I urge you to read it — all the way through. It’s packed with invaluable insight and clear, compelling explanation. At the top, Mat enumerates his reasons for counting strokes. My favorites include:
- Counting strokes is the first, basic form of objective feedback I can learn and master
- It reveals the first critical feature of swimming speed and swimming efficiency.
- I can do it myself
- I can immediately connect any technique changes I make to an effect on stroke count
- No batteries required
Halfway down the page, Mat poses the question of whether we should use a ‘device’ to track stroke count. After all there are numerous watches these days that will take care of counting for you.
Counting ‘au naturel’ — in your head — is harder, as Mat acknowledges: Just because it is hard to do at first, don’t be intimidated by the work you need to do to develop the habit.
I’ve made the same choice.
Actually, there wasn’t a choice when I started counting–in 1972 as a college senior. No one had suggested I count strokes, but I thought–as long as I could–why not?
The only information to be had about the repeats we did in training came after I stopped swimming and looked at the pace clock. As we did at least one 800-yard swim in every workout, a times that could mean waiting 9 or more minutes to get feedback. I began counting strokes because I thought it might be better to have some kind of feedback every lap — i.e. every 16 to 18 seconds.
Almost 40 years later I got a watch which could record stroke count, length, and rate during a swim. At the push of a button, I could review all that data immediately after a swim. I enjoyed playing with my new toy for a week or two but, after using it no more than 8 or 10 times, I lost interest and went back to counting the hard/conscious way.
Why? For the same reason I’d started counting 40 years earlier. The watch gave a lot more detailed feedback than the pace clock, but still wouldn’t deliver it until after I finished swimming. I want feedback throughout my swim. So I count strokes. Always. In fact, it’s become such a habit, it’s sometimes hard for me to turn off the ‘automatic counter’ in my head.
That’s good. It means that after years of counting, the act of doing so requires so little ‘brainpower’ that I have a lot of free space. For sequencing through internal, external, and visualizing focal points. For noticing subtle changes in my stroke. For tracking my finishing and sendoff time, while doing more complex forms of interval repeats. Etc.
Here are a few more reasons (of many) why I prefer to count myself:
1) Conscious counting is a way of staying present with my swimming. It acts like a mantra, converting any lap into a moving meditation.
2) Counting consciously – while looking for familiar ‘landmarks’ in the pool – a line across the bottom halfway, or the backstroke flags heading into the wall — provide additional ways of verifying that I’m staying efficient.
3) The mental effort it requires is good for my brain.The website Lumosity.com (and others like it) promise to improve memory and sharpen thinking via ‘brain games.’ I accomplish the same by counting and recalling my SPL–then using that info with either Tempo or Time in doing the ‘math’ of swimming.