Learning to Reduce Your Stroke Count Will Make You a Better Swimmer

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In the past, you’ve probably had coaches that asked you to count strokes during your workout, either by incorporating it into drill sets, the primary set, or at the end of a workout. Indeed, many coaches advise their swimmers to make a habit of keeping track of the stroke count. After years of experience coaching both triathletes and long distance swimmers, I have come to the conclusion that stroke counting is an essential part of achieving success with the vast majority of swimming workouts.

If you keep at it and don’t give up, counting your strokes while you swim is a great way to improve your DPS (short for distance per stroke). Swimming’s top competitors reach that level because their bodies go further with every stroke- not because their arms travel faster through the water. By remaining cognizant of the quantity of strokes you take per lap, you’ll begin to lengthen your stroke, adding the speed and distance you crave while lowering your heart rate. This in turn will save you the much needed energy you require for the final push towards the finish line.

Your ultimate goal should be to reduce the average stroke count each time you’re in the pool. The best swimmers (and the names you recognize, such as Ian Thorpe), glide through the water at approximately 30 strokes per 50 meters. This incredibly low stroke count is certainly admirable, but doesn’t have to be the number that you shoot for. Initially, figure out what your personal range is. Attempt to swim the majority of the time at the lower end of this range (or, alternatively, below your lowest recorded stroke count). Don’t concern yourself with speed, at least in the beginning-you can improve on this later, after you come to realize your “ideal” stroke count. Below, you’ll find a good example of the kind of set that will lengthen your stroke, while building up the muscle endurance you need to win races.


-Take a 10-30 second break in between sets
-Maintain a record of the number of strokes as you work your way up
-Make an attempt to lower the stroke count as you work your way down the backside, while maintaining the same pace.

Another popular set is called free golf. Below is an example:

6×50’s Free on 1:05. For each 50 meter length, count up your strokes AND keep an eye on your time. Combine these 2 numbers to see your golf score. You’ll want to to lower this score over the course of the set. The difficult part, of course, is trying to increase speed without adding additional strokes, or reducing the number of strokes, but in turn not sacrificing any speed.

Give it a shot at your next workout!