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Heart rate is the key to Step 3 in our freestyle series on how to discovery efficiency.
Why Do It:
By adding heart-rate to the mix, you'll find out if you're truly "efficient"... rather than simply good at getting from one end to the other with minimal strokes.
How to Do It:
1. First, figure out HOW to get your heart rate. You want to be consistent in how you do this, and there are a couple quick ways. Place two fingers (your index and middle finger) to your neck and feel for your carotid artery. Once you find your pulse, count your heartbeats for 6 seconds and multiply that number by 10. OR, you can count your heartbeats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. Each method has it's pros and cons. If you count for 6 seconds, your heart rate doesn't have time to drop... but there's a greater chance that your count is inaccurate. If you count for 10 seconds, you get a more consistent count, but your heart rate might have dropped. And, the longer the time you count, the less time between swims you'll have to rest or get ready.
2. Your goal with this is to find a stroke count (rate), in combination with the time for your swim (speed), in combination with the heart rate that allows you to continue swimming for as long as you need.
3. For this set, we're doing 6 x 50 meters on :45, which allows enough time to grab the heart-rate for 6 seconds and still get a couple seconds rest. If you get too much rest, or swim for too short a distance, you'll not really be able to discover your "efficiency," but you'll need to stop frequently enough to be able to check how you're doing.
4. Of course, your target heart rate depends on many things, including age, fitness level, distance of target swim, speed of target swim. However, finding a stroke that allows you to get as close as possible can be achieved through frequent testing with short sets like this.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Instead of 50s, go 100s, 200s, or farther. You can even vary your stroke and see how one stroke increases, or decreases, your heart rate. Also, make sure you're aware of your breathing patterns, and continue to vary your stroke count (rate) to determine which stroke count allows you to maintain a target heart rate for a longer period of time. Use technique to adjust your heart rate, not just increased fitness over time.