According to expert Phil Mosley, swimming fast is about more than just seeking the perfect swim stroke.
Swimming isn’t like cycling or running. You won’t get anywhere without a good technique, and it’s hardly worth bothering doing loads of swimming until you sort out your technique, right? Well, maybe not – there’s more to it than that. What if I told you that you could still swim fast, even without the perfect technique?
If you were to watch 20 of the best triathletes in the world swim training in the same pool, you would witness 20 different front crawl swimming styles. And yet they’d all be swimming fast times that the rest of us can only dream about. Their strokes are by no means perfect, but the common factor is that they swim for around 90 minutes per day, and have done so for years.
Pro athlete James Cunnama, who won the 2012 Challenge Roth long-distance triathlon and is part of the TBB training squad under coach Brett Sutton, says: “When I went to Brett for coaching, he said my stroke was ‘like a picture’. The only problem was that I wasn’t fast. I just needed to do more swim training to build my fitness. Some people in his squad don’t look like great swimmers, and yet they swim unbelievably fast.” Cunnama’s experience suggests it’s not essential to have a beautiful stroke in order to swim well.
For all its complexity, the art of swimming actually boils down to two simple numbers.
1. Stroke Rate: How many strokes you do per minute
2. Stroke Length: How far you travel for each stroke
Elite open-water swimmers have stroke rates of between 75 and 95 strokes per minute, whereas age-group triathlon swimmers have stroke rates nearer 50 to 60 strokes per minute. If you can improve your stroke rate, without shortening your stroke length, you will swim faster.
Your stroke rate is governed by your swim fitness – the fitter you are, the quicker and more powerfully you can move your arms through the water.
Whereas your stroke length is largely governed by your technique – the better your technique, the more efficiently you move through the water. There is a crossover between the two as well because your stroke rate will increase as your technique improves, and your stroke length will increase as you become fitter and stronger.
The conclusion to all this is that you need to attack your swim training on two fronts. One is to swim regularly and progressively, just like you would train for running or cycling. This will help you to become fitter, enabling you to increase your stroke rate. The other is to seek coaching assistance in order to improve your technique, so that you can become more efficient at moving yourself through the water (stroke length). As a by-product of swimming regularly, you’ll also improve your feel for the water. In other words, you’ll learn to feel whether or not you’re moving well through the water, and how to correct it.
But if you can’t get regular coaching, you can still focus on increasing your stroke rate. This takes hard work and consistent training to improve your fitness and feel for the water. Having some way of measuring your stroke rate is important, so that you know if you’re improving (below).
1. Finis Tempo Trainer
- Garmin Foreruner 910 XT
- Swimovate Poolmate
Log your training for free at the TriRadar.com Training Zone.