Swimming Distance per Stroke and Swim Stroke Rate

Swimmers and swimming stroke count

Ryan Lochte Breathing
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Many coaches talk about distance per stroke (DPS) and strokes/minute or strokes/second (stroke rate - SR) or even seconds/stroke - but what does it all mean? Should I worry about how many strokes I take when I swim?

Yes and no! You shouldn't worry about it, but you need to practice efficiency to get better at it - and that means maximizing your DPS and finding the correct rhythm for you - you strokes/second or strokes/minute.

If you know how many strokes you take in 100 meters, and you know your time for 100 meters, then you can figure all of it out. This is ignoring turns and starts - but if you always do it the same way, you will have the same results. And this will work for freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, even sidestroke.

Stan Swimmer completes the 100 meter freestyle in 1:00, using 54 stroke cycles. What is this "cycles" thing? Instead of counting each arm, just count one arm. A cycle begins when the first arm enters the water, and ends when that arm recovers and enters the water again. That is 1 cycle or two strokes. It is easier to count for most people.

The math and more on page 2....

Swim On!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen, DPT on September 17th 2015.

Many coaches talk about distance per stroke (DPS) and strokes/minute or strokes/second (stroke rate - SR) or even seconds/stroke - but what does it all mean?
  • Distance = 100 meters
  • Time = 1-minute (60 seconds)
  • Stroke (cycles) = 54

Now the math:

  • DPS = distance/# cycles used for that distance = 100/54 = 1.85 meters/cycle
  • SR = #cycles/time = 54/1:00 = .9 cycles/second
  • Seconds/Stroke = time/#cycles = 1:00/54 = 1.11 seconds/cycle

    So what!?! You want to increase your efficiency - get the most with the least, up to a point. You might be able to cover 10 meters with one stroke, but move so slowly that a snail passes you - not a good balance between SR and DPS.

    You can count your cycles during different sets in practice and compare that with your time for those repeats - if you are putting out the same effort, you can tell when you have found a good balance - you will be taking the lowest number of strokes without losing speed. It takes practice, but with time you will find your optimum mix. As you improve your conditioning and your technique, you may find DPS changing; if it is a positive change, then it is usually a good one, indicating that you are getting more out of each stroke.

    Swim On!

    Many coaches talk about distance per stroke (DPS) and strokes/minute or strokes/second (stroke rate - SR) or even seconds/stroke - but what does it all mean?

    A big increase in rate might mean you are tired or need to do some more technique work. For example, if Stan's rate remains the same, and he swims a 100 in 1:10, then he would have taken 63 stroke cycles, with a DPS of 1.59 meters - he took more strokes and went slower, an indicator that something might need fixing!

    A negative change, such as an increased SR but a decrease in overall time could indicate that you are "slipping" or not getting the most out of every stroke. Slow down, work on your drills, and have a coach or workout partner look at your technique - or use a video camera. Try to get back to your good technique; style will always get you further than speed in the long run!

    A fun drill that can help both SR and DPS is "Golf" (no caddy needed).

    1. Swim a 50 (or any distance that you can do 18 more times).
    2. Count your cycles and get your time for the swim.
    3. Add these numbers together for your "par" score.
    4. Now swim 9 x 50 with :15 to :30 rest.
    5. Add your count and time for each 50 to get your score for that "hole".
    6. Compare each hole to your "par" and add or subtract as you go - 1 over, even, 1 under, etc.
    7. Take a break after the first 9, then do it again, using the counting method.
    8. How did you do? even? under? over? Try this once a week - you will get a feel for ways to maximize your DPS while holding the same time.

      There are lots of other ways to use DPS and SR to check how you are doing, including comparing the counts day to day or race to race. It can indicate fatigue, stroke flaws, or improvement.

      Swim On!