What is Stroke Rate?
Maximising swim speed comes from hitting the sweetspot between stroke rate and stroke length.
Stroke length is how far you travel through the water with each stroke and stroke rate is how many
strokes you take each minute (counting both arms). You can also base stroke rate on strokes per length.
Stroke rate is a good indicator of rhythm and timing. Too low a stroke rate signifies slow arm movement, creating time-consuming deadspots. Too high a stroke rate and your stroke technique’s inefficiently short and needs lengthening.
What is your Optimum Stroke Rate?
Optimum stroke rate is a personal thing, dependent on factors like arm length, flexibility and race length. As an example, a typical age-group triathlete might possess a stroke length that projects them 50m using 38 to 52 strokes, equating to a stroke rate of 54 to 64 strokes per minute (spm).
Swim god Ian Thorpe, swam at 77spm to optimise his 6ft 5in frame when swimming 51.5secs for 100m. Triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who measures 6ft dead, unleashed a staggering 95spm en route to 2012 London Olympic gold. (As an aside, open-water stroke rate’s often higher than pool swimming to compensate for the waves and current; in the millpond pool, you can glide more.
Ultimately, if you can improve your stroke rate and maintain stroke length, you’ll swim faster.
Measuring Stroke Rate
One way is to swim for 15secs or 30secs at goal race pace, count your strokes and ask a friend to time you on a stopwatch. They then multiply the respective figures by four (15-sec test) or two (30-sec test) to determine your spm. Do this several times, resting between to eliminate fatigue, and take the average.
Alternatively, you can invest in a swim tool that measures your stroke rate for you. Many of the Garmin, Polar and Suunto multisport watches do this for you, as does the Swimsense from Finis.
How to Improve Your Stroke Rate
Now you know your stroke rate per minute (spm) you can work to optimise via swim drills. Using swim fins will lift you higher in the water, while naturally boosting leg propulsion. This has the effect of making your arms work harder and, therefore, faster. The water-polo drill (swimming front crawl with your head up) will help you to check hand entry, slightly reduce glide and up your stroke rate. A big push off the pool wall also helps, giving you the momentum to maintain higher speed and a higher stroke rate.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This is a useful device to stick to a pre-programmed stroke rate.
There is no one-size-fits-all stroke rate. But increasing your individual stroke rate while maintaining, or even increasing, stroke length will make you faster. Test your stroke rate now via a friend or training tool, undertake stroke-rate drills, retest in four weeks’ time and you’ll see your stroke rate has increased.
Stroke rate’s a good indicator of strength and fitness, while stroke length’s broadly more technique-focussed. Work on both to improve swim performance.
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