Part I: The Fine Line Between Distance Per Stroke and Stroke Rate:

In Technique by Abbie Fish1 Comment

For our next technique series, I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of talking about one specific piece of the pie, let’s look at the pie as a whole.

Most swimmers as they progress with the sport start gaining an understanding of their distance per stroke (DPS) and Stroke Rate (SR). Manipulating these two numbers can have a significant impact on a swimmer’s race and their stroke “efficiency”. With a regular coaching stopwatch, anyone can get their calculated SR. Also, with the abundance of new iPhone apps and software programs—getting your estimated DPS is now very easy to do too.

If you haven’t heard of these terms before and/or aren’t familiar with them, it’s okay. Here are the definitions:

Distance Per Stroke: the distance traveled (in meters or yards) from each individual stroke.

Stroke Rate: the time it takes to complete one full stroke.

Keep in mind when talking about Freestyle and Backstroke, DPS and SR deal with individual arm strokes (right versus left). While Butterfly and Breaststroke—both arms move at the same time, so their DPS and SR is calculated with both arms. There is no right arm or left arm DPS or SR for the Butterfly and Breaststroke strokes.

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Back to our subject…

What is the balance between DPS and SR?

It is an inverse relationship. The faster you turn your arms over, the lower your DPS will be. If you increase your DPS, your SR goes down. The goal for each swimmer is to find their balance between a good DPS and a high SR.

Last week I put on my Instagram account (@theafish1), a video I analyzed of Caeleb Dressel. The video is from the SEC championships, where he split a 17.86 in a 50 Free on a 200 Free relay. My analyzed video has been watched over 30,000 times. BUT, I guarantee most people missed the most incredible point of his analyzed swim.

Check it out (view in Full Screen if metrics are blurry):

What did you see?

The first thing that came to my mind is the fact that he spent the majority of his race underwater. And it’s true: Caeleb spent 26.45 yards underwater—over 50% of his race. But, beyond that—what is so impressive is the fact he swam with an average SR of 0.46 seconds (converts to 130 strokes per minute) and kept an average DPS of 0.92 yards.

To put that in perspective, Ryan Held split a 18.15 at the 2017 ACC championships. Held held an average SR of 0.46 (converting to 130 stroke per minute) and held a 0.88 DPS. See below:

So while Caeleb and Held had similar SR’s, Caeleb traveled 0.04 yards further each stroke than Held. So if they both swam against each other with the same metrics above (keeping their stroke count the same and not including underwaters), Caeleb would beat Held by 1.13 seconds in 50 yard Free of straight swimming. That is the power of DPS.

Bringing us back to the beginning of this post. It is ideal for you (and your swimmers) to find their balance with SR and DPS. Being great at one of this metrics is not good enough. So while Held was only out-split by Dressel by 0.29 seconds, it was due to Held’s underwater capability that he was even close to Dressel’s split.

Next week, we will dig deeper into the power of underwaters and why staying underwater longer (than you might think) is actually beneficial to your races.

Until next time,

A. Fish

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