Tracking Progress in Swimming: A Quantitative Approach
In swimming, unlike cycling and running, tracking progress has historically been tied to best efforts. Due to a lack of access to accurate heart rate data and accurate recording of other key swim metrics, the most common way for many swimmers to track their progress has been peeking at a poolside clock or having a coach recording time. This method has limited the majority of swimmers to recording best efforts for a set or a specific distance, with the only direct measures being time, distance, and pace, and counting your own strokes.
Combining several methods allows swimmers to track their progress more accurately and in more meaningful detail. These methods include tracking total training, looking at changes in specific metrics that indicate an overall progression in technique or fitness, and finally by using subjective feelings about workouts to reflect on objective measures.
Over the course of a season, or a training block, a lot of valuable information about progress towards your goals can be found in the finer details and by looking at marginal gain potential. These details come in the form of changes to stroke mechanics, nutrition, sleep, how you execute your dry-land activation, as well as using different metrics to measure different aspects of your stroke, such as distance per stroke and stroke rate.
Changes in metrics
Depending on the goals of a training block, in addition to “getting faster”, goals such as improving feeling in the water may be focused over the course of several weeks. In such an instance, where feel in the water is a focus, distance per stroke is a great way to objectively measure that change, with an improvement in the feel of the swimmer in the water corresponding to a greater distance per stroke.
Similar changes in metrics that generally correspond to improvements in either fitness or technique include:
- Decrease in stroke count at equal or faster pace
- Increased distance per stroke (DPS)
- Decreased heart rate at equal or faster pace
- Decreased heart rate at equal or higher stroke rate
- Increased DPS at same or higher stroke rate
A reverse change to the above-mentioned metrics could but doesn’t necessarily indicate a decrease in fitness or a reversion of technique, especially when making larger adjustments to stroke timing and technique. There will sometimes be losses in speed while a swimmer gets used to the changes, during which the swimmer is getting used to the new approach, and the final outcome isn’t necessarily reflected within the short term data.
One of the harder things to measure and track in swimming is training load. Using total duration, either in terms of distance or in terms of time, is a great proxy for training load. This is a great way to see the bigger picture, whether you might be hitting each workout perfectly, how you are coping with increasing duration, or whether you’re seeing inconsistencies with your training, therefore meaning you aren’t hitting your goals in terms of swim duration.
Importance of subjective feedback on workouts
It’s important to recognize that there is one thing remaining that we haven’t mentioned yet, which is subjectively analyzing how your body feels before and after swims, and over the course of a season. Objective measures are a great tool to provide adequate feedback in most circumstances, however for a variety of reasons, it’s always a good idea to try to keep a log of subjective feeling after workouts, and you might find trends in how you feel by doing this, perhaps related to your sleep or routines not directly related to swimming.
Where FORM comes in...
With the FORM Smart Swim Goggles, you can get an idea of how technique changes affect your swimming metrics, in real-time. During each length and at each turn, you get instant feedback on the little things, which over time translate into big things. It gets even better when over time you can also see every workout, and compare easily between different workouts, seeing every set and interval grouped automatically and broken down by length if you so choose. FORM goggles also keep a running weekly and yearly cumulative distance and time, making it easy to understand the stress you are putting on your body while training.