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Gaining speed in the water is not rocket science. It is the product of two simple factors that can be improved with better technique, less drag, and increased strength and endurance. In fact, swimming fast can be simplified into a physics equation:
(S)peed = Stroke (L)ength x Stroke (R)ate
Stroke length is defined as the number of yards covered with each stroke. Reducing the number of strokes needed to cross the pool is a common drill to improve this factor. Some variables can affect this number, including underwater streamline and kick propulsion. Get the most out of descending stroke count by keeping the variables constant and finding other ways to improve length:
- Improve horizontal body position along the surface of the water.
- Increase glide by reaching forward and finishing past the hip with each stroke.
- Create a powerful underwater pull with a high elbow and straight wrist.
Stroke rate is the number of single strokes taken in 60 seconds. It can be calculated by a person on deck with a stopwatch. The simplest method is to count how many strokes are taken in 15 seconds and multiply that number by four. Certain triathlon smartwatches can also help simplify the process of counting your stroke rate, as can a pool metronome (or tempo trainer). Try these three methods.
- Set the tempo at your current stroke rate and try to take fewer strokes per lap.
- Set the tempo at a higher rate and try to maintain your current stroke count per lap.
- Record your time for a 100 at various stroke rates. Observe what tempo produced the fastest 100.
Workout: Swim Golf
Swim Golf is another way to find the stroke rate and length that’s most efficient for you. The set combines the number of strokes and the number of seconds used to swim a 50. For example, a swimmer who takes 35 strokes and swims 45 seconds has a Swim Golf score of 80. Complete 4–6 x 50 and try to lower your score each time, or try this workout:
500 as: (200 choice/50 kick, repeat)
15×50 on 1:05 (descend stroke count 1-5)
12×25 on :40 (non-free: butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke)
4×200 pull on 4:00
6×75 on 1:30 (25 drill/50 free)
300 swim (no walls)