Improving Distance per Stroke: Me vs. Lil Miss Swim Camp

Me vs. Lil Miss Swim Camp

Me vs. Lil Miss Swim Camp

As I learn more and  improve my freestyle swimming technique, I’ve quickly realized that distance per stroke is a very important concept, that one should focus on and strive to improve.

Distance per stroke (DPS for short) is how far each arm stroke propels you through the water. The actual distance is mostly related to the efficiency of your stroke (technique) and your arm length (physical).  The idea is to maximize your technique (since unless your still growing your arm length is fixed) to create the longest DPS. To get a comparison a good DPS for 25 yard pool is between 14-16 strokes, in a 50m pool   something in the range of  30-35 strokes.  There’s even a video on-line of a 12 stroke swim  in a 25 yard pool.

DPS is related to your height and arm length

An important thing to remember is that DPS is directly proportional to a swimmer’s  height and arm length.For example  6’4″ Michael Phelps with a 6’7″ arm span allows this swimmer to grab a lot of water and push it behind him, so he naturally will take fewer strokes to move across the pool. Compared to a shorter swimmer like Janet Evans (5’4″) who will take more strokes to move across the same distance. So accounting for a swimmer’s height its not always possible to have a 1-to-1 stroke comparison.  But generally speaking effecient swimmers regardless of height should be able  to maximize their stroke .

Real Life Example: Lil Miss Swim Camp

Nothing brought the importance of DPS improvement home like a short 100 yard swim with another swimmer at my gym. I never got to know her name, but she had a swim cap that said “Swim Camp” so I’ll dub her Lil Miss Swim camp (She was a young lady).  She was probably half way into her 800 yard set and judging from her flip turns and swim camp swim cap, I suspected her speed would be fast.

Swimmer Time (25 yd) Strokes Stroke Rate DPS
Me (Tony) 19.6 s 23 70/min 1.08/yds
Lil Miss 19.1 19 60/min 1.31/yds

And I was right, she easily (or at least it appeared to me) sailed to a sub 1:20/pace, while  I hung on to 1:30/100 yd pace. What  really impressed me (see video clip) , was that she took 4 less strokes per length than me, didn’t appear to be using her feet much and pretty much crushed me in the pool.  So I had a faster stroke rate, used my feet, was rested, and still got my *ss handed to me .. How could this be? Watching the video it’s clear she had a much better DPS and it allowed her to swim through the water with much greater efficiency.

Update 6/8/2013, DPS is not the only way, says Ironman Dave Scott

Six-time ironman legend and swim coach Dave Scott, doesn’t necessarily agree that distance per stroke is the only way to go, particularly in triathlon and open water events. In the video below he explains his philosophy to Swim Smooth coach Paul Newsome, he makes some valid points.

Working on it…

So as I continue my quest to improve my freestyle swimming , I now consciously focus on DPS. I try by first slowing my stroke rate and increasing my extension on every stroke. The keys for me are:

  • hip rotation,
  • full extension of the arm,
  • smooth finger entry
  • and a long solid pull,
  • with a very minor glide.

The challenge for me is this is such not my natural swim gait, my typical stroke rate is 70 SPM  , that I tend not to be able to hold this new rhythm for more than 50 yards. But its a work in progress..

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