When you are drilling, and you should add some drills to most every swim workout, swim-golf is a great way to track your progress. Essentially what you do is combine your stroke count per 25 or 50 y/m with the time it took to complete. It is a proxy measurement for technique efficiency and you should try to bring that number down over time.
Here’s a great excerpt from excerpt from Swimming Fastest by Ernest Maglischo reprinted with permission.
“One of the most common drills for increasing stroke lengths is to count strokes for one pool length and repeat the drill while attempting to cover the distance with fewer strokes. All of this is done at a slow speed. This is a good drill for young and inexperienced age-group swimmers. The efficiency of their strokes and their performances will improve when they attempt to cover each pool length with fewer strokes, regardless of the speed of their swims.
Although a drill like the one just described is excellent for inexperienced swimmers, it has limited value once athletes can swim with good coordination and reasonable efficiency. At that point, swimming speeds and stroke rates must be included in drills designed to increase stroke length. Because the relationship between the combination of stroke rate and stroke length that will produce the most efficient swimming velocity will be different for each race distance and for each swimmer, all three elements should be included in drills to improve stroke lengths. Following are some drills that include all three elements.
This drill is so named because it involves swimming and is scored like golf. The value of the drill is that it allows each swimmer to discover the best way to improve the relationship between stroke length and stroke rate to achieve a particular swimming velocity, whether through increasing stroke length, increasing stroke rate, or using some combination of the two. The drill is performed in the following manner. The athletes swim a particular repeat distance, 25 or 50 yd or m, while counting their strokes. Their times are noted, and the two measures, number of strokes and their time for the swim, are combined for a score. For example, a time of 30.00 for 50 m with a stroke count of 40 would produce a score of 70.
Once they have established a base score, swimmers can use any one of several variations of the game to improve the relationship between their stroke rates and stroke lengths. The goal is to reduce the score by (1) swimming faster with fewer strokes, (2) swimming faster with little or no increase in the number of strokes taken, or (3) swimming the same time or nearly so with fewer strokes. If the swimmer in the previous example were to swim 29.00 with the same stroke count, the score would be an improved 69. This swimmer’s stroke rate has undoubtedly increased with little or no loss of stroke length, which accounts for the improved time. Similarly, the same time of 30.00 coupled with a reduced stroke count of 38 would produce an improved score of 68. In that case, the swimmer’s stroke length will have improved and the stroke rate will have decreased with no detrimental effect on swimming speed.
The results will be more difficult to evaluate when lower scores result from faster times that are coupled with a greater number of strokes. This is generally a desirable effect because the lower score results from time reductions that are proportionally greater than the amount by which stroke lengths have declined. This effect can certainly be considered beneficial for improving sprint speed. Increases of stroke rates and the reduction of stroke lengths may not be advantageous for longer sprints, middle distance races, and distance events if the perceived effort that produced lower scores is beyond that which swimmers feel they could sustain over their race distance.
The kick-in drill works best for increasing stroke length. To perform it, athletes swim a series of 50 or 100 repeats while counting the number of stroke cycles required to complete each repeat. Before starting, each swimmer should be assigned the maximum number of cycles they are permitted to use for the repeat distance in the allotted time. That number should be one or two cycles fewer than they generally need to complete that distance. The goal, then, is to complete the repeats with fewer strokes. If they do not finish the repeat when they have completed their assigned number of stroke cycles, they must kick the remaining distance to the finish. The send-off time for the repeats should be set so it is challenging but manageable if the swimmers can complete the repeats without kicking in. The time goal will motivate swimmers to try to reduce their strokes without sacrificing swimming speed. This drill puts a premium on increasing stroke length and doing so without increasing the energy cost of the swim.
STROKE COUNTING AT SPRINT SPEED
This drill can help sprinters increase their stroke lengths while swimming at race speed. The drill can be done in a number of ways. With one method, swimmers sprint 25 yd or m at maximum speed while trying to reduce their stroke count. This method puts a premium on swimming fast with a longer stroke length. Another method is to try to swim each repeat faster without increasing the stroke count. This encourages them to increase their stroke rates without shortening their stroke lengths. The distance that swimmers cover with a push-off can become a confounding variable with both drills. Therefore, swimmers should try to keep that distance similar from swim to swim. The influence of the push-off for different distances can be eliminated from this drill by counting only the number of strokes required to get from one set of flags to the next.
Still another method for increasing stroke length at sprint speed is for the athletes to swim only a specified number of stroke cycles while trying to cover more distance with each swim. For example, the coach can measure the distance a swimmer can cover with two or three stroke cycles, and then the swimmer can try to increase that distance. This distance should be measured in the middle of the pool to remove the influence of the push-off.”