Distance per Stroke vs. Swim Stroke Rate: How to Find Your Swimming Cadence

Do you know your swimming cadence?

Ask any high-level swimmer their stroke count per length and their stroke rate and most will tell you without hesitation. Yet few age-group swimmers, masters swimmers, or triathletes even know what swimming stroke rate is.

Training to improve your own personal Swimming Equation (the relationship between distance per stroke and stroke rate) is one of the most powerful ways to measure your swimming performance and your improvement. Your personal swimming equation offers insights into your swimming technique and fitness that simple lap times just cannot reveal.

Swimming cadence or stroke rate is the time it takes your arm to make one full cycle from hand entry through the underwater pull to recovery and back to hand entry.

You need to know it. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’re leaving speed in the water.

Fast swimming relies on good technique because the medium of water is very dense. Little differences in swimming technique have big consequences:

  • If your stroke rate is too slow, you’re gliding.
  • If your stroke rate is too fast, your underwater pull may be inefficient.

Stroke rate is half of the equation that determines your swim speed. For an introduction to stroke rate, take a look at this post The Swimming Equation.

Then you can get started with your own Swimming Equation by learning how to take your stroke rate. It’s simple, easy, and a powerful way to start becoming a faster swimmer. You’ll need a friend and a stopwatch and this method here:

SSST How to Time Freestyle Swimming Stroke Rate Cadence Swim Speed Secrets

How to Find Your Stroke Rate

  1. Get a friend, a stopwatch, a clipboard, paper, pencil, and head to the pool.
  2. Warm up.
  3. Swim a series of 100s at your goal race pace.
  4. During these, your friend should time one full arm cycle. That is, start the stopwatch as soon as your leading arm hits the water and then stop it when that same arm hits the water surface in front of you again. (It doesn’t matter which arm.)
  5. Your friendly assistant should time your stroke several times during each 100. She should also occasionally time two full cycles (right arm then left arm) and divide that time by two to minimize error from reaction time.

Now that you have some data, review the stroke rates your friend wrote down. Look for the number that shows up most often. This is your stroke rate. Check out this post on what your stroke rate means to your swimming.

For a complete discussion of freestyle stroke count and stroke rate, what it means, and how knowing your stroke data can make you faster, take a look at Swim Speed Secrets.

Turning TV Time into Tube Time

Reader Beth, who has been writing about her progress with the Swim Speed Workouts program through comments on the Swim Speed Workouts Test Team reports, makes an excellent suggestion for comparing your stroke rate to the pros: Watch them race on TV (on the USA Swimming Olympic Trials, for example) or via online video and move your arms along. If their stroke rate feels fast, you probably need to speed up your arm cycles. You can also turn tube time into Tube Time: get your swim tubing and do a tubing set that matches the cadence of the pros on screen.

If you own Swim Speed Workouts, the green toolkit cards include an introduction to stroke rate. Many of the workouts include drills and fast turnover sets that improve stroke rate. Workout 5-1 includes drills on arm extension designed to help you find the best arm extension for you.

Sheila Taormina’s Swim Speed Series reveals the world’s fastest way to swim. This article was adapted from Swim Speed Secrets: Master the Freestyle Technique Used by the World’s Fastest Swimmers

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