Stroke Length ... what's all the fuss?
Most videos of elite swimmers are posted on the web at half speed. So
every once in a while, I double the playback speed to get back to real
time. And the frequency at which those folks are kicking their legs
and pin-wheeling their arms is always a revelation. I'm not sure I
would believe how fast their limbs are flying except that there's
often a timer displayed which does indeed show the seconds ticking off
at the correct interval.
Okay, so what's the big deal you say?
Well, I went to the usa-swimming website and got a little data and
compared it to how I swim. The data is listed below. The data from
the elite swimmers was taken from Spring Nationals, 2000. All data
has been averaged.
MEN CYCLE TIME (SEC/CYCLE) CYCLE RATE (CYCLES/MIN DISTANCE PER
400 FREE 1.44 42.86 2.35
WOMEN CYCLE TIME (SEC/CYCLE) CYCLE RATE (CYCLES/MIN DISTANCE PER
400 FREE 1.3 45.45 2.08
SWIMMER CYCLE TIME (SEC/CYCLE) CYCLE RATE (CYCLES/MIN DISTANCE PER
400 FREE 1.88 31.88 2.15
The recreational swimmer in the table is obviously me. It was 400
yards with a swim time of 5:20, or 1:20 per 100 yards. I took an
average of 8.5 cycles per 25 yards (17 arm pulls). (I computed the
Distance Per Cycle in meters). I expect these numbers to be about
mid-pack for recreation/masters swimmers.
The current paradigm in swimming is to work exclusively on stroke
length. Play "swim golf", count strokes, work on streamlining, etc.
But what does the data show? My stroke length is actually quite
comparable to elites. Not because I'm a great swimmer, but because
I'm gliding so much more than them. If the goal is to go faster
(which mine is), then the data really screams:
INCREASE YOUR STROKE RATE!!!!!!
I plan to buy one of those stroke cadence meters that fits under your
swim cap or straps to your goggles. They emit a beep everytime your
hand is supposed to hit the water for a given cadence. You can
program them for various beep intervals.
My swim cadence is terrible. The elites are well into the 40's for
strokes per minute, and I'm barely breaking 30. And of course, at
shorter distance, their rates go up even more. Both men and women are
in the 60's for 50 meter sprints. Does this mean I should increase
stroke rate, even if it means I become a "thraser" or "near-drowner".
No, of course not. But the biggest payback I can achieve will be in
stroke rate, not stroke length.
It makes sense to attack the problem from both sides. That is,
Distance Per Stroke AND Stroke Rate. After all, that's what cyclists
do, isn't it? They spend time pushing big gears to get strenght, but
also "spin" at ultra high cadences to improve their smoothness and
also their sprint times. Why would swimming be any different.
The reason my stroke rate is low is because I don't race. If you
race, and want to be competitive, you naturally have to go for high
cadences to keep up with your competitors. The whole "increase stroke
rate" thing can be over done, like everything else. But in today's
swim culture, not only is it not practiced, it's treated as the wrong
way to swim.