Way back in 2009 we published the Swim Smooth Stroke Rate Chart (you can find it on our website here). The key to this chart is that it takes account of your current swimming speed such that it covers any level of freestyle swimmer, from beginner right through to Olympian:
Up the side we have your stroke rate in strokes per minute - counting both arms. Note this is your rate per minute, not strokes per length! If you've used a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro you'll be familiar with your stroke rate.
Across the bottom we simply have the speed you are swimming - this can be steady swimming, CSS pace or sprinting or anywhere in between, as long as you use the stroke rate at that speed on the vertical axis.
If you sit in the blue zone, we are saying that you need to look to raise your stroke rate to make progress with your swimming.
If you sit in the red zone, then you need to look to slow your stroke rate slightly and lengthen out.
If you are in the white zone, then your stroke rate is about right for your level of swimming - at least as far as this tool can tell you. To improve you should look to gradually lift both your stroke rate and the length of your stroke to transverse up the white area.
Notice that the white area is quite wide vertically and this takes account of your individual height, build and personal style. If you're quite short or have short arms then you can expect to be towards the top nearer the red zone and tall rangy swimmers nearer the blue zone.
Let's look at classic two example swimmers:
Low Stroke Rate Swimmer
Here's Patrick, a classic Overglider with a distinct pause at the front of his stroke:
With a swimming speed of 2:10/100m and a stroke rate of 35 SPM Patrick sits on the blue circle here, clearly in the blue zone. By improving his stroke technique to lift his stroke rate, we can expect him to move into the white zone in this direction:
By progressively lifting his stroke rate, Patrick's stroke will gain much more purpose, improving his traction on the water and lifting him higher in the water.
High Stroke Rate Swimmer
Dean is a classic Arnie and sits on the red circle here with a speed of 1:55/100m and a stroke rate of 68 SPM. By progressively reducing his stroke rate and lengthening him out, we can expect Dean to travel into the white zone like so:
By slowing his stroke rate we reduce that tendency to fight the water and give him time to straighten out his stroke and gain more traction on the water. Longer to exhale between breaths will improve his balance in the water too, lifting the legs higher.
Note we are only looking to reduce Dean's stroke rate by around 7-8 SPM, if we reduce it any further the danger is he will enter the blue zone and become that classic cross breed, the Arnie Overglider.
Of course you'll want to look yourself up on the chart too. You can do this by eye on the chart or enter your numbers into the interactive chart half way down this page on our website:
If you're not sure of your stroke rate and don't have a Tempo Trainer Pro, then ask a friend to time how long it takes you to take 10 strokes (counting both arms) using a stopwatch. Divide 600 by that number of seconds. So if it takes you 11.3 seconds to take 10 strokes, your stroke rate is 600 / 11.3 = 53 strokes per minute.
You might be wondering where elite swimmers sit on this chart. There's two classic groupings for Swingers and Smooths:
The likes of Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and Rebecca Adlington have long smooth strokes and lie in this area:
The Swingers of the world such as Sharon van Rouwendaal, Janet Evans and the Brownlee brothers lie in this upper grouping:
Interestingly, the great Katie Ledecky (whose stroke lies somewhere between Swinger and Smooth) sits between:
It just goes to show there's more than one way to swim quickly and efficiently.