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Efficiency, Effectiveness, Effort

For every lap of every swim of every set, swimmers have the opportunity to evaluate their swimming progress, simply and quickly. By using the three E’s, swimmers can judge how well they’re swimming and generate their own feedback as they work to solve the technical and physiological problems presented by a given training set. This evaluation should take place in seconds once swimmers get used to the process.


What is my stroke/kick count? Efficiency is related to long term progress in performance, as well as sustainability. Achieving certain performances levels require a certain level of efficiency. There’s no better measure of efficiency than stroke count. No one has ever swum a 22 second 50m free with 90 strokes.


How fast am I swimming? What was my time? Time is the ultimate arbiter of performance, and thus effectiveness.


How much effort did that require? How much fatigue did that swim create? While physiological data can be useful, human beings are VERY effective at integrating physiological data into a single metric, perceived effort.

If a swimmer performs the same two identical swims, but the second one was easier, whatever strategy they used for the second swim, technically or tactically, was a better one. An easier strategy is more sustainable and has greater potential for further intensification.


Maximizing effectiveness is the ultimate goal of training and competing. It is a RACE. In this context, effort will be maximal and efficiency will be compromised to some extent. Trade-offs do exist. The question is always, ‘Was it worth?’, for any given swim or set in training.

As a practical example, Johnny performs the following sets.

1. Baseline

6*50@1 Freestyle

Effectiveness- 25.0 for all swims

Efficiency- 12 strokes per 25

Ease- 7/10 perceived effort

2. Negative Trade-Offs

6*50@1 Freestyle

Effectiveness- 24.0 for all swims

Efficiency- 16 strokes per 25

Ease- 9.5/10 perceived effort

3. Positive Trade-Offs

6*50@1 Freestyle

Effectiveness- 24.3 for all swims

Efficiency- 13 strokes per 25

Ease- 8/10 perceived effort

In the 2nd set, there is an improvement in effectiveness, but it is coupled with a major loss of efficiency and a big change in effort. While it may be more effective in absolute terms, Johnny is likely not training a stroke that will promote long-term or even short-term progress. In the 3rdset, there is a significant improvement in effectiveness with only a marginal loss of efficiency and ease. This is a tolerable trade-off. In future sets, Johnny can try to improve in any or all of the three E’s.

An important aspect of this evaluation system is that it provides multiples avenues for improvement. It is not always possible to just swim faster. Swimmers have multiple ways to get better. Further, not all sets are designed to be performed as fast as possible. This system allows for swimmers to generate their own feedback about performance in those contexts as well.

In general, the more effectively and efficiently a swimmer can perform with greater ease, the faster they will swim, eventually. By regularly measuring these variables, swimmers can begin to evaluate their progress on every swim, from warm up to warm down, relentlessly working to improve their numbers.

What’s gets measure, gets managed.

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