“Distance Per Stroke” or DPS pops up in a good deal of swim blogs, newsletters, workouts (TSC included), and forums, but is it something you should really focus on? At TSC, we think so but not because of what you might think.
To us, DPS is not just extending your arm a tad bit farther, kicking a bit more, and gliding through the water–this is over simplistic. While you will go farther doing this, you are making two critical errors.
Firstly, by doing the above you are extending through your shoulders and not through your core as you should. This puts undo stress on your shoulders and even though you are focusing on extending your arm, you are also not reaching as far as you could. The key to DPS is understanding that it is primarily a rotation drill. To extend to your fullest, you should rotate your hips while extending forward (don’t cross cover here but reach for the corner of the lane!). By doing so, you will get at least two inches farther use your hips and core to pull and thus have a more efficient stroke–which is the whole point of DPS in the first place.
Secondly, swimmers like to glide because they feel that they will get the most distance and use less energy. When you glide however, you are slowing down and creating a dead zone in front of you. It is hard to see this in the water unless there is a current, but you can actually see this dead zone when you take a swimmer and put him or her on the Vasa Swim Erg. Swimmers with a dead zone will slide back on the swim bench and then move forward again instead of the bench remaining in generally the same place. When practicing DPS, therefore, do not slow down and glide. Instead after rotating and extending, immediately start your quick high elbow pull and drive forward rotating and extending with the other hip. Then repeat the catch and pull on the other side. Your hands should almost always be in motion, and your stroke should look similar to a sped up catch up drill where your hands are never together in front but come close.
Next time you see DPS on your workout be sure to (a) extend through rotation and (b) don’t glide. By emphasizing those two points, you will be faster and more efficient for it.