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Swim Club Blog: Assessing Your Swim

The Endurance Store Swim Club provides you with simple swim training plans throughout the winter months. The plan runs October to October and is completely free. We only ask that you pre-register so that your training plans can be emailed directly.

Registration is free and you may unsubscribe at any time from the Swim Club and stop receiving updates. Overview of the swim plan be seen below, but before you start you need to complete a test to set your swim paces, then register and download the sessions.GO HERE to register for swim club.

Following the plan:

Each week we email swim sessions which are structured for all ability levels. Each session will be completed at a specific pace, based on levels 1-7 (see below). In this blog we explain how to complete a simple test which will calculate swim paces, stroke count and stroke rate.

Level 1 = Easy recovery swimming, no effort.
Level 2 = Steady swimming.
Level 3 = Steady/Hard, equivalent to 1500-3.8k race pace.
Level 4 = Hard, equivalent to 400m race pace.
Level 5 = Very hard, equivalent to 100-200m race pace.
Level 6 = Maximal sprint 25-50m with long recoveries.
Level 7 = Near maximal sprint 25-50m with short recoveries, repeated.

To complete the swim test, follow these guidelines:

1. The test must be done in a 25m pool.
2. You should be fresh for the test, if tired, all of the calculated swim paces will be wrong.
3. You should complete it in the same pool you intend to train in, as pools vary in speed depending upon their design (can be 1-5 seconds per 100m faster/slower).

What does the test assess?

Specifically it will measure:

1. How fast you can swim 400m.
2. Your stroke count (number of strokes) per 25m length.
3. Stroke rate (strokes per minute)

How do I do the test?

1. Warm up by swimming 400m easy, then complete 4X25m sprints to raise your heart rate with 30 seconds recovery after each. Swim 100m easy to follow the sprints then rest for a few minutes until you feel ready to start the test. Experienced swimmers, do whatever warm up you would normally do.

2. Swim 400m at the fastest pace you can manage. That's 16 lengths of a 25m pool, don't set off too quickly and then fade. If you're not experienced, try to reserve a little energy in the first few lengths.

3. During the 400m swim, count how many strokes per length you take. Try to do this a couple of times e.g length 5 and length 12. Simply count the number of times your hand enters the water (both left and right hand). It might be easier to get someone else to count for you then you can just focus on swimming the 400m fast.

What do the results mean?

1. Setting your swim paces:

Divide the 400m time by 4 to calculate your pace per 100m. For example, if you swam 8 minutes for 400m, then your pace per 100m would be 2 minutes. We'll refer to this as your 'threshold pace / TPace' and we use this to calculate all training paces.

Example: Level 4 swimming is written as upper speed is TPace -5 secs / lower speed is TPace +2 secs. For our example above, if you swim 8 minutes for 400m, your TPace is 2 minutes per 100m. This means that Level 4 swimming would be between 1:55 (TPace -5secs) and 2:02 (TPace +2secs). If you compete a swim session which states that you must swim at L4 pace, then you should be swimming between 1:55-2:02 per 100m, no faster and no slower.

The swim paces / zones are as follows:

Level 1 = Upper speed is TPace +12 secs / lower speed is TPace +20 secs
Level 2 = Upper speed is TPace +7 secs / lower speed is TPace +12 secs
Level 3 = Upper speed is TPace +2 secs / lower speed is TPace +7 secs
Level 4 = Upper speed is TPace -5 secs / lower speed is TPace +2 secs
Level 5 = Upper speed is TPace -8 secs / lower speed is TPace -4 secs
Level 6 = Maximal sprint 25-50m with long recoveries.
Level 7 = Near maximal sprint 25-50m with short recoveries, repeated.

2. Whats' your stroke count / distance per stroke? The stroke count is the average number of strokes per 25m length. This is an indicator of how far your travel each stroke so if you have a long, effective pull under the water and glide between each stroke, this stroke count will be low. With regards to how low the stroke count should be, we use the following:

30+ = Way too many!!
27-30 = Much still to be improved, but you've broken the 30 barrier..
24-27 = Getting better and a good start point!
20-24 = The region most amateur triathletes fall into, so you're normal!
18-20 = Well done, you're very effective..
16-18 = Most of us don't like you..
-16 = Well done flipper, you get a sardine..

3. What's your stroke rate / strokes per minute? Most people know how many strokes per length they take (stroke count) but very few know there stroke rate (how many strokes they take per minute). Stroke rate in simple terms is how fast your arms move.

Think of this is running terms, your running speed will be dictated by how far your stride and how fast your legs move! You might have a long stride, but if your legs move slowly, you won't run fast.

Having a low stroke count of less than 20 strokes per length is great, but if your arms move really slowly, you'll still be swimming slow. Gliding is nice, but going fast is much nicer. Generally when swimmers get tired, their distance per stroke (the number of strokes they take each length) doesn't really change. The reason they get slower is that their stroke rate drops and they simply move the arms more slowly. With regards to how quick the stroke rate should be, we use the following:

75-85 = Super quick
65-75 = Quick
55-65 = Ideal
45-55 = A bit on the slow side
35-45 = Wake up..
-35 = Look closer to see if they're moving..  

To calculate your stroke rate use the following equation:

1. work out your time per 25m length during the 400m test. 400m is 16 lengths of a 25m pool so divide your total 400m time by 16. As an example, if you swam 8 minutes for 400m, then you're swimming 30 seconds per length (16 X 30 seconds = 8 minutes). Do the maths!

2. What was the stroke count during the test? Let's say that you swam 8 minutes and counted 23 strokes per length. 

4. Use the equation (60 / secs per length) X stroke count

Okay, stay with me here...  60 divided by the number of seconds taken per length (30 secs in our example) multiplied by stroke count (23 in our example).

60 / 30 = 2

2 X 23 = 46

Stroke rate = 46 strokes per minute

Okay, so that's it. You now have a benchmark for your current swim fitness and you've calculated your swim paces, so you can better structure your training. You also know your stroke count which is how efficiently you glide, plus you know your stroke rate which is how fast your arm turnover is. Not bad for a single swim test!

The Endurance Store Swim Club