Reply To: Stroke count as failure criteria?

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Recently I have been watching a lot of video trying to figure what tempo I should be at in my races. I was worried that I had too high of a tempo but I actually found out that some of my tempos were too slow. 100 fly in particular. I figured out my breakout times and stroke counts and calculated my tempo. I watched a ton of video from the elite swimmers to figure out what their tempos were. I was surprised about what I found. For example, everyone knows Michael Phelps as having a long stroke with great dps but if you calculate the tempo it’s actually pretty fast. At nationals in his 100 fly he took 18 strokes on the second 50 at a time of 26.2. He broke out at 6.2. If you time it from when he initiates his first stroke to when his hands hit the water on his last stroke it’s about 19.9. 19.9/18 = 1.105. A tempo of 1.10 faster than you think once you get in the pool and swim at that rate yourself. Phelps certainly doesn’t have the fastest tempo but 1.1 is still not very long. It’s a quick turnover. I wish I wrote this stuff down but I think I remember most of it pretty well. Sjostrom was around 1.05 for most of her 100 in Kazan and even a little bit faster in short course. Worrell was close to 1.00 on her scy record. The mens ncaa is super high tempo and a lot of people are actually under 1.00. Michael Andrew was 1.1 on his 46.95 yards swim and about 1.15 in LC.

For my 100 fly I decided that I wanted to hit a tempo of 1.15, give or take a few hundredths. At an interval at 16.5 I usually break out a little under 4 seconds, 16.5-3.85= 12.65. Tempo’s by stroke count are 10-1.265, 11-1.15, 12-1.05. After the first few I settle in to 10 and try to hold 10 strokes as long as I can. After I can’t make it in 10, I have to increase tempo to 1.15. Holding this tempo is almost self-regulating because I can only make it in 12 strokes every once in a while, the tempo is too fast for me. If I’m holding 1.15 and in the middle of the lap I feel that I am slowing down, increasing stroke rate won’t work because there is no time to hit 12 strokes. I have my tempo trainer set to 8.25 and usually my hands hit the water after my 4th stroke right after the beep at 8.25. So, if I decide to increase my tempo to try to hit 12 strokes I have to increase my tempo to 1.03 to make it to the wall in time in 12 strokes. If I increase to something like 1.08, there is no time to get the 12th stroke in on time and 11 strokes will only get me to 23 meters or something like that. Therefore, I am forced to try to get as much DPS at 1.15 to make the interval. I have to think really hard about technique and how to get the most out of my stroke at 1.15. Recently, I found that my hand entry kick tends to weaken as I get tired. Once I figured out that I was doing that, I focused really hard on maintaining my power on that kick and I was able to eek out some more reps while exhaustion was setting in. Similarly, in breaststroke my hand recovery tends slow without me realizing it. Since I have to focus really hard on maximizing dps at a particular tempo, I am able to figure out portions of my stroke that I can improve. I kind of have a new outlook on a failed rep. I look at it more as distance covered rather than time. On the fails I still like to be on tempo at least, I don’t like getting caught by the beep before my hands hit the water on the 11th stroke. I like to look at it as failing because of decrease in DPS rather than not getting to the wall in time.

Going back to Phelps 100 fly tempo. A lot of people think that the reason Phelps is so good is that he is a physical freak, which he is, but what really puts him over the top is that he is a technical master. Especially in the 100 fly. Honestly, I don’t think his is the most physically equipped to be the best 100 flyer in the world, but his amazing technical skills allows him to surpass everyone. Every elite swimmer and probably every college swimmer can take 18 strokes at a tempo 1.1. They may finish 18 strokes at 95 meters, but that pace and tempo is something that a lot of people can do. Phelps is the only person on the planet with enough DPS at 1.1 to make it to the wall in the last 19.9 seconds. Let’s say someone wanted to take less strokes and be even more “efficient” than Phelps. If someone wanted to swim at 1.2 so that they could make it to the wall in less strokes and they broke out at the same point and at the same time as Phelps did, on 17 strokes they would make it to the wall in 20.4. No matter how smooth their stroke looks, no matter how pretty or effortless the stoke looks, it is mathematically impossible to beat Phelps with that tempo on 17 strokes. It would take 16 strokes to beat him at that tempo which might be impossible. I think a lot of people make the mistake about worrying too much about the eye test rather than what is actual happening in the stroke. A couple days ago when I was at practice, I was watching an age group team swimming fly. Their strokes did look smooth and pretty good overall but I don’t think one person was swimming below 1.3. That’s too slow even for the 200 fly. Katie Mcglouthlin swims a 1.15 for most of her 200 fly.

I now believe that stroke count is totally irrelevant. Another example is Adam Peaty’s 100 breaststroke. He has a super high tempo. I’m sure there are lots of people that could take 46 strokes in 57.92. Everyone except for Peaty would come up short of 100 meters. Like Phelps, Peaty’s DPS at his particular tempo is the best. Even though he has a high stroke rate, he still has great DPS even though most people don’t see it that way.

I don’t think USRPT automatically conditions you to swim a high stroke rate. Michael Andrews breaststroke tempo is on the other end of the extreme as Peaty’s tempo. Katie Ledecky excels in distance free at a fast tempo. Sun Yang dominates with a super slow tempo, almost 1 second. It’s about finding that sweet spot. For me personally, I found that using a fast tempo for breaststroke works for me the best while using a slower tempo for freestyle works better. When I researched 100 freestyle tempo’s I found that it’s like a bell curve with the range of .55-.65. Most swimmers fall around .6 with a few on .55 and .65. Some examples at Adrian-.6, Mcevoy-.59, Zetao-.58, Dressle-.55, Cate Campbel- .65, Magnussen- .65, Josh Davis 45.1 after training USRPT-.6. James Magnussen was a .65 when he went 47.1 but ever since that swim he has had a faster tempo closer to .6 and has not been that close to 47.1 ever since. .65 is definitely his sweet spot while other swimmers like Adrian sweet spot is .6. If he had a slower or faster tempo he would have a slower time. It’s all about finding that sweet spot that works for you. After studying this, I decided that I wanted to have a tempo of .6 or my 100 free. I can get there but can’t maintain it at all. .6 is 20 stokes in 12 seconds, it’s really fast. I settled into about .64 and have been improving nicely ever since. I was stuck for a while because I was only worried about keeping as low a stroke count as possible and my tempo was to slow to reach higher speeds.

Gary, I went back and watched your 400 free that you posted on here. It looks like your tempo in the middle of the race is around .73-.78 which really isn’t that high of a stroke rate. If you cut yourself off at 16 or 17 strokes, that is a drastic change it tempo which may be too slow for you. I did time conversion of your 400 free and I figure you are doing 35.00 for 50’s yards at 500 pace? If thats the case, if you take out the time for underwaters and turns, it’s about 15.00 per lap if you take out the underwaters and turns. That would make your tempo 15/16=.9375 and 15/17=.88. That may not be totally accurate but even if you have really long underwaters 13/16=.81. Either way, that is a radical change from your actual race tempo. I wouldn’t cut yourself short with strokes. I would try to hold a low tempo as long as you can and add strokes until you reach your target tempo. I think you’ll find that you won’t be able to sustain a higher than race tempo for very long. In the middle of your race you are around a 36.5 from first stroke to the last stroke before the turn. If you wanted to go on a slower tempo like .85 and still go 36.5 you would have to do it in 43 strokes. That seems like a lot of ground to make up. A more logical route might be keeping the same tempo but getting one less stroke per lap by improving DPS. If you think about it all you need is about 1 inch more dps per stroke to reduce your stroke count by 1 stroke per lap. 1 less stroke means you get there .75 faster. .75 x 8 laps = 6 seconds. I hope this helps. I can’t speak from experience when it come to the 400/500 but whatever the race is, the combination of tempo and dps is more important than stroke count.