Freestyle Swim Stroke Rate

In the age of data overload it is an interesting segue from the last post’s reflection in looking at your bike cadence, to looking at what’s going on in the pool.  A good number of triathletes have Garmin’s or similar devices strapped to their wrists, me included, and are fastidious about recoding their sessions and seeing them tracked on Garmin Connect, Training Peaks or another similar piece of software.

ATP have been working with one athlete who has nice smooth swimming style, but was stuck at the 1:50 sec / 100 m pace; knows why he is stuck, but can’t seem to burn a new path to see these times start to drop – the realisation that a mathematical approach may just be the quantification needed to kickstart the change required.

Your Garmin tells you a bunch of things about your swimming, the two interrelated things we are going to look at in this post is stroke rate and strokes per length.   The first, stroke rate, is the number of complete strokes cycles, i.e. a left and right arm stroke making 1 cycle, that a swimmer is taking per minute.  This is the similar number to what we look at on the bike when we are considering cadence.  Take a second to review what your average stroke rate was on your last swim – then have a look at the following chart on the Swim Smooth website.

Before you get too carried away with where you are sitting on their BMI style chart – go back to your last swim data and find the number for strokes per pool length.  Again this is counting a complete cycle of strokes per length of the pool.  Now plug these 2 numbers into the calculator at the bottom of the Swim Smooth page, its called Swim Smooth Simple Stroke Calculator – scary how accurate it is hay !

What I like to do now is adjust the Stroke Rate number to put in a number that is more  middle of range, but also with a realistic improvement from your actual number.  This improvement is in my experience is in most cases by speeding the number up, but its not impossible the you may need to consider slowing down.  Have a play with these two numbers, and see what it takes to get a 100m time that is (a) an improvement from your last swim and (b) something that you’d like to see.

Reflecting on the things that the swim coach has been telling you about your stroke, or things that you intuitively know about how you swim.   Are they going to have an impact on how efficient your stroke is and therefore how many strokes you need to take per length?  Are any of these factors having a knock on affect to your overall stroke rate?

In the case we mentioned above, our athlete was aware of his “over gliding” problem.  This was also identified by the poolside swim coach as swimming “catch-up style” and having both of his hands meet or a least nearly meet at the front of the stroke.  Months of working on changing the timing of the front part of the stroke actually slowed this swimmers average stroke rate.  Positive change was affected when the focus was shifted from when to initiate the stroke timing, to focusing on stroke rate alone – the other improvements followed sympathetically.  Sometime ditching the overthinking, and looking at the big picture and average numbers can achieve the desired outcomes.

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