Dance With the Water–Part 2: Play Golf

In the first part of "Dance with the Water", we discussed the idea that an athlete must listen to the signals the water gives, like a dancer, following the lead of their partner. Move to your own beat, and not in rhythm with the water, and you're bound to struggle with your swimming.

The first step in listening to the water is giving it the chance to speak. The water loves to talk, especially over a game of golf. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. The water speaks a lot to athletes, over a game of swim golf.

Swim golf is played with the water, where athletes complete a single 50-yard or 50-meter interval and count the strokes taken within the 50, adding that number to the time it takes to complete the lap. For example, if you complete the interval in 45 seconds, with 40 strokes, your golf score would be 85 (45 + 40 = 85). Just like in regular golf, the lower the score the better the performance.

If you complete the first interval as you normally swim, it establishes a baseline score—like a handicap in golf. From there, you can change one thing to focus on, and see how the score is affected.

How to Improve Your "Golf" Game

There are three ways you can improve your score:

  • Take less strokes
  • Swim a faster time
  • Lower both your stroke count and your time

If athletes complete multiple intervals at a low to moderate intensity with one minute of recovery between each, they can eliminate intensity and fatigue as a variable in performance and focus on technical variables which affect the score. This could be any number of things depending on the athlete, but once an athlete experiments or changes one aspect of their stroke, they get objective feedback from the water. The water speaks to them and tells them which modifications improved the score and which were not helping.

Completing up to 12 of these intervals can help the water tell you a lot. If you continue to experiment and use this as a tool for learning what the water tells you about your stroke, you can focus on the technical aspects that help you dance with the water. From there, you can transfer that knowledge to race day.

Try this exercise in your next swim workout and see what you learn from the water, and your technique. If you like this exercise, you can find it and many other effective tools for improving your swimming in my Swim Training Plans, which teach athletes how to listen to and dance with the water. The plans include descriptions and videos of drills (iPod compatible), as well as workouts, four days per week—perfect for the triathlete trying to learn!

Check out Part 3 of the "Dance with the Water" series, which covers more about the drills and concepts in the plans, including rolling over, to help make athletes faster at swimming. Best of luck! Continue improving on your swimming technique and sign up for a triathlon or swim event.

Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog,, and on Twitter at

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