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terry 08-30-2013 04:07 PM

Poll: How Efficient is Your Swimming?
This isn't strictly a poll, but I'd like to solicit input on some 'functional definitions' I've drafted for various levels of efficiency.

We know that raw-beginner swimmers are just 1% to 2% efficient and elites are 9% to 10% efficient. Virtually all of us are somewhere in the nebulous middle ground. (I intuit, for instance, that I was probably 5% to 6% pre-TI but optimistically estimate I'm now somewhere above 8% -- based on conversion of effort into locomotion.)

So this morning I drafted a functional description of efficiency. I.E. At any level of efficiency, how is it likely you experience swimming, or what capabilities are you likely to possess. Here's what I came up with.

I invite your comment on:
(i) Do these descriptions ring true?
(ii) What level of efficiency would you estimate you're at now?
(ii) What level of ultimate efficiency do you believe you can attain through resourceful, purposeful and Kaizen practice?

Efficiency Index of Human Swimmers in 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 feel the entire 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 to complete 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 small increases in pace with resonable 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 reasonable amount of effort. Swimming a marathon distance seems completely plausible, if you devote a concentrated period of 10 to 12 weeks to preparing for it. 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 valuable—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.

CoachSuzanne 08-30-2013 05:01 PM

I would give myself a 6-7 based on that scale. Would love to solidly be able to give myself an 8-9 over the next few years.

Richardsk 08-30-2013 05:07 PM

I think I'm probably about 5, with perhaps the hope of making it to 6. In terms of enjoyment probably more.

terry 08-30-2013 05:22 PM

Care to draft an Enjoyment Index to complement my Efficiency Index?

chamma1 08-30-2013 05:23 PM

Hm.....I'm not an open water swimmer but I'm probably between a 4 and 5. I'm not worn-out after the swim in triathlon. When I can stay calm, I can swim for 45 - 50 minutes without getting too exhausted. I'm not a powerhouse and am not considered "fast". I generally swim twice a week. Oh, and I'm 51 and have been swimming (again) for about 4 years.

Mike from NS 08-30-2013 05:24 PM


There are times I still feel like a raw beginner ... especially when it comes to consistency in breathing. However , based on the percentages / definitions you list, I think I may be in the 2.5 - 2.75 range ... without stretching the truth greatly. The outdoor pool I use during the summer has a 60 day season and with one day remaining of that season, I have 53 swim visits and 62 hours in the water logged. There are 2 lane swims and 3 hours remaining in the season and I expect to log another 2 - 2.5 hours tomorrow. So now I look back and think if I was less sociable and more focused on practice, I may nave been able to edge my efficiency claim closer to 3% by now. Maybe - next year that might be my claim! I think your definitions do ring true and I experience more enjoyment in swimming now than I do frustration. I'm more comfortable in the water now than at any time along my steep learning curve. During the majority of swim times this summer the fins haven't seen the water. This time last year was my first attempt to swim 25 without the fins. Not earthshattering success ... but advancement none-the-less. If I were to become more "driven" or practice focused over the winter, I feel an efficiency of maybe 4.5% could be attainable.

Moira Horan 08-30-2013 05:27 PM

I'd have to say the 7 to 8% category. I feel I could still work on the integration and being seamless as far as actual technique goes but in my head I am in the 9 to 10% category :-) Can I get there -- if I put in the effort I am sure I could.

CoachGeorgeRandall 08-30-2013 05:42 PM

Great questions Terry,
I would say the discriptions pretty much hit the nail on the head.

I would say I'm between 5-6%. Probably take off a .25% because I'm still rifining my breathing. I can feel myself achieving between 7-8% within a year. I would be extremely happy with that as 4 years ago I was at 1-2%. Now I can finally enjoy the water and be at ease and hopefully make it my home :-)

CharlesCouturier 08-30-2013 06:01 PM

Very nice poll Terry, thanks!

But at what speed? Cruising comfy pace? Race pace?

Grant 08-30-2013 09:57 PM

Nice set of criteria Terry. I am well into the 5/6 group and experience many of the 7/8 group symptoms or charactristics. As I only swim in pools the open water experience awaits me. At 78 years I fully expect to be able to lay claim to solid entrenchment into 7/8 by constantly reading this forum and applying the insights that you and everyone bring forward. Even get glimpses of 9/10.
There is great joy in the water which enriches the dry land time. Actually they enrich each other.

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