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Stroke Rate V Stroke Count

What Is Stroke Count?

Stroke count is the number of strokes you take each length of the pool. You count both your left and your right arm strokes and most amateur swimmers generally require somewhere between 16-30 strokes to complete 1 length of a 25m pool.

What Is Stroke Rate?

Stroke rate is the number of strokes you take in a single minute, in essence, this is the speed of your stroke. It is very much like cycling cadence (the number of times your legs turn round in a minute). Most amateur swimmers generally have a stroke rate of 40-70 strokes per minute.

How Do The 2 Interact?

We have coached hundreds of swimmers over the last 5 years and compared the relationship between stroke count and stroke rate. What we know is that when asked to swim a 1500m time trial, as they get tired towards the end, the swimmers will take the same number of strokes per length, so fatigue has no bearing on stroke count. However, their stroke rate will start relatively high and gradually decrease throughout the test. Their arm cadence becomes slower and slower and this is the reason for them slowing down.

In simple terms, fatigue DOES NOT change your stroke count, it DOES change your stroke rate. You continue to take the same number of strokes each length, but your arms get slower as you get more tired.


Many triathletes will have heard the term 'SWOLF' which is an abbreviated for 'SWIM GOLF'. If you own a GPS watch with swimming settings, it may well include a SWOLF function. SWOLF is simply adding together the number of strokes you take each length (stroke count) to the number of seconds it takes to swim the length. 

For example, if you swim one length in 30 seconds and take 20 strokes, your SWOLF score is 50. You can reduce your score by taking less strokes and gliding more (e.g. reducing from 20 to 17 strokes) but this often results in people swimming slower (e.g. increasing from 30 to 33 seconds) and thereby not improving their SWOLF score. SWOLF is a great example of why stroke count alone is not the answer to faster swimming.

How Do I Know What My Stroke Count Actually Is & Whether Its Changing?

Simple, you just count the number of strokes required to swim 1 length of the pool, count each time your left and right hands enter the water.

How do I know whether my stroke rate is slowing down throughout the test?

Here lies the problem.. you don't know what it is at any time during your swim and there's no way of knowing if your arm cadence is slowing.

There are some key points you should know about stroke rate:

  1. One of the simplest ways to enhance your swim training is to calculate your current stroke rate and then during your swim sessions don't let it slow down as you get tired, maintain the same arm cadence.
  2. If you exaggerate your glide you are likely to have with a low stroke rate. You should try to increase your stroke rate as this is your key area for improvement.
  3. In open water, a low stroke rate and a 'long gliding stroke' does not work well. Your body glides best through still water, so during a rough open water swim, you quickly lose momentum and come to a halt. A high arm turnover keeps you moving forwards and is therefore more efficient.
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