Stroke Rate V Stroke Count, and why it's critical for swim performance..

Stroke Rate V Stroke Count, and why it's critical for swim performance..


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 40-90 strokes per minute.

How do the 2 interact?

We have coached hundreds of swimmers over the last 20 years and compared the relationship between stroke count and stroke rate. So here's an interesting fact that we know... When swimmers are asked to swim a 1500m time trial, even though they get tired as the test progresses, they still take pretty much the same number of strokes per length (stroke count), but their arms simply get slower (stroke rate). 

In simple terms, fatigue DOES NOT change your stroke count, but 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.

What actually happens for many people is that when they get tired, they exaggerate the 'glide' in their stroke, which actually means that whilst the stroke count stays similar throughout (and in some cases even reduces!!), their stroke rate drops even further and the arm cadence gets slower. 

We often compliment people on how graceful and smooth their stroke looks, but it's likely that they're swimming slowly with a very low stroke rate. By contrast, some of the fastest swimmers often look like they have the worst strokes as they're simply turning their arms over at a fast rate with no desire to look graceful. 

Swimmers are often told to glide as far as they can and get as much distance per stroke, but this often leads to a real drop in stroke rate / arm cadence, which is detrimental for performance. We often use strokes per length as some kind of guide for 'efficiency' but unfortunately it's not the full story. 

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 do I know what my stroke count is?

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. It's a very simple thing to do and most swimmers have done it at some point. 

How do I know whether my stroke rate is?

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. You can purchase 'tempo trainers' and other devices, which are small audible metronomes to sit under your cap, set to 'bleep' a certain number of times per minute and you can match it with your arm strokes. 

If you wanted to do a simple test, set an alarm on your watch for 60 seconds, or get someone to watch you for 60 seconds and count every stroke. 

Stroke rates vary depending upon, amongst other things, your chosen distance (endurance swimmers will have lower rates than sprint swimmers), your personal stroke mechanics and your swim fitness. 

Elite sprint swimmers have incredibly fast stroke rates, which can be 120-150 strokes per minute. For amateur freestyle distance swimmers, 70-90 is a good target. It's often the case that amateur swimmers, especially those with 'gliding strokes' can be as low as 40-50. 

Developing your stroke rate

As we've said above, there is a real tendency for many amateur swimmers to lower their stroke rate. They are constantly told to glide and swim with good technique, these things are much easier to do with a slow arm cadence. The other reason why higher stroke rates are difficult to maintain is that they require a high level of fitness! This is why stroke rate falters as you fatigue. 

Start simple in the pool. Focus on your turnover and as one hand is entering the water, the other should be leaving. There's no pause or glide, it's a constant flowing movement of the arms at a high rate. Avoid the temptation to pull your hand out early or short, you still have to maintain a relatively full stroke length. If you can manage both a high stroke rate and a low stroke count, then you'd got it nailed. 

Join our coached open water swim sessions

We deliver an open water swim session every Wednesday & Saturday from April 17th. The location is perfect for novices and you can swim in skins or wetsuit. To read more and register GO HERE

We also offer 1-2-1 coached lessons, for more info email 

Need a new wetsuit or buying your first?

We've got a range of wetsuits in store and a huge amount of experience! If you're buying from us, you're welcome to try them on and we can ensure you get the perfect size and fit. We're based just off junction 27M6, in Wrightington, Lancashire. Call us on 01257 251217.

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