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How to Use Stroke Rate to Improve Swim Performance

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Jasmine Ong

What is Stroke Rate and How is It Measured? 

Stroke rate looks at how fast a swimmer takes each stroke (i.e. completing a single arm pull for free and back; regular pull for fly and breast) or stroke cycle (completing a pull on both arms). Stroke and stroke cycle are the same for fly and breast. 

Stroke rate is measured by taking the duration of a single stroke or stroke cycle, averaged throughout a single length. With this measurement, a higher value means the strokes are taken at a slower speed. 

It can also be can be calculated by looking at the number of strokes or stroke cycles completed in a minute. With this measurement, a higher value means the strokes are taken at a faster speed.

TritonWear displays 4 units of measurement for stroke rate:

  • Seconds per cycle (s/cycle)
  • Seconds per stroke (s/str)
  • Cycles per minute (cycle/min)
  • Strokes per minute (str/min)

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How to Use Stroke Rate to Improve Overall Performance

Stroke rate is an important metric to improve on because it affects rhythm, speed, and efficiency.

If stroke rate is too slow, it could be an indication that there is too much glide time between turnovers. When there are long pauses between strokes, the momentum from propulsion is lost, leading to lost speed.

If stroke rate is too fast, it could be an indication that the arms are slipping through the water and the strokes are not pulled efficiently, losing distance per stroke (DPS).



Finding the Optimal Stroke Rate

Finding the optimal stroke rate is about finding the right balance between stroke rate and DPS. This will be different for each athlete, and it will vary depending on stroke and distance. 

For instance, sprinters are more likely able to hold a fast stroke rate throughout the entire distance. Meanwhile, a fast stroke rate may be more difficult to maintain in longer distances. Or, a shoulder-driven, instead of hip-driven freestyle, to increase stroke rate could be a good strategy for faster sprint speed, but may not necessarily be effective for longer distances. But again, this will mostly be dependent on individual athlete’s strengths and strategies.

While the optimal stroke rate is highly variable, one of the most important things to remember in using stroke rate to improve overall performance is that increasing stroke rate should not come at the expense of proper technique or DPS.

A slight drop in DPS is to be expected when increasing stroke rate, but the key is to keep this minimal and ensure any changes in stroke rate lead to a faster speed. If speed decreases as a result of an increase in stroke rate, this is a clear sign that there was too much decline in DPS.

Finding the right stroke rate for a given event takes a bit of experimentation. But, once you’ve determined what the target stroke rate will be, you can start working on making improvements to consistently hit the mark, and see overall progress. You can find drills to improve stroke rate here.

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