Archives for posts with tag: stroke rate

Well done to everyone for your efforts last week during the longer sessions.  And special kudos to Alex, Simon and Edda who did a the full 3 hours (I hope I didn’t miss anyone else that did the full monty)!  This week is back to normal with our 7-8 and 8-9:15am sessions and we will be doing some aerobic paced 150s as the main set.

For technique this week we will be working on stroke rate after several weeks of focusing on the high-elbow underwater pull with a pause.  This is especially important when swimming in open water where a slightly higher stroke rate, and straighter-arm recovery, is often more effective (and efficient) to help overcome the additional resistance in the shoulders from the wetsuit.  So this week there will be a chance to practice it in the pool with some head-up front crawl and straight-arm recovery drills.  Try and do these drills to increase the stroke rate above the water (and not worrying about how pretty or careful your hand-entry is) but keeping that good high-elbow underwater pull we have been working on over the last few weeks.

See you tomorrow,


The main theme for this month is all going to be about stroke rate as we build towards the next set of time trials at the end of the month (see my previous post about stroke rate).  So the aim is keeping that beautiful high-elbow pull we’ve been working on before Christmas and increasing the stroke rate to something closer to race pace.

For those of you at Tim’s session this Thursday morning we did some excellent work on this with the fast first 8 strokes of each 50 in the first set.  On Saturday we will be doing some more work on this with some head-up frontcrawl, straight-arm recovery and golf stroke.  Key things I’d like you to think about on each of these are:

  • Do short-fast strokes when doing head-up front crawl and kick your legs strongly to help keep them afloat.  A slow, long stroke is really hard with your head up.
  • On straight-arm recovery let your hands splash into the water quickly, as they will want to do if you’ve kept them straight and high during the recovery, before you do your usual high-elbow underwater pull.
  • For golf stroke remember to add your time to your stroke count for each 50 to determine your golf stroke.  Try to reduce your golf stroke by increasing your stroke rate to swim faster while keeping your stroke count pretty similar.

See you Saturday!


We will be doing some more fast-paced, USRPT 50s this week where the target is to swim at a faster pace than you can sustain for the whole set without missing some out.  Remember, leave 5s intervals between swimmers and take your times for every 50.  As soon as your time drops by 1s or more miss the next one out and take the extra recovery.

We will be continuing with a mix of fast and speed endurance sets for the remainder of September to help you keep your race speed going until the end of the season.  From October we will drop back to more technique and steady-paced aerobic swimming as the first part of winter training.

If you like numbers, are enjoyed the Swim Smooth Olympic analysis video I posted last week, then you may also be interested in the follow-up analysis Paul Newsome has published on stroke rates and stroke lengths from the Olympics, which you can find here.  The trade-off between stroke length and stroke rate is particularly important and is one of the reasons we measure both of these when we do the 400m time trials throughout the winter.  This is a theme I will return to again when we get into the Winter training.

See you Saturday!


After the steady paced swims last week we will start picking up the pace a this week and do some work on stroke rate as we build towards the next set of time trials at the end of the month.  So we will be doing some head-up front crawl to work on increased stroke rate as well as some golf stroke swimming to help you try and find the right balance between stroke rate and efficiency.  Please see my previous post on stroke rate if you have forgotten about why this is important or how to measure your golf stroke. Knowing your golf stroke will require you to know your times when swimming each 50 so hopefully you are well practised now after my post last week and the session on Saturday!

A natural reaction from many of us when asked to increase stroke rate is concern that either your stroke length with shorten or you will need to increase your effort and hence reduce efficiency.  However, this is often not the case and a higher stroke rate can often be more efficient.  This is because most of your propulsion comes from the second half of your underwater pull so doing more of these parts of the pull every minute can make a big difference in your speed. It’s a bit like spinning in an easier  gear on your bike and one that enables you to go faster for less effort overall.  The best way to find out is to try it so play around with your stroke rate over the next few weeks to see what works best for you.

See you Saturday!


Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a good break over Christmas and New Year and are looking forward to 2016.  So with my first post of the  year I wanted to talk a bit about the plan for the next few months and what I’d like you to focus on this week.

We will be doing the the usual pre-season build-up over the next few months which means a gradual introduction of some more faster-paced swimming to get ready for the start of the main triathlon season in May.  There will be two more time trials to help you track progress, at the end of January and the end of March.  And I will be introducing a type of fast-paced swimming set that I think is particularly effective at getting you used to race-pace swimming.  However, it does require you to know the times you are swimming for each rep.

I’d really like you to start getting into the habit of knowing your times starting this week.  I have written about this before but as a reminder I think there are a number of very good reasons to do this:

  • It’s a great objective measure on your progress on a far more frequent basis that you can get from doing time trials
  • It ensures better lane discipline, and hence better training for everyone in the lane, as you will be going on more regular intervals (ideally 5s intervals but 3s intervals if the lane is crowded)
  • It will be essential to do some of the sets I have planned
  • Knowing your time will avoid the embarrassment of having to say “I don’t know” when I randomly select you to ask what times you are swimming!

The other key thing to think about as we pick up the pace is technique.  Before Christmas most of the technique work we did were drills to help with your body position and pull but done slowly so really helping increase your distance per stroke.  As we pick up the pace we will be doing some more drills focused on increasing your stroke rate.  Both stroke rate and distance per stroke are essential for fast swimming so play around with varying both of these over the coming months to see what combination works best for you.

See you Saturday!


I will be away this week and Chrissie has kindly offered to coach on Saturday instead.  It will be my session though (sorry!) and this week I would like you to focus on your legs.

Legs are not something we do a lot of work on as they are less important for distance swimming than good arms and body position, especially when you have a wetsuit to help keep them afloat.  However, they do play an important role in stroke timing and rhythm so are especially useful to think about when we start to try and pick up the pace leading into race season.

I think your legs are a great way to ensure an even stroke tempo and increase your stroke rate without rushing the pull and slipping water.  If you have a constant leg-kick, without pauses, then you will naturally have a constant arm-stroke without any pauses, too, as your arms and legs need to stay in sync.  So if you have any pauses in your stroke then thinking about keeping your legs moving continuously can, somewhat counter-intuitively, help correct this and keep your arms moving continuously.

Also, if you want to increase your stroke rate a great way to do it is to kick faster, as your arms will naturally speed up to stay in sync.  You don’t want to kick fast the whole time, though, as it is too tiring but kicking hard at the start of a race, or even the first few strokes on each length, is often a good way to start with a nice high stroke rate.  This higher stroke rate is often easier to maintain once started, even when you put less effort in with your legs and drop back to a sustainable pace.

This week you will have three opportunities to work on your legs.

  • There will be some kick in the warm-up, where you should focus on kicking with straight legs and pointed toes.  Backstroke legs is great for this – make sure your knees stay in the water.  Many of you are very poor at this so please think about it!
  • The main set has some progressively-paced swims.  Use an increased leg speed to set the tempo for your arms as you increase the pace in this set.
  • The final set this week is 25m sprints.  A fast and powerful leg kick is a key part of sprinting so please, please, please don’t do these like I normally see most of you do with a hardly visible leg kick.  Make your leg kick look like you have an outboard motor attached to you and use this to blow away the person you are racing in your lane!

Have fun and see you next week.


It’s time for our mid-Winter time trials this week and I’d like you to think about swimming the fastest you can by keeping as relaxed as possible.

We will follow the same format as in November with a good warm-up, including some fast swimming, followed by a 400m and 100m time trial.  Again I am going to be asking those not swimming to take 100m split times as well as counting strokes so we can measure your pace judgement, stroke rate and distance per stroke.  It is hard to get stroke counts for each 100m (it’s a lot of counting) so instead I’d like those counting to count strokes for a particular length on each 100 of the 400.  We will multiply this by 4 to get a measure of distance per stroke and stroke rate.  It’s not as accurate as counting every stroke but an approximate stroke count will be good enough.

I know some of you find that you swim slower when doing a 400m time trial than when doing long sets of 100m reps with short intervals or even just doing a “steady” 400m in training.  However, there is no lack of effort from everyone who I see swim time trials so if you fall into this category then it means your extra effort is not being used efficiently and is either reducing your propulsion, increasing your drag or both.   For you, less is more and I recommend thinking about three things for the time trial:

1)      Try and enjoy the chance to have a lane pretty much to yourself and swimming fast without anyone in your way.  Your  time will look after itself if you try and relax and enjoy it rather than worrying about the outcome.

2)      Don’t press too hard or quickly at the catch.  As you feel the pressure on your hand at the start of each stroke the temptation is to put the power on quickly but unless your elbow is high, and your hand and forearm pointing downwards, most of your effort will be wasted pushing your body upwards rather than forwards.  This wastes effort and increases drag so instead be patient and wait until your forearm is vertical before putting the power on at the catch.

3)      Try and swim an even pace throughout.  Most of you will start quickly, with natural adrenaline, so use that get your arms moving at a good tempo but make sure you are relaxing into a sustainable pace before you finish the first 50m.  Then try and relax, keeping the stroke rate comfortable and your stroke long for the rest of the 400m.  Most people slow down in the 3rd 100 so really focus on maintaining a good form and stroke length then.  The last 100m will look after itself as you finish to the cheers of your adoring fans!

See you Saturday!


As we prepare for time trials next week I’d like you to think about your stroke rate again and to try and find the right stroke rate for you.  We’ll be doing a main set consisting of sets of either 4 or 5 x 100s with a short recovery.  Use the opportunity to try and find a stroke rate that gives you the best speed for each 100 and that is sustainable throughout the set.  This should be your 400m time trial pace for next week.  Get used to what it feels like and also make sure you know your time.  To do this you will need to know your 100m time for each repetition so make it easy on yourselves and go at 5s intervals unless your lane is really crowded.

See you Saturday!


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!


Well done to all those that swam the time trials this morning, there were some good performances.  You can see the draft results here.  I usually make the odd transcription error, even though I try not to, so please email me if you think I have got something wrong and I will check to see if I can spot a mistake. So what can you learn from this?

  • I suggest you look at your splits to see how well you paced the 400.  Should you have paced it differently?
  • Your critical swim speed is an estimate of the pace you should be able to sustain for longer races like 1500m and is estimated based on the difference between your 100m and 400m times.  The estimate in the results should be a good pace to swim at in training to improve your endurance.
  • Checking your strokes per minute and distance per stroke measures are a useful indicator of whether increasing stroke rate or distance per stroke are likely to help you increase your speed most effectively.  You can check these measures against the averages for your lane, and other lanes, in the table below the main results.
  • As another reference for stroke rates, Rebecca Adlington used to swim at about 75 strokes per minute and 1.3m/stroke when racing 400m.  Sun Yang, the current 1500m world record holder, averages 55 strokes/min and 1.9m/stroke when racing 1500m.

Have a good weekend and I hope to see many of you not smelling of chlorine and wearing a lot more clothes than usual at the club awards evening tonight! Rob

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