Stroke count and its value in Swim Training

Excel Aquatics locations in Albany and Schenectady.Recently Excel Aquatics has been able to resume training our triathlete swimmers in a mini session at The College of Saint Rose in Albany while the students are on break. It has been fantastic to be back on the deck/in the water, and now more than ever we appreciate the opportunity to swim, improve,  and challenge ourselves from practice to practice.

As this session has been the first time back in the water for many since the summer months, we have gravitated towards training with more emphasis on stroke count per 25 yards compared to times during many of our main set. While there are many benefits to doing so, the coaching staff has also noticed there are a few misconceptions/truths when working with stroke count that we would like to address:

1. Stroke count is individual 

As we all learned in grade school, everyone is different, and that is a good thing! The same goes for stroke count. Each swimmers’ stroke count is essentially a result of the individual’s body type, ‘style’ of Freestyle, and physical attributes. This means that (for the most part), all swimmers will have a number that is different from others, and that is encouraged! With all of our differences as athletes, it would not be beneficial in the least for all of us to have the same stroke count number.

2. Lower is not always better or more efficient

In the swimming world, stroke count/DPS is often linked to efficiency, thus many believe that a lower stroke count is ALWAYS the goal. While a lower stroke count for an individual can be a good thing, the primary goal for all swimmers is typically to get FASTER (aka lower your time), first and foremost. Secondly, if we can lower our time while also limiting our energy expenditure/controlling our intensity, then what does it truly matter if our stroke count does not go down, or potentially even goes up? At the end of the day, stroke count is just ONE variable, and should be treated as such. Combining stroke count with time and heartrate can give a swimmer a much clearer picture of their efficiency, and how their stroke count number (higher/lower) relates to their improvement as a swimmer.

3. Speed will change your stroke count

Another misconception with regards to stroke count is that it should remain the same per 25 yds, regardless of our intensity, but that is simply not true/nearly impossible. Typically, when we increase our intensity in the water/speed up our stroke rate, our arms will actually slowly become more inefficient. We have less time to catch/pull, thus more ‘slippage’ will occur. However, as long as our stroke rate increase is greater than the decrease in our stroke efficiency, we will move faster in the water. Here is a basic example of this concept:

Our time over 25 yards can be calculated as our Stroke Count multiplied by our Stroke Rate, thus Time=Count x Rate. If going at a warmup pace, our swimmer takes 20 strokes per 25 and swims with a stroke rate of 1 second per stroke, our equation becomes 20 strokes x 1 second/stroke= 20 seconds. However, when speeding up, our swimmer then takes 22 strokes per length, at a stroke rate of .85 seconds/stroke. This results in 22 strokes x .85 seconds/stroke = 18.7 seconds. As shown, the swimmer takes more strokes per 25, and essentially sacrifices a bit of stroke count, but gains in the tempo, resulting in a faster overall time.

4. Too much tempo can be a bad thing

Using our equation above, we can also prove that too much tempo/fatigue with too high of a stroke count can result in swimming SLOWER. For example, if our swimmer tries to increase their stroke rate to .75 seconds/stroke, but ends up needing 28 strokes to do so, our resulting equation is 28 strokes x .75 seconds/stroke = 21 seconds. Therefore, it is important to understand the relationship of stroke count, stroke rate, and time, and how it impacts each individual swimmer.

In conclusion, stroke count is an awesome tool, but is very specific to each individual, and can only be fully utilized when its relationship with stroke rate and time are also understood. To drive this point home one more time, here is a link to the video of the 2013 Men’s 1500m Freestyle World Championship in Barcelona. The two swimmers going head to head for the majority of the race (Sun Yang and Ryan Cochrane) are a perfect example of completely different stroke counts/rates, yet both are able to swim at a world class level in the same event. Enjoy!