It’s always nice to have a knowledgeable instructor or coach to observe your swimming and let you know whether or not you are making improvement.

However, most of us are not fortunate enough to have someone available at the times we swim. So what can you do to determine whether your efforts to become more efficient are paying off?

The best way to measure progress in swimming efficiency is to count the number of strokes it takes you to complete one length of the pool.

I have seen lap-swimmers take more than 40 crawl strokes to get from wall to wall. They not so much swim a length as beat it to death.

On the other hand, I’ve seen champions, warming up relaxed, swim the same length with only 10 strokes.

To begin your journey to more efficient swimming, set yourself a benchmark. Swim the way you’ve been performing comfortably, and count how many strokes you take to complete one length. Don’t try anything new; just establish what’s “normal” for you.

Now it’s time to push off, glide, take a single stroke, and recover to the glide position, reducing resistance while applying a propulsive force.

Look for something along the side of the pool, deck or wall to see how far you’ve gone. Then go back and do that again. And again, until you see whether it’s body position or propulsion that gets you farther.

When that finally becomes efficient, add a second stroke.

Continue in the same disciplined fashion, relaxed and with little or no struggle. Add just one stroke at a time, until you can maintain your new form for a full pool length.

Resolve to stop whenever you become less than efficient. There is no reason to hurry stroke development and every reason to be sure not to revert back to your former, less efficient efforts.

Optimizing stroke length calls for what my friend and swim author Terry Laughlin calls “patient hands.” Following this method, you will find yourself riding your glide longer, while recovering before you begin your next stroke.

No doubt you will develop an additional habit of counting your strokes every length to measure your progress and consistency on your journey to better swimming.

Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor and coach who has recently published “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors.”