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Number of strokes per length (25 yds)?
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I swim with a masters group and my instructor has been working with me to reduce the number of strokes I take per 25. I usually am at 20-22 spl, but that climbs to 25 when sprinting 25s or 50s. I am slow. My typical pace is 1:40-1:45 per 100 for longer sets, and 1:35 for a 200 or 400. When I get the spl down to 17-19, my instructor has told me that my stroke looks much better, smoother, better rotation, etc. Should I be concentrating on reducing the spl number? I have been doing tris for several years, and my ow times are better than my pool times due to the wetsuit.

It feels like I am working too hard when I take 20-22 spl, but I don't want to sacrifice speed.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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This is per length, yards pool, with a push from the wall?

Definitely work on getting this down. Even 17 is a tad high, but it's a good target.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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I think you should focus on better form, technique and holding the water throughout the stroke. Your strokes per length will automatically come down improving those.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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To me, SPL is descriptive, not prescriptive. There isn't a specific target that you should strive for, as there are a lot of things that affect it.

That said, your strike count indicates to me that you are slipping a lot of water on the pull. Focus on holding more water, and the SPL will come down as a byproduct of that.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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runner66 wrote:
I swim with a masters group and my instructor has been working with me to reduce the number of strokes I take per 25. I usually am at 20-22 spl, but that climbs to 25 when sprinting 25s or 50s. I am slow. My typical pace is 1:40-1:45 per 100 for longer sets, and 1:35 for a 200 or 400. When I get the spl down to 17-19, my instructor has told me that my stroke looks much better, smoother, better rotation, etc. Should I be concentrating on reducing the spl number? I have been doing tris for several years, and my ow times are better than my pool times due to the wetsuit.

It feels like I am working too hard when I take 20-22 spl, but I don't want to sacrifice speed.

Strokes per length is kind of meaningless. Is your wingspan 7 feet or 4 foot 6". What is the length of your body and side of feet and hands? There is no correct number.

Sadly there are ton of coaches standing on deck thinking there is a correct number that is closer to the number for Phelps vs the number for someone like Janet Evans. The hydrodynamics and "oars" of different humans are different. It's like using the hydrodynamics of an Olympic rowing shell and associated oars and then trying to apply the same to a canoe. Why would you ever do that? Yet there is this prevalence of coaches who think that what works for the rowing shell should be applied to the canoe when it comes to swimming!

See what Jason wrote. I am not an expert on the swimming side, but I studied some amount of fluid mechanics in my earlier career to know that some of these coaches are dead wrong and creating dead/stall/high drag positions in the hydrodynamics of the body in the water by artificially pushing really high stroke lengths that are not applicable to certain body types.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [devashish_paul] [ In reply to ]
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You are not an expert on swimming, yet criticize coaches who probably have more expertise. The difference in stroke rate and technique between Michael Phelps and Janet Evans is surprisingly small. The comparison between a paddling a canoe and rowing a boat is a dumb one. Watch any swim meet (any swim meet where people are swimmers- a competitive high school meet or an age group meet will suffice)- the difference between technique of the faster swimmers is small.

As noted by other commenters, your number of strokes is high. There are several ways to lower it. One is to simply focus on lowering it. Your technique will improve- it will be forced to if you hope to get down the length of a pool in the same amount of time with fewer strokes. Or you can to drill work to improve your technique, and then focus on lowering stroke count.

Technique bits to focus on, in order:
1) Neutral head position. If you are looking forward, your hips will sink. Take a normal standing position, and take that body position and put it in the water. That means you are looking down. Then tilt your eyes forward a little. A LITTLE.
2) When your hands are in the water, your fingertips should be pointed to the bottom, and your elbow should be to the side of the pool.
3) When you are swimming, your left hand should wait out in front of your body at the "11" position until your right hand nears your face. Then it can start to pull. Then your right hand should wait at the "1" position until your left hand nears your face. This will keep you long and efficient.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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On point 3) That will reduce stoke count, but IMO that's too much of a glide phase. I like to see the catch start no later than when the opposite arm is about to release from the water. That gets the strong pull phase of the stroke starting when the opposite hand is around the head, and if the shoulders and hips are in sync, creates what Gary hall sr describes as a nice coupling motion.

Seems like what you are describing is a semi-catch up drill. Which is a good drill for helping improve efficiency, but I wouldn't do regular swim sets like that.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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I think of SPL as a directional metric. It tells me how good my form/technique is. When I am fresh and my form is on point my SPL is lower. When I am deep into a set/workout and powering through instead of maintaining form my SPL is higher. SPL becomes an indicator and reminds me that form is more important than power.

As others have said, your goal shouldn't be to lower your SPL. Your goal should be to improve your technique, which will naturally lower your SPL.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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runner66 wrote:
I swim with a masters group and my instructor has been working with me to reduce the number of strokes I take per 25. I usually am at 20-22 spl, but that climbs to 25 when sprinting 25s or 50s. I am slow. My typical pace is 1:40-1:45 per 100 for longer sets, and 1:35 for a 200 or 400. When I get the spl down to 17-19, my instructor has told me that my stroke looks much better, smoother, better rotation, etc. Should I be concentrating on reducing the spl number? I have been doing tris for several years, and my ow times are better than my pool times due to the wetsuit.

It feels like I am working too hard when I take 20-22 spl, but I don't want to sacrifice speed.


beachedbeluga wrote:


As noted by other commenters, your number of strokes is high. There are several ways to lower it. One is to simply focus on lowering it. Your technique will improve- it will be forced to if you hope to get down the length of a pool in the same amount of time with fewer strokes. Or you can to drill work to improve your technique, and then focus on lowering stroke count.


This is what it boils down to. OP is aiming for better efficiency and technique. OP, you feel like you're working harder when you are at a higher SPL count because you are. When you go to 25 SPL during a sprint you are increasing your turnover rate and losing some of your technique in your pull and form. Throw on paddles and a pull buoy and your SPL will decrease, your stroke rate will probably decrease, and your technique will probably improve.

I think what Jason and I are saying is, rather than focusing on reducing your SPL, use it as an indicator for improvement in form for a given effort.

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Last edited by: way2sloow: Apr 21, 17 10:58
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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beachedbeluga wrote:
1) Neutral head position. If you are looking forward, your hips will sink.

Why will this happen? You aren't rotating around some pivot.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [way2sloow] [ In reply to ]
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Pretty much that.

As an example, every so often I do play games in the pool and try to get my stroke count down as low as possible, speed be damned. (Without dolphin kicking the entire length underwater, of course) I think my pr is 9 strokes, it might be eight. (That's one left + one right = 2 strokes). To do that I have to cheat, ie introducing a massive amount of glide on each stroke, over kicking, and not breathing. It is also substantially slower than my normal cruising form, which is anywhere between 14 and 18 strokes depending on how in shape I am. Better fitness = Better form = lower stroke count at a given speed and higher sustainable speed for a given distance.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [klehner] [ In reply to ]
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Yes you are-your body has two axes- one at your waist, and one that goes the length of your body. Stand up, and push your butt out- your upper body leans forward. If you tilt your head up while swimming freestyle (or butterfly, or breaststroke), your hips will sink. Try it for yourself- next time you go to the pool, float on your stomach. Then, tilt your head up. You will sink.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [devashish_paul] [ In reply to ]
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Dev, I'll throw two facts out for you.


For the 96 people I have critical pace testing data on, stroke count, (not even adjusted for height) accounts for 50% of the variation in speed.

In 9 years of critical pace testing, we have never had anyone with a stroke count of 19 or higher ever get a time faster than 6 minutes for the 500 yard time trial in our 25 yard pool. Precisely one person has done it at 18 strokes per length. I know there are people around the country who could do it, but it certainly isn't common.

So it is a long way from meaningless.

I do agree with most other folks insofar as the question is how to get faster at swimming - that taking a lot of strokes leads one to think that your catch and streamline could be markedly improved. Just trying to slow down or swim catch up to take fewer strokes isn't the way to go. We need to figure out what about a person's stroke makes them take more strokes to get across the pool; and then fix whatever that is.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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That's somewhat of an individual thing, I think, depending on neck mobility maybe?

I can't try your test because I cant float on my stomach or back without my legs sinking, no matter what I do.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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beachedbeluga wrote:
Yes you are-your body has two axes- one at your waist, and one that goes the length of your body. Stand up, and push your butt out- your upper body leans forward. If you tilt your head up while swimming freestyle (or butterfly, or breaststroke), your hips will sink. Try it for yourself- next time you go to the pool, float on your stomach. Then, tilt your head up. You will sink.

The analogy between swimming and standing on the ground doesn't hold, as you aren't pushing against something in the water to raise your head. You are using muscles in a more-or-less inert medium. If you were in a weightless environment (like floating in a pool or in outer space) and you tilted your head back, your *feet* would also move back (towards the back of your head), exactly opposite to what you are saying will happen.

If you are floating on your stomach in the pool, and you use your neck and back muscles to tilt your head up, there's no force that will sink your lower body and not your whole body: your whole body will ride lower in the water to compensate for the head being above your center of gravity. That's not the same as "your hips will sink."

Are you trying to say that riding lower in the water is the same as "your hips will sink"?

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [runner66] [ In reply to ]
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There's some good discussion on this thread, but I'll add my two cents. Without knowing who your coach is and if they know what they're talking about or not, here's what I think...
If you are seeing an improved stroke by focusing on distance per stroke, they it seems you have your answer. I agree that Janet Evans and other more recent swimmers had success with high stroke rates, but many more swimmers have had success with lower stroke rates. The missing component to this discussion is that these ELITE swimmers everyone is trying to compare to have kicks that alone can be faster than your 100yd pace. You have to do what's right for you. Everyone has a best stroke rate based on who they are. Yours may be 16, it may be 24, or more likely it's in the range of 17-19 as your coach has identified. He's probably seeing you swim a proper, complete arm stroke (including a proper finish), which is why your stroke rate is lower when you concentrate and higher when you swim. Especially since you mention your wetsuit OW swim times are better, I'd guess your kick isn't the greatest and so a higher stroke rate isn't a sin. However, if you're not performing a proper stroke cycle (from catch to finish) and allowing each stroke to develop properly (starting the hip rotation before the pull begins) then you may be taking more strokes than what is most efficient. I'll also comment that the timing of the stroke proposed by whoever wrote about the clock, etc. is one that I agree with completely and was surprised to see others (whose swim opinions I respect) disagree with it.

Again, if you trust your coach, let him/her continue to guide you.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [klehner] [ In reply to ]
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Well, confounding all that is the issue that raising or lowering the head will affect the centre of buoyancy (how it does I haven't bothered to figure out)

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [klehner] [ In reply to ]
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Yes you are pushing against something, you are pushing against gravity. By lifting your head, you now have more mass above your center of gravity, and you will sink. Go float and lift your head, and your hips will sink, then you will sink if you don't do anything to correct it. By lowering your hips in the water, you are swimming with a greater angle of attack to the water, thus increasing your drag.

Go try it, let me know what happens. Not only will your hips sink, your feet will sink, you will go vertical, and sink if you do nothing to correct it.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [JasoninHalifax] [ In reply to ]
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If you can't float on your stomach, then float on your stomach and do the bare minimum kick it takes to keep your legs up. While kicking, slowly change your head position from neutral to looking forward and see what happens.

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [Kevin in MD] [ In reply to ]
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Kevin in MD wrote:
Dev, I'll throw two facts out for you.


For the 96 people I have critical pace testing data on, stroke count, (not even adjusted for height) accounts for 50% of the variation in speed.

In 9 years of critical pace testing, we have never had anyone with a stroke count of 19 or higher ever get a time faster than 6 minutes for the 500 yard time trial in our 25 yard pool. Precisely one person has done it at 18 strokes per length. I know there are people around the country who could do it, but it certainly isn't common.

I guess I was one of those (back when I swam Masters around age 30-32), as I would typically take 20-21 strokes and I did a 5:18 500 scy.

For me, and perhaps others, it was and is physiologically difficult to streamline with an extended arm, due to shoulder "impingement". So if I were to hold the extension for any amount of time, it would be with my hand perhaps a foot underwater, which obviously was very non-hydrodynamic. I adapted to this by swimming with a high head position that effectively put my extended arm more in the line of travel, and pulling very early after reaching full extension. This results in very high turnover from having no glide whatsoever. For this reason, I also have a relatively short breakout off the wall.

Perhaps this would work for others who don't have the shoulder flexibility required to hold a streamlined position.

(to give you an idea, if I stand with my heels, butt, and shoulders to a wall and extend my arms overhead, my hands don't come within a foot of the wall behind my head)

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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beachedbeluga wrote:
Yes you are pushing against something, you are pushing against gravity. By lifting your head, you now have more mass above your center of gravity, and you will sink. Go float and lift your head, and your hips will sink, then you will sink if you don't do anything to correct it. By lowering your hips in the water, you are swimming with a greater angle of attack to the water, thus increasing your drag.

Go try it, let me know what happens. Not only will your hips sink, your feet will sink, you will go vertical, and sink if you do nothing to correct it.

So when you say "your hips will sink" you really mean your whole body will sink. I don't agree that it changes your angle of attack, as you haven't explained the physics of that (see my example of what happens in a weightless environment).

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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [klehner] [ In reply to ]
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Go try it. Then you will understand. Or you can draw out a force diagram. And after you draw out a force diagram, you can try it. Jump in a pool. Float on your stomach. Lift your head. Do nothing else. If you don't sink, I assume you can also turn water into wine, or have a BMI of 30+.

Then, while you are swimming freestyle, notice what happens to your hips as you lift your head higher and higher.

And then, watch this youtube video showing everything and more of what I described.

http://www.savagesentiments.blogspot.com/
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [Kevin in MD] [ In reply to ]
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Kevin in MD wrote:
Dev, I'll throw two facts out for you.


For the 96 people I have critical pace testing data on, stroke count, (not even adjusted for height) accounts for 50% of the variation in speed.

In 9 years of critical pace testing, we have never had anyone with a stroke count of 19 or higher ever get a time faster than 6 minutes for the 500 yard time trial in our 25 yard pool. Precisely one person has done it at 18 strokes per length. I know there are people around the country who could do it, but it certainly isn't common.

So it is a long way from meaningless.

I do agree with most other folks insofar as the question is how to get faster at swimming - that taking a lot of strokes leads one to think that your catch and streamline could be markedly improved. Just trying to slow down or swim catch up to take fewer strokes isn't the way to go. We need to figure out what about a person's stroke makes them take more strokes to get across the pool; and then fix whatever that is.

This is GREAT information. Thanks!
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [Kevin in MD] [ In reply to ]
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Kevin in MD wrote:
In 9 years of critical pace testing, we have never had anyone with a stroke count of 19 or higher ever get a time faster than 6 minutes for the 500 yard time trial in our 25 yard pool. Precisely one person has done it at 18 strokes per length. I know there are people around the country who could do it, but it certainly isn't common.


I counted 48 for a 50m length for Laure Manaudou here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG9e81gjbAA


I'm not trained for swimming nowadays, but when I do go and swim, my slowness compared to when I was trained is almost entirely due to a reduced stroke rate rather than an increased stroke count.
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Re: Number of strokes per length (25 yds)? [beachedbeluga] [ In reply to ]
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If literally "all" you do is lift your head, then in theory what should happen in a static model is that the head (because it is above the surface of the water) will lower and actually raise the legs.

The problem is that this isn't all we do, and we aren't static.

I have been working on getting my head down, but the reason is that it gets the legs up, and this part is important, while maintaining the same shoulder height relative to the surface of the water. Or put another way, I can get my shoulders higher while maintaining the same leg height (since dropping my legs isn't a problem for me)

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