How to train stroke rate and stroke length in the same practice
I wanted to share how I used a tempo trainer today to train my stroke length while still working on a higher stroke rate.
Why is it important? velocity = stroke rate x distance per stroke. e.g. 1 stroke/sec x 1 m/stroke = 1 m/sec (50 sec for a 50m length or 1:40/100m). There are 2 ways to get faster at swimming from a mathematical point of view. Stroke faster or go further per stroke. Here are the issues
1) stroke faster: most people shorten their stroke due to fatigue and worsening form when they try to stroke faster ("harder"). A smaller factor is that stroking faster allows less time for glide so the stroke length will almost always be shorter.
2) increase stroke length: Most people will slow down their stroke rate in order to get maximum glide & distance out of their stroke.
So focusing only on maximum length or maximum turnover will almost always make you a slower swimmer, or at least make your form go to pot. But how do you know the difference between just being tired because you are swimming fast and swimming with poor form?
Take the above example and suppose I add 5 cm, or about 2 inches of distnace to each of my strokes at the rate of 1 stroke / second. I'd complete that 100m length at a speed of 1 stroke/sec x 1.05 m/stroke or 1.05m/sec. that 100m length now takes 95 seconds, or 1:35. I've taken 5 seconds off my 100m time by adding 5cm to my stroke. 5cm doesn't sound like much but even a 1cm increase in stroke length will speed up your swim when extrapolated over 1000m or 1500m races.
Here's how I did this in practice today
After adequate warmup, I did a set to establish the theme of consistent stroke length in my neuromuscular memory. I swam the following set with the goal of maintaining the same SPL for each 50m throughout the set: (total set 500m)
At the end of the 200m, I matched my SPL within one of the original 50m (38-39 SPL/25m). So at that easy, self-selected stroke rate I was swimming consistently with no breakdown in my form. I could probably continue at that rate with no breakdown in form for quite a while and that would be a good way to get in some restorative recovery swimming.
But I want to get faster...
So my next step is to increase the stroke rate and again attempt to remain consistent in my stroke count. An increase in strokes indicates worsening form, and a 'breakpoint' for that stroke rate. Rather than try to continue swimming further with poor form and have bad habits reinforced, I was able to identify when I was simply working hard yet swimming well vs. working hard and swimming poorly.
here are my results from teh set with the tempo trainer set at 1.1 seconds / stroke:
(total set 500m)
** see below for why I chose 1.1 sec/stroke to work on
1st 50m: 44 strokes
1st 100m: 44 & 45 strokes
after the 100m at 1.1sec/stroke I was very tired and decided to try and repeat my 100m at teh same stroke count, rather than go longer
2nd 100m: 44 & 45 strokes
After this 100m, it was clear that fatigue at this faster stroke rate was setting in quickly. While my stroke count stayed the same, I felt taht I couldn't complete a 150 at that rate while maintaining good form. (I could have tried it but I didn't). Options at this point in order to regain good form were to: a) slow stroke rate b) increase rest or c) decrease repeat distance. Since my goal was to improve my form at a higher stroke rate than I'm used to, option a was out. Because the 2nd 100 was done after about a minutes rest from the 1st, option b did not seem reasonable. So I used option c and lowered my repeat back to 50m.
next 50m: 44 strokes.
I was again back to my previous baseline, so I incrased the distance
next 100m: 44 & 49 strokes. Suddenly it was clear that my form had gone to crap as I'd added 4 strokes (and 4.4 seconds) to my 2nd 50m. So I decreased back to 50m repeats:
next 50m: 43 strokes. In this repeat, I'd managed to take a stroke off from all my previous efforts, despite mounting fatigue. Focused concentrated effort after a short rest and a "primed" nervous system made this possible, and I swam that 50m 1.1 seconds faster than each of my previous 50m sets. Cool.
I decided to do one last 50m repeat and try to repeat the 43 strokes, and i hit 44 strokes...so my increased stroke length was short lived, but I've done it once. My next efforts at a tempo traner setting of 1.1 will includee similar sets but with the bar raised. My choices will be to go longer while keeping SPL around 44-45, or continue to imprint the form I had to hit 43 SPL as I'd done once in this short practice.
I share this not to try to stir up debate or controversy, but to demonstrate a way in which you can both increase your stroke rate, while still using the theme of stroke counting and maximizing distance per stroke to get faster.
** I chose 1.1 sec/stroke because most of my work int eh past 6 months has been at rates between 1.2 & 1.3 sec/stroke. YOu can review my logs since Jan to see detailed descriptions of these types of sets. I did an OWS in Lake Placid 2 weeks ago adn watched my "competition" stroke on video...and it was clear I was swimming in competitionat a much higher stroke rate, but I haven't been training at the higher rate. So some brief experimentation last week with the tempo trainer and timing my sets led me to believe taht 1.1 sec/stroke was a good poitn to begin training my form to try and maximize DPS for that stroke rate, before trying to increase stroke rate yet again. (the testing I did showed me that faster stroke rates did result in faster swim times, but buy a much smaller %age than the rate increase...so I thought this was my biggest bang for the buck)
Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Level 3 USAT Coach
USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD