An Exercise To Help You Lift Your Stroke Rate

We hear from a lot of intermediate level swimmers who have been diligently working on improving their stroke technique but are having trouble lifting their stroke rate to where they would like it to be. You might have found that by speeding up slightly using a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro you're finding it too hard work to sustain.

Try this exercise and see if it helps. You don't need a beeper for it but it's more powerful experience if you have one.

Scull And Beep

1) Take your beeper and set it to 5 strokes per minute higher than your natural stroke rate. So if you naturally swim around 55 SPM, set it to 60 SPM. Use your numbers - not anyone else's! Put the beeper under your swim cap so you can hear it but ignore it for the moment.

2) Put a pull buoy between your legs and perform our Scull #1 drill:

The point of sculling is to get a feel for the water on the palms of your hands in a good catch position, as if they were in the middle of the catch phase of the stroke. During the drill, the hands are facing slightly outwards as they travel out and slightly inwards as they travel in. This is a bit like mixing hot and cold water in the bath, you can feel the light pressure on your palm as you do so:

This may seem like a strange thing to be doing but it is actually a very powerful exercise for improving your catch technique. The key - as in a good catch - is to make sure your fingertips are lower than your wrist and your wrist is lower than your elbow at all times, as in the pictures above. In this way your palms' pressure on the water is slightly backwards, which will move you forwards. If you don't go anywhere, check you're not sculling flat with your palm facing downwards or even forwards (you'll go backwards!) :

Facing your palm forwards like this is something that Overgliders tend to do in their stroke at the front, often feeling an increased pressure on the palm of the hand and perceiving that as a good catch. For this reason, many Overgliders struggle with sculling.

This isn't an easy drill, it can take a while to get the feel of it and even great swimmers will only move slowly through the water when sculling. That's OK, don't tense up and forget to breath, keep your breathing smooth and relaxed. Also resist the urge to kick at all with your legs, that's very much cheating! :)

3) Once you get the feel of the drill, start a fresh lap and perform Scull #1 for around 15m. Then, keeping the pull buoy between your legs, immediately transition into full freestyle thinking about lightly pressing the water backwards to the wall behind you and timing your stroke to the beeper. If you don't have a beeper to follow, become aware of your stroke rate and how fast you perceive your rhythm to be.

How does it feel? Our prediction is that it will feel a lot easier to maintain that higher stroke rate as you transition into your freestyle. This really highlights the link between a good catch technique and good rhythm in the stroke: improve your catch and your rhythm will naturally increase. Interestingly, this cuts both ways, try and slow your stroke down artificially and you normally harm your catch technique, this is the Overglider scenario we mentioned above and something we always try to avoid here at Swim Smooth.

What you might find is that you can easily sustain the faster rhythm of your stroke at first and it feels great but the effect gradually wears off after 25 to 100m of swimming with it. That's normal, it's just a sign that you're slipping back to your old catch timing. Keep working on this part of your stroke and as your body gets used to the movement you will be able to swim further and further using it.

Let us know how you go with this exercise by posting on the comments on this blog (click here and go to the bottom to post).

Next week we're going to look at the results of an important study from the University of Texas into the stroke rates of swimmers and their efficiency through the water. It's not too technical and we think you'll find the implications of it very interesting for your own swimming!

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you wish to understand why this exercise works, see Adam Young's post on our forum here: Or read the chapter in our book about developing your catch technique (especially page 91).


Unknown said...

Interesting! I've been doing a lot of the scull #1 transition to regular freestyle lately and noticed the exact same thing mentioned in this post. My natural stroke rate is higher and I find it awkward (and slower and sinkier) to swim at my old "natural" rate.

Dan said...

Is the 5 seconds faster supposed to apply to just your stroke after the sculling or also to the sculling, i.e., are you supposed to try to scull faster than you normally would?

Adam Young said...

Hi Andrew,

That's awesome, you've almost certainly improved your catch technique. How do your times compare with before?

Hi Dan,

No scull at normal speed and completely ignore the beeper!

Cheers, Adam

Unknown said...

Hi Adam,

I am approximately 5s per 100m faster with a slightly quicker stroke (from 54 to 58). I tried swimming with the Wetronome at 54 and noticed both a distinct dead spot up front and a "kick start" out back :) That and my whole rhythm seemed to disappear. It just felt wrong.

58-60 spm still seems like I'm taking my time: loads of time to lengthen out up front and to finish at the back and it also seems to take less effort because I'm a bit higher in the water too so it is quite maintainable.

I have also tamed a bit of my Arnie-like competitiveness when I end up behind a slower lane mate who refuses to let me pass at the wall. Instead of experiencing a bit of burning frustration I will either do a short sprint past them and then lengthen out to recover, or just stay behind for a bit and switch to scull #1 and then back to regular freestyle.

By becoming a (moderately) better swimmer I also enjoy it a lot more too!

Thanks for all of the great info on the site and in the book!

Adam Young said...

Sounds good Andrew. Keep combining that good stroke work with some CSS type training sets (pacing is key for you if you have Arnie-tendencies) and I'm sure there's a lot more to come yet.

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