What is Stroke Count?
Stroke count is the number of strokes you take each length of the pool. You count both your left and your right arm strokes and most amateur swimmers generally require somewhere between 16-30 strokes to complete 1 length of a 25m pool. Stroke count is something that most swimmers have done at one time or another and reducing your stroke count (swimming one length with less strokes) is generally viewed as an improvement in your efficiency.
What is stroke rate?
Stroke rate is the number of strokes you take in a single minute, in essence, this is the speed of your stroke. It is very much like cycling cadence (the number of times your legs turn round in a minute). Stroke count is very easy to do… You just swim 1 length and count your strokes. Stroke rate by comparison is much harder to calculate, that’s why very few swimmers actually know what their stroke rate is.
Let’s give an example:
A swimmer completes 1 length of a 25m pool, she takes 24 strokes to get there and it takes her 30 seconds to do so. Her ‘STROKE COUNT’ is 24 and her STROKE RATE is 48. How did we calculate that? Well is she swam for 30 seconds and took 24 strokes, then we can estimate that she’ll take 48 strokes in 1 minute. You could of course set the ‘bleeper’ on your watch and just swim for 1 minute counting your strokes, that would work. Alternatively get someone else to watch you and count for 1 minute, that would also work.
So just to clarify this, your STROKE RATE is how many strokes you take each minute and your STROKE COUNT is how far you move every stroke. The ideal would be that you would move your arms really fast and go really far every stroke, that’s the best scenario. In reality, that’s not how things tend to work.
The over-gliders and the over-raters.
There is a balance between stroke count and stroke rate. What tends to happen is that those who have a low stroke count (travel far each stroke) also have a low stroke rate. These are the over-gliders. The over-gliders look really graceful, they glide a long way each stroke and may require as little as 16 strokes to swim a full length. People often comment on how smooth and elegant they look, but their arms move VERY.. VERY.. slowly. At this point, it’s important to remind you that whilst swimming is an aesthetic sport, it’s now what you look like that counts… it’s how quickly you reach the other end. They may look graceful, but are they fast?
By contrast, the over-raters will have a much faster arm turnover. The stroke rate will be very high, but they are not getting very far each stroke. As a consequence, stroke count is also high. When you see these people swimming, it all looks a bit rushed and you instantly want them to slow down, stop thrashing and try and reach a little further each stroke.
The 2 examples above are the extremes of each style and ideally, you want to be in the middle. The first step of course is to know where you are on that scale. So your mission this week, is to calculate stroke count and stroke rate. Go to the pool, swim 1 length and count your strokes (stroke count). Then swim for 1 minute and count your strokes (stroke rate). The best scenario, is high stroke rate and low stroke count. The worst scenario is high low stroke rate and high stroke count.
There is a relationship between the 2 things. If you try to speed up your stroke rate by making your arms go faster, you’ll probably find that you’ll take shorter strokes as a consequence (so your stroke count also goes up). Likewise, if you try to reduce stroke count (take less strokes per length) you’ll probably slow your stroke rate to achieve it.
What’s normal? Well this will depend on many factors, including how tall you are and how long your arms are! But here’s a rough guide:
Stroke count 25m pool:
27-30 Very high
Stroke rate 1 minute:
66-75 Very high
Remember, just because it’s low or high doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. Elite swimmers can have a stroke rate of 80-90 strokes per minute, but they don’t compromise their stroke count, that’s why they are so fast! In the next blog we’ll examine this further and discuss how to progress your swimming!
The Endurance Store is an independent running, triathlon and open water swimming store in Wrightington, West Lancashire. We’re just off junction 27M6 and stock a wide range of swimming wetsuits and swimming accessories. We also run weekly, coached open water swim sessions from April to September, you can see our coaching services at The Endurance Coach.