May 4, 2021
Swim ‘N’ Stuff: A Comparison of Champions  
By Dr. Richard Norris  
There was no doubt that Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey ruled the land, but what would happen when they hit the water?  
There was no doubt that Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey ruled the land, but what would happen when they hit the water?  

Of all the athletes at the Games in recent years, Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey have clearly shown their prowess to face whatever comes out of the Hopper — and never more so than this year. 

This year was the first year since 2013 that an event took place in a pool. As a CrossFit and swim coach, I got excited to see what would happen with Swim ‘N’ Stuff, the first event on the final day of the 2020 CrossFit Games. 

4 rounds, each for time:  
Air bike calories (10/15)  
50-meter swim  
10 GHD sit-ups  
10 ball slams (40/60 lb.)  
Rest  

Begin a new round every 4 minutes  

*Rounds 2 and 4 performed in reverse  

There was no doubt that Fraser and Toomey ruled the land, but what would happen when they hit the water?  

Land-based events give athletes solid footing and have them moving themselves and objects through air. Water offers no solid footing and is about 800 times more dense than air. As a result, it adds a little extra to the demands on an athlete’s work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Water is always unforgiving. The key is to learn how to master it; to work with it rather than against it. As a swim coach and former competitive swimmer, that is easier said than done.  

As with non-aquatic sports, to excel at swimming an athlete must master the mechanics consistently so they can complete a task and compete with intensity. But you cannot attack a swim like Fran or Murph; you must go with its flow. 

Katrin during Swim 'N' Stuff
Katrin Davidsdottir in Swim 'N' Stuff (Photo by Meg Ellery)

But CrossFit prepares athletes for the unknown and the unknowable, and once again, Fraser and Toomey took to the event like champions. However, it was evident early on that Toomey was more at home in the water.  

As CrossFitters, we like to know how we measure up to the standard; how we compare to  our peers. With that in mind, I decided to do a race analysis. 

The metrics I analyzed included stroke count, stroke rate, distance per stroke, time per stroke, speed, and time. The initial swimming data I collected from watching the Games video coverage included times, stroke rates, and stroke counts. The 50-m times are approximate, taken from when each athlete started their dive into the pool to when they finished (or appeared to finish) each swim. (See Table 1 and Table 2)  

While Toomey won her event and Fraser came second, comparing their metrics will hopefully identify areas for improvement, possibly for them, but more importantly, for CrossFitters in general. 

Putting the bike, GHDs, and slams aside, Toomey's metrics in the water were far better than Fraser’s. 

Fraser

 

Round 1 

Round 2 

Round 3 

Round 4 

**Deviation 

Average

Time(s) 

41.02 

41.31 

49.05 

47.31 

+/- 8.03 

44.67

*Stroke  

Rate  

(strokes per minute)

78.05 

76.80 

73.65 

70.50 

+/- 7.55 

74.74

Stroke  

Count (per length)

49 

50 

57 

55 

+/- 8 

52.75

Time per  

Stroke(s)

0.84 

0.83 

0.87 

0.86 

+/- 0.04 

0.85

Distance  

per Stroke (m)

1.02 

1.0 

0.87 

0.91 

+/- 0.15 

0.95

Speed (m/s) 

1.22 

1.21 

1.02 

1.06 

+/- 0.19 

1.13

Round Time 

2:03.76 

1:59.24 

2:23.51 

2:11.63 

+/- 24.27 

2.09.44

Table 1- Fraser’s Swim ‘N’ Stuff swim metrics 

Toomey was fastest. She had the quickest time for each swim, averaging 38.75 seconds to Fraser’s 44.67 seconds. As a result, she also had the edge on speed, averaging 1.29 m/s compared to Fraser’s 1.13 m/s.  

Going into the pool, Fraser had the advantage on height by 3 inches. Toomey is recorded at 5’4” and Mat at 5’7”. Height helps in water. The taller the swimmer, the longer the levers. Assuming that two swimmers are technically matched, the taller swimmer should be able to take fewer strokes and use less energy to accomplish the same task. In this event, that would mean having more energy to put into the rest of the event or the opportunity to conserve energy where a less efficient competitor could not. 

Fraser dives into pool
Mat Fraser dives into the pool during Swim 'N' Stuff. (Photo by Duke Loren)

Notably, Toomey took fewer strokes per length, averaging 50.75 strokes compared to Fraser’s 52.75. Toomey was, therefore, more efficient, getting more distance per stroke (0.99 m) than Fraser (0.95 m) even with the likely shorter reach. 

A higher stroke rate and therefore time per stroke is only of benefit if a swimmer also has good stroke mechanics. We’ve likely all seen that swimmer who spins their wheels in the water, stroking fast but going practically nowhere. A fast stroke doesn’t always mean an efficient or effective one. In this event, Toomey had the higher stroke rate, averaging 85.3 strokes per minute while Fraser averaged 74.74. Toomey therefore needed less time to complete each stroke (0.77 sec. per stroke vs. Fraser’s 0.85 per stroke). Added to the other metrics, Toomey’s stroke was more efficient and effective.  

Toomey

 

Round 1 

Round 2 

Round 3 

Round 4 

**Deviation 

Average

Time(s) 

36.76 

38.44 

41.91 

37.87 

+/- 5.15 

38.75

*Stroke  

Rate  

(strokes per minute)

86.6 

81.7 

84.0 

89.0 

+/- 7.3 

85.3

Stroke  

Count (per length)

50 

49 

52 

52 

+/- 3 

50.75

Time per  

Stroke(s)

0.74 

0.78 

0.81 

0.73 

+/- 0.08 

0.77

Distance  

per Stroke (m)

1.0 

1.02 

0.96 

0.98 

+/- 0.06 

0.99

Speed (m/s) 

1.36 

1.30 

1.19 

1.32 

+/- 0.17 

1.29

Round Time 

2:08.17 

2:02.92 

2:11.61 

2:03.78 

+/- 5.25 

2:06.62

Table 2 - Toomey’s Swim ‘N’ Stuff swim metrics 

*Stroke rate was taken as an average of two measures: one taken during the first 25 m and the other taken during the second 25 m of each swim length.

**Difference between highest and lowest measurements 

As the event had athletes doing the sequence of movements in reverse on alternate rounds, Table 3 and Table 4 do a like-for-like round comparison. The data continues to confirm that Toomey’s metrics were better than Fraser’s. However, it also shows that for both athletes, the majority of metrics were better in the first time through a round sequence. The only variant was Toomey’s speed in Round 4, which was faster than that of Round 2. This is likely attributable to her significantly higher stroke rate. 

Fraser

 

Round 1 

Round 3 

**Deviation

Round 2 

Round 4 

**Deviation

Average

Time(s) 

41.02 

49.05 

+/- 8.03 

41.31 

47.31 

+/- 6.00 

44.67

*Stroke  

Rate  

(strokes  

per  

minute)

78.05 

73.65 

+/- 4.4 

76.80 

70.50 

+/- 6.30 

74.74

Stroke  

Count (per length)

49 

57 

+/- 8 

50 

55 

+/- 5 

52.75

Time per  

Stroke(s)

0.84 

0.87 

+/- 0.03 

0.83 

0.86 

+/- 0.03 

0.85

Distance  

per Stroke  (m)

1.02 

0.87 

+/- 0.15 

1.0 

0.91 

+/- 0.09 

0.95

Speed (m/s)

1.22 

1.02 

+/- 0.20 

1.21 

1.06 

+/- 0.15 

1.13

Round  

Time

2:03.76 

2:23.51 

+/- 19.75 

1:59.24 

2:11.63 

+/- 12.39 

2.09.44

Table 3 - Fraser 's Like-for-Like Round Comparison 

Toomey

 

Round 1 

Round 3 

**Deviation

Round 2 

Round 4 

**Deviation

Average

Time (s) 

36.76 

41.91 

+/- 5.15 

38.44 

37.87 

+/- 0.57

 

*Stroke  

Rate  

(strokes  

per  

minute)

86.6 

84.0 

+/- 2.6 

81.7 

89.0 

+/- 7.3

 

Stroke  

Count (per length)

50 

52 

+/- 2 

49 

52 

+/- 3

 

Time per  

Stroke (s)

0.74 

0.81 

+/- 0.07 

0.78 

0.73 

+/- 0.05

 

Distance  

per Stroke (m)

1.0 

0.96 

+/- 0.04 

1.02 

0.98 

+/- 0.04

 

Speed (m/s)

1.36 

1.19 

+/- 0.17 

1.30 

1.32 

+/- 0.02

 

Round  

Time

2:08.17 

2:11.61 

+/- 3.44 

2:02.92 

2:03.78 

+/- 0.86

 

Table 4 - Toomey's Like-for-Like Round Comparison

Close-up footage of the swimmers (above and below the water) would allow a more detailed assessment of stroke mechanics and, thereby, a more detailed analysis of where and how the athletes could improve their respective strokes and overall performance. 

However, simply looking at the averages for each metric collected, Toomey’s are consistently better than Fraser’s. In addition, Toomey’s deviations for each metric are smaller, which indicates she was able to hold her pace and her stroke better than Fraser — something crucial for all competitive swimmers. 

In short, Toomey is the better swimmer with a more efficient and effective stroke. 

Chandler Smith swimming
Demo Team member Chandler Smith (Photo by Meg Ellery)

How can this analysis help CrossFitters in the water? 

The simple answer is what gets coached and measured gets managed.  

In the water, as in the box, time is often the best way to measure improvement. The faster you swim, the better, right? In principle, yes. However, when it comes to swimming, mechanics and consistency are increasingly important. When it comes to water, it’s easy  to waste a lot of energy with poor technique. Work on improving your stroke (regardless of which one you use). Seek to reduce your stroke count without losing speed. Work on improving your distance per stroke.  

With a stopwatch and a video camera (and, ideally, a coach), any athlete can identify  areas for improvement and continue their fitness journey. The data allows you to identify strengths and areas for improvement. 

As we all know, no matter how good an athlete is, he or she can always do better — even if they’re the Fittest Man or Woman on Earth. 

Cover Photo Credit: Meg Ellery