Counting Strokes

person swimming in the pool

As a coach of distance swimmers and triathletes, I believe counting strokes is a necessary part of most swimming workouts.

What Counting Strokes Can Do For You

If you stick with it and do it on a consistent basis, stroke-counting in swimming is an excellent way to increase your DPS (Distance Per Stroke). The world’s best swimmers are faster than you because they travel further with each stroke, not because they are moving their arms faster. Keeping track of the number of strokes you take per length will allow you to begin to lengthen out your stroke, as well as add more speed and distance while keeping your heart rate down and allowing you to save your energy for later in the swim or race. Added to this, you will be more aware of changes in your stroke if something is not quite right.

Obviously fewer strokes a length is good up to a point – but when you start trying to “glide” too much to drop your numbers further or overextending your wrists trying to reach further, you lose speed and get dead spots. This is obviously a fine balancing act!

Finding Your Target Stroke Count

Count your strokes for a few lengths in a steady, aerobic pace set. Hopefully, things should be fairly steady and even, consistent. Otherwise, that is your first goal – making the number of strokes you do per length the same every time. Consistency is a good thing because it means that your stroke is repeatable. If it is repeatable, then it will be easier to hold when you go and race.

Now, something I was always taught when I was swimming competitively was that you should aim to travel the length of your arm span for each stroke. So if your wings measure 2 metres tip to tip, for every stroke you do, you should travel *2 metres*. On that basis, a 25m length SHOULD take 12-13 strokes(counting 1 for each arm pull)! If you take into account a decent push off the wall, that is something that with good technique is possible. If you are doing less than this, either you are doing some great turns or you are gliding a long way but not very quickly! The reason for this is that if you have contact on the water all the way through your stroke you should be able to lever yourself through the water all that way.

This is where things get more difficult and more individual. Not everyone has the power to leverage themselves that far per stroke – so you may look to move your arms a little faster, and slice your hands through the water a little more, to give you a higher cadence.

Swim Smarter, Swim Faster

To borrow this equation from a previous blog your swim speed is very much dependent on the length of your stroke and how quickly your arms turn over.

This is where you can play around with things to work out what fits best for you, playing a training game called Swim Golf. Take a simple set of 50s – maybe 6, with a reasonable rest period – 20 or 30 seconds. For each 50, count your strokes AND check your time. Add these two numbers together to get your golf score. Try to lower this score through the set. The tricky part is, trying to add speed without adding strokes or subtracting strokes without sacrificing speed.

Consistently incorporating counting strokes into your sessions will, over time, help you to swim longer (or “taller”) in the water, and use less energy to go the same speed or even faster. And for those that don’t consider swimming to be their strength in a triathlon, this saved energy is sure to translate into a better bike and run!

Just as a note, in a 25m pool, I swim 12 strokes a length almost religiously. When the pace goes up – or I’m tired – that might increase to 13 or maybe even 14 strokes per length. This is always my key to remember to press on the water rather than pull at it, and really finish my stroke off at the back end.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that the linked drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points! Have a go at the swim golf; maybe rather than thinking about trying to swim faster aim to swim harder.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Are you ready to get in shape? 

If you are interested in one of the training programs with professional coach, you can make an appointment now. You can also submit a video of your training to get a professional assessment of your current performance form.

Share This