In the last Swim Hack blog I spoke about how to use the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro to really dial in your paced efforts in the pool.

The advantages of using devices like this (I actually don’t know if there are any similar gadgets out there – if you know of one, let us know) are fantastic as training to timed pace intervals allows you to devlop an efficient breathing pattern, focus on body position, and understand the ‘feel’ of the water.

These are fundamentals of great triathlon swimming.

Another exremely important aspect of swimming is your stroke rate.

As with with the other disciplines,  how your body functions through the repetitive motions of the sport greatly affects your ability to hold form under duress.

Stroke rate is highly indiviual but there is a known range in which we as coaches reccomend for optimal efficiency in the water.

A slow stroke rate – outside of the optimal range – places a lot more stress on the functioning muscles, namely the pecs and shoulders as you spend more time ‘under tension’ as you slowly pull your arms through the water.
This increased load then plays havok on your body position as you fight to maintain that taught and strong line.  A really simple way to identify this is if you tend to pop your head high out of the water each for each breath.

Conversley your swim efficiency can also be ruined by an excessively fast stroke rate, where your arm-speed exceeds a rate that you can maintain, driving your oxygen rate through the roof and leaving you unnecessarily short of breath.

So what is the optimal range for your stroke rate (SkR)? How do you know what your current SkR is?

Here’s where that little yellow gadget comes in (again).

Obviously you need to know what your current SkR is – your Stroke per minute. And you really should understand this for your varying efforts: your easy efforts will require a (slightly) different SkR than your faster efforts. I say only ‘slightly’ as this is where supreme efficiency evolves from: mastering very subtle changes in Stroke Rate as you increase or decrease your efforts allows you to hold great body position and form in the water and minmise those dead spots (inefficiencies).

That is why an optimal Stroke Rate is crucial.

(HACK) So get a friend, or fellow black-line bandit to count your stroke rate (middle of the pool) for 10 seconds. Simply multiply that number by 6 and you have your current stroke rate. Easy.

The fun part (and yes this does add an element of excitement to your sessions) is to now begin working on improving that stroke rate.

Your optimal range is between 70-90 stroke per minute. This range allows you to remain super efficient across all of your swim speeds. Some athletes feel more comfortable in the lower end of that range and some in the upper end. Remember that what works for you won’t be the same as other athletes.

If you are outside of that range then you need to slowly graduate from your current SkR to a better one. Start by increasing the beat of the tempo trainer by 1-4 beats over your efforts. This way you can begin to understand your own stroke rate, develponig feel for each count and really start to dial in a sense for the water.

Keep increasing until you get to an SkR that really pushes you too far and you become in-efficient. Then simply reverse the proccess and work backwards to find your level.

What you will find, over a few short sessions, is that you can play around with your SkR within that optimal range: learn to understand how you respond when swimming in the upper-end – was it comfortable? How did it affect your times? Were you able to maintain that arm speed or was it too fast?

By listening to the body you can begin to understand how you respond to the changes in arm speed and really dial in your preffered Stroke Rate. From here you can take your swimming to another level because you will know exactly how you need to change gears during training and racing.

Remember in racing you don’t get that little rest before you lift the pace; it’s done on the fly and you need to be able to handle that or it becomes a real problem.

Something else to remember: this is a sport that requires efficiency. Slow movememnts become ineffective patterns that tax the muscles and place great oxygen demands on the body. When you throw the time factor of IM into this, you can see how a lot of athletes ‘fall apart’ during a race.

By understanding your stroke rate and learning how to master it you can not only develop your athletic efficiency but you will also become a much more intuitive athlete in the process.

And if you want to improve, then you’d better start mastering your stroke rate!

Make friends with the Tempr Trainer.

Enjoy the BEEP.

Coach Pete Lever