top of page

How To Win With Feedback Part IV- Efficiency vs Effectiveness

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX

Part X

Effectiveness and efficiency are the most important measures in swimming.

They both matter, and the relationship between these two metrics is an interesting one.

While improved efficiency generally results in faster swimming over the LONG term, efficiency and effectiveness can often move in opposite directions in the SHORT term.

An Example

Swim a 25 with 8 strokes.

That’s going to be a challenge and you’re probably going to have to go very slow to accomplish that task.

Highly efficient, not very effective.

Now swim a 25 with 12 strokes.

You’ll almost certainly go much faster.

LESS efficiency, but MORE effective.

Within a short time period, there is a trade-off. However, there is a limit to this trade-off.

When starting at a very low stroke count, adding strokes tends to add speed. At some, point this will no longer be true and taking more strokes will result in slower swimming.

Taking 30 stroke per lap is not a recipe for success for just about any swimmer.

At the same time, in the long term, faster swimmers tend to take fewer strokes. You need to improve efficiency in the long term, while it is okay to give it up in the short term.

However, it has to be WORTH it.

You have to go faster when you add those strokes.

As you improve your skills, we’re looking to take fewer strokes over time.

We also need to appreciate that there is a RANGE of stroke counts that are going to be appropriate for us.

The higher end of that range will probably result in faster swimming today as compared to the lower range.

While stroke count is really powerful as its own metric, it can become REALLY powerful when used in conjunction with speed.

There are four possible outcomes when measuring speed and stroke count.

Take a look below for some insight about how to interpret the results you’re likely to see.

  • More strokes and more speed. This situation can go either way. If you take more strokes and get a proportionally small increase in speed, it’s probably not worth it. 5 extra strokes and 1 second faster is probably not a great result over 25m. If you take more strokes and get a proportionally large increase in speed, that’s great! 1 extra stroke and 2 seconds faster is a great result!

  • Fewer strokes and more speed. This is a win-win. More efficiency AND more effectiveness. Whatever you did, do it again!

  • Fewer strokes and less speed. This is the inverse of the first outcome. If you take a lot less strokes and only lose a little speed, that’s probably a positive outcome. If you only take one less stroke and go A LOT slower, that’s probably not a good trade-off.

  • More strokes and less speed. This is not the direction you want to be moving in. It could be poor execution, it could be fatigue, or it could be that what you’re trying to do just isn’t the right move. Try it again, assess what could be the problem, and go from there.

The scenarios above represent dramatic changes.

While they certainly happen over time, they’re not as likely to happen on a repetition to repetition basis.

What’s more likely is that one factor changes, whereas the other does not.

Let’s take a look at those scenarios.

  • Same strokes and less speed. When this outcome occurs, there is a loss of speed while efficiency is maintained. This is a move in the wrong direction and indicates something needs to be changed.

  • Less strokes and same speed. This is a positive outcome. Speed is maintained and that same speed is able to be achieved with more efficiency. Progress.

  • Same strokes and more speed. This is also a positive outcome. With this result, you’re able to get more speed out of the same efficiency. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • More strokes and same speed. This represents a loss of efficiency. You’ve found a way to maintain the same speed, yet there it took more strokes to get the same result.

Stroke count and speed are objective.

They’re numbers that can’t be disputed.

If stroke count and speed are both moving in the right direction, you’re getting better at swimming.

What can be tricky is when both outcomes aren’t moving in the right direction.

Sometimes, one variable isn’t changing, or the two variables are moving in opposite direction.

In these situations, we need to appreciate trade-offs.

It becomes important to recognize the degree to which a given variable is changing.

A loss of speed can be ‘worth it’ provided there is a relatively larger gain in efficiency.

The opposite is true as well.

This can also change depending on your short-term goals. For a given set, you may be prioritizing speed and willing to give up a proportionally larger loss in efficiency.