We’ve been working on stroke length the last few weeks but how fast you swim is a combination of both stroke length (or distance per stroke) and stroke rate (the number of strokes you take per minute).  So for the next couple of weeks, before we do the next set of time trials, I’d like you to think about whether or not you are swimming at the right stroke rate.  The usual measure of stroke rate is in strokes per minute and it is easy to measure by just counting your strokes for a set distance and dividing it by the time taken in minutes.  Those of you that did the time trials in November last year will have had it measured for you and are in the results here.

So what should your stroke rate be?  I don’t believe there is an answer to this – the ideal rate varies so much from swimmer to swimmer.  Instead I think a more useful question to ask is “What’s my best stroke rate in a 1500m at the start of a triathlon?” or whatever other event you are training for.  And your current stroke rate may not be the best one to allow you to swim as fast as you want to over your given race distance given that you still want to be fresh enough to bike and run afterwards.  Here are a few data points to compare against:

  • In the last 400m time trials we did stroke rates ranged from 45 to 69 strokes per minute with an average of 57 and you can see everyone’s stroke rates in the time trial results.
  • The Brownlees and Javier Gomez averaged between 80 and 90 strokes per minute during the swim leg of the 2012 Olympic Triathlon (see the excellent Swim Smooth blog), as did the female medalists in the 10k open water swimming.
  • Top 1500m Olympic male freestyle swimmers average between 65 and 80 strokes per minute when racing and top female Olympic 800m swimmers average between 70 and 80 strokes per minute.

Don’t worry too much if there is a big difference between your current stroke rate and that used by some of the world’s elite, as listed above.  Our average age is a lot higher than the elite swimmers listed and I would expect lower stroke rates overall.  However, it may be that you could swim quicker at a different stroke rate and this is probably likely to be a faster stroke rate rather than a slower one.  Think of it a bit like spinning an easier gear on the bike at a higher cadence rather than pushing a harder gear and getting more fatigued.

To help you play around with your stroke rate this week we will be doing a couple of different things alongside our usual main swimming sets.  Firstly, we will be doing some drills that will force you to increase your stroke rate, such as head-up front crawl and fists drill.  Also, we will be doing some golf stroke swimming where I will be looking for a change of 10 or more between the first and last 50.  So start the golf stroke set slowly to give yourself a chance of achieving this and increase your stroke rate to try and reduce your golf stroke for each 50.  Your sustainable 1500m stroke rate may be on one of your middle 50s rather than your fastest 50 but it is good to try stroke rates both above and below your sustainable pace to get a good idea of what is right for you.

Changing stroke rate naturally affects your length of stroke and also how tired you will become.  You are looking for a stroke rate that gives you the best speed at a sustainable effort.  So play around with it over the next couple of weeks to see if an increase in your stroke rate helps.  It should feel comfortable and natural and the clock will tell you the effect it is having on your speed.

See you Saturday!