Why would you want to lower stroke count?
Well, if it’s too high of course. 😉 So how do you know if it’s too high?When swimming at an easy pace, ie, not adding much power or force, you should be able to move forward through the water with relative ease indicating that you’re well balanced and streamlined in the water.
Everyone will find a limit where either swimming easier turns into drilling, or there is a lower limit to how slow you can swim before you feel you start to sink. Just above that point…what’s your stroke count?
You can reduce Stroke Count or (strokes per length) by reducing drag or increasing power. Stroke count is only a reflection of two competing forces water resistance vs stroking force.
These are some additional ways to think about balancing two swim skills to achieve speed in swimming:
Streamlining vs power
Flexibility vs Mobility
Slipperiness vs Strength
Based on your height, an “ideal number” for your stroke count can vary. For a 5’2″ person, maybe 18 is a conservative lower end target. For a 6’2″ person, perhaps 15 a good lower end target. If you can’t hit those targets at ANY speed…there are streamlining and /or balance issues…basically problems with drag.
As you increase your tempo, time between strokes decreases, travel distance decreases and stroke count goes up. What’s the upper limit of the number of strokes where you still feel smooth and in control? For me…around 21-22 SPL in a SCY pool when swimming comfortably fast.
Can you choose your stroke count at will? This would indicate that you’ve got great control over your form. Does your stroke count vary widely (maybe more than 2 SPL) when swimming at the same sustainable pace ? This suggests poor technique or technique that’s not wired in…as an 18 stroke 25 yd swim at 30 seconds is a very different stroke than a 16 or 20 SPL 25 yd swim at 30 seconds.
The stroke rate ramp test is a good test…but it only shows you your current comfort level. It doesn’t help you diagnose if your SPL and tempo ranges are good for you…only what feels good to you now. Unless we all have perfect technique, what feels good can always been improved.
FWIW at 5’3″ I can swim equally comfortably at 14 SPL or at 22 SPL…the difference is speed. at 14 SPL I’m swimming 1:50/100s easily and relaxed. at 22 SPL I’m swimming 1:30s and getting tired. A sustainable 1000 yd swim for me is around 1:40/100 and 18/19 SPL…unwavering from that narrow range.
Finally, if tempo stays the same, lowering your SPL (by either improving streamlining or adding efficient propulsion) will make you go faster!
Lots of good reasons to consider lowering SPL as part of a well balanced diet of swim practice and improvement exercises.
Note: This originally appeared in the USA Triathlon Coaching email forum in January, 2013. Going through and cleaning up old emails I thought it was worth sharing here.