For example:  with a 200meter swim interval in a 50 meter pool, the software will show 4 SWOLF scores for that interval, one for each length.

On the other hand, a 500 yard swim in a 25 yard pool will show a graph of 20 SWOLF scores for the entire interval.

Here is an example of multiple swim golf scores shown in a graph after downloading the data to the watch’s software.   The red filled portion with the heavier red outline is the SWOLF score for each length.

 

Swolf Score Graph

This graph represents a swim set of ten 100 yard repeats with a very short rest between them

If you are interested in a detailed discussion of how to interpret entire sets of swim golf scores for a workout, I’ve written about that in an article called What can SWOLF tell us? Interpreting data from your GPS watch – Part 1 and Part 2: Swim watch analysis- A case study in a mid-pack triathlete
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How do you “Play” Swim Golf?

In order to “play” swim golf,  you would want to lower your SWOLF score over time. These could be short term goals within the same workout, or longer term goals over time.

If your score is the sum of your strokes and your time, then there are two ways to decrease your score. You can either lower your strokes (ie take fewer strokes to complete your interval), or swim in a faster time.   The tricky part is that in order to actually get a lower sun, you need to prevent the other score from increasing.

For example, these two swims would result in the same score for a 50 yard swim: A) 43 seconds in 52 strokes or B) 45 seconds in 50 strokes.  Both of them result in a score if 95 for a 50 yard interval.

Two ways to lower your SWOLF score

Take fewer strokes in the same amount of time

For example if you swam 25 yards in 22 seconds with 18 strokes, your score is 40.

In subsequent 25s, you would try to swim in 22 seconds while still taking fewer than 18 strokes, for a score less than 40

Repeat 1: 22 seconds + 18 strokes = 40
Repeat 2: 22 seconds + 17 strokes = 39
Repeat 3: 22 seconds + 16 strokes = 38

Swim faster while taking the same number of strokes

For example if you swam 25 yards in 22 seconds with 18 strokes, your score is 40.

In subsequent 25s, you would try to swim faster than 22 seconds while still taking 18 strokes for a score less than 40.

Repeat 1: 22 seconds + 18 strokes = 40
Repeat 2: 21 seconds + 18 strokes = 39
Repeat 3: 20 seconds + 18 strokes = 38

What’s a Good SWOLF Score?

Since stroke count is half of your swim golf score, and stroke count can change based on a persons height or wing span, it’s hard to compare your score against anyone else’s score.  Everyone has different physical features that can influence their strokes per length.   The best way to use SWOLF is as a personal measure of change or improvement.

How can I Incorporate SWOLF into my swim workouts?

You can create sets like the examples above to add some focus to your swims that are centered around using SWOLF to improve your swimming.

For beginning and early intermediate swimmers, usually the best bang for the buck is to try to lower stroke count first in order to lower your score.  This is because most of these swimmers have several technique areas that when improved, can reduce drag and lower the number of strokes needed to get across the pool.

Intermediate swimmers may enjoy trying to hold their SPL the same, while trying to swim faster.   This means that they are traveling the same distance with each arm stroke ,but because their time is faster, they are taking each stroke at a slightly faster tempo.

Alternatively, intermediate swimmers can experiment with different ways to prevent SWOLF from climbing, but trading a stroke for a second.  That means that by allowing an extra stroke during the length, you can often gain a second…so it’s an even tradeoff.   When there are multiple ways to achieve the same SWOLF score, it’s worth spending time evaluating the effort required at different stroke counts.   Your goal would be to use the score combination that results in the least effort as a target for practice and improvement.

More advanced swimmers will enjoy trying to lower both scores…swim faster AND take fewer strokes  This requires precision technique as well as properly applied power in your stroke.

Can I track SWOLF without a swim watch?
Of course you can!  What do you think coaches and swimmers did before swim watches were available?  Many swimmers ask if you should count one arm only or both arms.   I teach my swimmers to count each arm entry as a stroke. This is because you will get a more precise number instead of estimating 1/2 cycles.

But you’ll have to remember that your swim watch usually counts cycles…one arm through the whole stroke cycle. So when YOU count two strokes (right arm entry, left arm entry), your swim watch is counting 1 cycle (right arm entry to next right arm entry).

Counting strokes is a great skill to learn to make improvements to your swim, so it’s time well spent.