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Swim Club Blog: Stroke Rate V Stroke Count, and why it's critical for swim performance..

Swim Club Swim Training Articles

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.

What is Stroke Count?

Stroke count is the number of strokes you take each length of the pool. You count both your left and your right arm strokes and most amateur swimmers generally require somewhere between 16-30 strokes to complete 1 length of a 25m pool.

What is stroke rate?

Stroke rate is the number of strokes you take in a single minute, in essence, this is the speed of your stroke. It is very much like cycling cadence (the number of times your legs turn round in a minute). Most amateur swimmers generally have a stroke rate of 40-70 strokes per minute.

How do the 2 interact?

We have coached hundreds of swimmers over the last 5 years and compared the relationship between stroke count and stroke rate. What we know is that when asked to swim a 1500m time trial, as they get tired towards the end, the swimmers will take the same number of strokes per length, so fatigue has no bearing on stroke count. However, their stroke rate will start relatively high and gradually decrease throughout the test. Their arm cadence becomes slower and slower and this is the reason for them slowing down.

In simple terms, fatigue DOES NOT change your stroke count, it DOES change your stroke rate. You continue to take the same number of strokes each length, but your arms get slower as you get more tired.


Many triathletes will have heard the term 'SWOLF' which is an abbreviated for 'SWIM GOLF'. If you own a GPS watch with swimming settings, it may well include a SWOLF function. SWOLF is simply adding together the number of strokes you take each length (stroke count) to the number of seconds it takes to swim the length. For example, if you swim one length in 30 seconds and take 20 strokes, your SWOLF score is 50. You can reduce your score by taking less strokes and gliding more (e.g. reducing from 20 to 17 strokes) but this often results in people swimming slower (e.g. increasing from 30 to 33 seconds) and thereby not improving their SWOLF score. SWOLF is a great example of why stroke count alone is not the answer to faster swimming.

How do I know what my stroke count actually is and whether its changing?

Simple, you just count the number of strokes required to swim 1 length of the pool, count each time your left and right hands enter the water.

How do I know whether my stroke rate is slowing down throughout the test?

Here lies the problem.. you don't know what it is at any time during your swim and there's no way of knowing if your arm cadence is slowing. There are some key points you should know about stroke rate:

1. One of the simplest ways to enhance your swim training is to calculate your current stroke rate and then during your swim sessions don't let it slow down as you get tired, maintain the same arm cadence.

2. If you exaggerate your glide you are likely to have with a low stroke rate. You should try to increase your stroke rate as this is your key area for improvement.

3. In open water, a low stroke rate and a 'long gliding stroke' does not work well. Your body glides best through still water, so during a rough open water swim, you quickly lose momentum and come to a halt. A high arm turnover keeps you moving forwards and is therefore more efficient.

How can I hold or improve stroke rate during my swim sessions??

This is without a doubt, the single best piece of kit you can buy to help your swim training:

This is a waterproof metronome which has a clip to attach to your goggles, although I would recommend you don't use the clip, but place the metronome under your cap. Before you do this, you can alter the 'audible bleep' to match your stroke rate e.g. 60 bleeps per minute. When you swim, you swim to the bleeps, maintain the same stroke rate / arm cadence and don't fall behind the metronome. If you have a low stroke count / rate, you should use this device to gradually increase your stroke rate. You can increase the bleeps per minute by 1-2 each week, allowing your stroke to adapt. You may need to start by adjusting/playing with the device in the pool to work out what your current stroke rate actually is.

Your stroke rate will also naturally change depending upon your session intensity and it is governed largely by the type of stroke you have, i.e. 'catch up style' or 'windmill style'.

Example stroke rates are:

Level 3 sessions = 50-60 SPM

Level 4 sessions = 55-65 SPM

Level 6 sessions = 65 + SPM

The tempo trainer can also be used as a pacing tool. For example, if your level 3 pace is 1:40 per 100m, you can set it to bleep every 25 seconds and you should be turning as you hear the bleep if you're on pace. Do not underestimate how much difference this little device can make to your training and swimming performance.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

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