top of page

Finding New Speed For Your Swim

Swimming fast. We dream of it, and some do it. But how? You’ve read the books, watched the videos, and attended numerous swim sessions. By now you have a pretty good grasp on swimming and its technique; however, something has happened, you’ve plateaued.

You train and train some more, but little has changed. What’s going on? You may be missing the key to swim speed, the two-pronged approach to understanding and visualizing how to develop #elite speed:

Speed = Stroke Length x Stroke Rate


The stroke length (SL) of your swim is a combination of the effective length of your arm span and the potential force. Increasing the amount of force you apply to the water (so long as it is directed in the right direction), combined with the length of your arm, will increase your stroke length. This will result in fewer strokes per length of the pool. Most of us have engaged in the ongoing practice of reducing our strokes per length of the pool. This is a pretty good way to improve your economy and efficiency through the water, and most will see improvements in performance with this method if their stroke is rather inefficient, to begin with.

But there is a hidden “speed buster” to over-developing the stroke length: overgliding.


One of the problems of #overtraining stroke length is developing an overglide. An #overglide will increase distance per stroke (DPS) and achieve a very low stroke count per length, which seems great, but it comes at cost time.

The cost is deceleration, pause, and sink. Hanging on to the glide will reduce the stroke count, but the #swimmer will experience an appreciable lag in the stroke rate and a plateauing or decrease in overall performance time. The second part of the key is “lag in stroke rate”.


The stroke rate is the number of times your hands enter the water per minute. This can also be referred to as cycle rate. However, the cycle rate focuses more on the amount of time it takes for your arm to complete an entire revolution. As in cycling and running, the more revolutions or steps you take, times the distance traveled, determines your overall speed. Stroke rate alone can inherently create a “speed buster”, in the form of stroke length shortening. As the rate increases, the swimmer has a tendency to sacrifice SL for rate.


Swim speed is a combination of stroke length (SL) and stroke (SR). A sustainable, maximum union between SL and SR. The two-pronged approach is a way to look at developing your swim speed. You will need to develop your maximum sustainable stroke length and stroke rate. So where to begin?

  • Lower your SWOLF score

  • Learn to use a tempo trainer

  • Have complete #Cadence Power


SWOLF (Swimming Golf), as in golf, the objective is to obtain the lowest score. In SWOLF you want to obtain the lowest combined stroke count and time over a given distance.

Here’s an example:

A 50m swim produces a stroke count of 50 and a time of 50 seconds. The SWOLF score is 100. Your goal would be to reduce that score. The following steps will produce the best results.

  1. Develop good form and technique first

  2. Work on decreasing strokes per length, without overgliding

  3. Establish a base SWOLF score

  4. Increase distance per stroke, without overgliding

  5. Train to decrease your SWOLF score by maximizing SL and increasing SR


This is another method that will assist in decreasing your SWOLF score and increasing your stroke rate. The metronome allows the swimmer to follow along to an audible beeping tempo. All you need to do is:

  1. Find your base stroke rate

  2. Find your SWOLF score

  3. Slowly increase temp stroke rate while maintaining and improving your SL.


This is the best test available. You will need to find a coach in your area that can perform this test. The purpose of a cadence profile is to determine, not only your current base stroke rate, but it will also demonstrate where your stroke becomes inefficient at multiple speeds.

  1. This test needs to be done by a coach

  2. It is the most detailed and descriptive test

  3. The swimmer trains with a #metronome

  4. The swimmer uses three different stroke rates to develop proficiency at all paces

As with all things it takes practice, but with time you will find your optimum mix. As you improve your conditioning and your technique, you may find your distance per stroke (DPS) changing; if it is a positive change, then it is usually a good one, indicating that you are getting more out of each stroke. Just make sure you don’t trade DPS for speed. How will you know when you are getting there? When your stroke count decreases, your stroke rate increases, your times decrease, and your sustainable effort decreases or stays the same.

Happy Swimming.


Steve Grant is the owner and founder of Rum Doodle Racing. He is a trained cardiovascular perfusionist and level II certified Masters swim instructor. He can be reached at or

5 views0 comments


bottom of page