How do I know if my swim skills are improving?

We might feel like we're swimming faster but only the numbers really know, says Andrew Sheaff. Here he explains which numbers are key to big swim gains…

Top view of a woman in swimming pool checking her performance on smart watch

How do I know if my swim skills are improving? It’s a common question and an important one. If you’re trying to improve your technique, you need feedback about how the process is going so you can adjust as necessary. Without it, you’re blind! 

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While you can pay attention to how you feel, that’s pretty subjective. Worse still, you might not really understand how it should feel. You’re better served by keeping things objective, and letting your numbers guide your learning.

Get your times

Knowing how fast you’re swimming is the bottom line in swimming. If you’re getting faster, you’re improving. That’s pretty hard to dispute. If you’re working on a new skill, and you’re seeing progress in speed, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re learning something positive.

But if you’re not paying attention to how fast you’re swimming, you might miss it!  Likewise, sometimes you’re trying to learn a skill and it’s making you worse. That’s also critical information you won’t have if you’re not paying attention to your speed.

Get your stroke counts

A lot of triathletes do pay attention to their speed, but few pay attention to their stroke count. Why is it important? Knowing your speed clues you in on how effective you’re being. Knowing how many strokes you’re taking lets you know how efficient you’re being.

If you’re taking less strokes, that means you’re being more efficient. That means more endurance and it’s also important for long-term improvement. Your speed and your stroke counts don’t always improve at the same time or the same rate, so knowing your counts gives you more perspective about your progress.

Get both

Getting both is the best of both worlds. It allows you to know if you’re swimming more effectively (faster) and efficiently (longer).

What’s particularly valuable is when you’re doing one, but not the other. If you’re swimming faster, but taking more strokes, that means you need to shift your focus to stroke count and making sure you’re getting more out of each stroke.

If you’re taking less strokes, but you’ve given up a lot of speed, that’s valuable information as well, and you probably shift your focus to speed.


Keeping track of both numbers also helps you appreciate trade-offs. Let’s say you swim a lot faster, and you take one extra stroke. That’s probably ‘worth it’ because you got a lot of speed for only one more stroke. However, if you only went slightly faster, but took six extra strokes, that’s probably not good.

The same is true when the situation is reversed. A lot less strokes with only a little less speed is a win, but if you give up a lot of speed for only one less stroke, that’s not what you want.

Knowing your numbers helps you understand what’s happening when you’re working on new skills. It lets you know what’s working, and what could be working better.

Rather than just going by feel, you can use that information to double down on what’s getting better and adjust in situations where progress isn’t what you want. The numbers show you the way!

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Top image credit: Getty Images