In previous posts, I’ve written that human swimmers are ‘energy-wasting machines.’  We know that ‘raw’ beginners are just 1% to 2% efficient and elites are 9% to 10% efficient. But most followers of this blog are somewhere in the less-defined middleground. For instance, I estimate that I was probably 5% to 6% efficient from college through age 40 ( I.E. pre-TI) but over the past 20 years have improved my efficiency, incrementally, but continuously.

Based on a number of factors–how seamlessly integrated my stroke, how far  I can swim with relatively little effort, how effectively I convert additions to SPL, Tempo or Effort into faster Pace, compared to pre-TI–I’m fairly confident I’m now somewhere above 8%. And I believe wholeheartedly I can and will get better–perhaps all the way to 10%.

So I drafted a ‘functional description’ of efficiency. I.E. At any level of efficiency, how are you likely to experience swimming, or what capabilities are you likely to possess. Here’s what I came up with:

Efficiency Index for Human Swimmers doing Crawl

1% to 2% Swimming crawl for a distance of just 25 yards or meters is exhausting, though you may be able to swim a bit farther, and with greater comfort, using breaststroke. You experience considerable difficulty and discomfort with staying afloat (you feel your legs sinking) and it’s a struggle to get enough air. Swimming is generally quite unpleasant and exhausting.

3% to 4% You can swim for a minute or two continuously. You can extend that distance–up to perhaps as much as 1500 meters—with artificial support from a pull buoy or wetsuit, or with regular rest breaks, but feel somewhat drained afterward. If you do triathlon, you spend part of the cycling leg recovering from the swim—or sense that the rest of your race is compromised by the difficulty of the swim. Swimming faster seems too much to hope for since even slow paces are so tiring. You experience Terminal Mediocrity: No matter how much you swim, improvement seems elusive. While swimming feels like a good workout, you do it more out of obligation than because it’s enjoyable..

5% to 6% You feel quite comfortable and at ease in the water. You can swim a mile with sufficient ease that it seems plausible that you could progress to completing a 5k (equivalent of a half-marathon in running) or more. You feel confident about swimming in open water. If you do triathlon, you feel quite fresh at the conclusion of the swim leg and regularly achieve a respectable, mid-pack position. Your kick and breathing both feel relaxed and controlled. . You can achieve moderate increases in pace with a proportionate increase in effort.

7% to 8% You feel more at home in the water than anywhere else, and swimming feels better and is more satisfying than any other physical activity. Your stroke—including both catch and 2-beat kick–feels integrated and seamless up to about 85% of maximum effort and heart rate. You can swim faster, whenever you choose, with a quite controlled increase in effort. Your stroke remains smooth when you do. You feel confident you could complete a marathon distance–including the English Channel–if you devote 10 to 12 weeks to focused and specific preparation. If you compete in open water swimming (inclusive of triathlon swim legs) you regularly place in the Top 5% to 10% of your age group.

9% to 10% If you had youth and athleticism, your efficiency would probably put you among the elite. But, in middle age or beyond, you enjoy something more valued and personal—a sense that you swim with a skill (even artistry) and awareness shared by few. You regularly experience psychological Flow States in practice—and occasionally in competition. You virtually always feel you work with the water, even at close to maximum effort. When you lose effectiveness, it’s minor. You quickly sense its cause and can easily adjust your stroke to get back in flow. You have a clear sense of your Kaizen opportunities—no matter how subtle—and know how to achieve them. You can consistently and proportionately convert an increase in SPL or Tempo into an increase in Pace.

I invite your comment on the following:

1. Do these descriptions ring true?
2. What level of efficiency do you estimate you’re at now?
3. What level of ultimate efficiency do you believe you can attain through resourceful, purposeful and Kaizen practice?

Please leave your comments on this thread on the TI Discussion Forum or on the TI Facebook Group.

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