Stroke Data Shows You How to Become a Faster Swimmer

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

When you begin swimming the techniques explored in Swim Speed Strokes, you’ll be taking on Olympic-level techniques, which means you will not just swim faster, you will swim effectively.

Swimming effectively allows you to enjoy multiple gears in your swimming. You will be able to swim easy, moderate, fast, sprint, and in-between gears such as easy/moderate and moderate/fast.

You will be in full control of the effort you put into your stroke (the gear you choose), and that effort will translate directly to the speed you travel. You will be able to choose the right gear for a race or the set you’re doing in practice.

The key to swimming in various gears is to maintain your stroke mechanics no matter which speed you choose. Nelson Deibel, 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, explains it succinctly:

“You must hold the same amount of water when you want to go fast.”

What does it mean to hold the same amount of water when you want to go fast? It means that rather than spinning your arms and kicking your legs in a flurry of activity when you want to go fast, you maintain your curvilinear path and continue to focus on the connection among the components, building power and speed within that connection. It means channeling your champion spirit in the right direction.

There is a valuable tool in swimming that lets you know if you are directing your energy the right way and holding water as you ratchet up the speed. It is called stroke data. Stroke data is a set of numbers that reveal the details behind the ultimate measure of success in swimming—time. Think of time like the final score of a baseball game, with stroke data the statistics behind the score.

 Knowing your stroke data will show you the path to becoming a faster swimmer.

In Swim Speed Secrets, Sheila Taormina introduces the concepts of the Swimming Equation, which is the formula that determines how long it will take you to swim any given distance. The Swimming Equation is this:

 Strokes per Length x Stroke Rate = Seconds per Length

This website introduces it in two posts. You don’t need to read them now to understand the ideas behind stroke data, but it would help.

Those posts introduce the ideas. Sheila covers the concepts in full detail in her book Swim Speed Secrets.

So what is your stroke data?

Any swimmer can gather stroke data on his or her own swims, and use elite swimmers’ numbers as a model and a target, to make progress toward becoming as proficient a swimmer as possible. Building proficiency into your stroke requires understanding the relation­ship between two pieces of data:

  • Stroke count
  • Stroke rate

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

You can learn how to find your stroke rate on this post, aptly titled: How to Find Your Stroke Rate.

How to Take Your Stroke Count

To take your stroke count, simply count each time your arms enter the water for a stroke.

In breaststroke and butterfly this is a straightforward task since the arms move synchronously. In freestyle and backstroke you have two choices; you can count as each arm enters the water, or you can count in full stroke cycles, which is every time an arm on one side of the body enters the water—from right arm to right arm or left to left. It does not matter which way you count, but when com­paring your count with others you need to use the same method.

In Swim Speed Strokes, stroke counts are gathered as full stroke cycles. If you prefer to count when each arm enters the water in freestyle and backstroke, that is fine. Sim­ply divide your number in half to make the conversion to a full-stroke cycle count.

When you compare your stroke count with that of other swimmers, also note the size of the pool in which the data was taken. Competitions/practices are held in 25-yard, 25-meter, or 50-meter pools. Stroke counts obviously vary depending on the size of the pool.

If a swimmer takes 10 full stroke cycles to cover the 20 meters, and if they complete each stroke in 2 seconds, then the swimmer’s time for the 20 meters is 20 seconds, calculated using the Swimming Equation:

Strokes per Length x Stroke Rate = Seconds per Length

(10 strokes) x (2 seconds per stroke) = 20 seconds

This equation shows swimmers that once they are on the surface stroking, there are only two ways to get faster. They can either take fewer strokes to cover the 20 meters or take their strokes at a faster rate. Simple enough, right? Lower one of the numbers and you will lower your time. Yes, in theory it is simple, but in real life it’s more complicated. The two factors in our equation are not nec­essarily mutually exclusive. Oftentimes the efforts a swimmer makes to lower one number adversely affects the other number.

In Sheila’s new book Swim Speed Strokes, Sheila provides stroke data for 29 elite swimming performances from actual swim meets, often winning and world record-setting swims. Here are a few of the stroke data swims she uses in the book:

  • Dana Vollmer, 2012 Olympics, 100m butterfly (gold medal and world record)
  • Michael Phelps, 2012 Olympics, 100m butterfly (gold medal)
  • Elizabeth Beisel, 2014 NCAA Division I Swimming Championships, 400m IM
  • Mary T. Meagher (“Madame Butterfly”), 1981 U.S. National Championships, 200m butterfly (gold medal and world record)

She also compares superstar swimmer and NBC Olympic commentator Rowdy Gaines’s stroke technique and data today—as a masters world-record holder—to his technique and data from 33 years ago when he broke the world records in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyles.

Swim Speed Strokes shows why stroke data is a valuable tool that all swim­mers should understand and put to use.