Reply To: Stroke count as failure criteria?

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Long post, but really good post, Marlin. I think I agree with all of it – especially the notion that a fine-tuned “optimal” tempo is specific to the swimmer…I really like that. It’s something I’ve thought myself for a long time. I’m getting stuck on how stroke count isn’t important (or less important) than tempo/DPS. How can it be irrelevant/less important given one’s stroke count is the result of one’s tempo and DPS?

I tend to look at stroke count because it’s the only practical measurement a swimmer can accurately assess while training/racing. With the exception of using a tempo trainer how could a swimmer accurately measure their tempo? If they counted strokes they could make a relative assessment of DPS in some cases (i.e. rep time was same/slower & count went up = DPS down or vice versa). But say stroke count goes up and time gets faster or vice versa…DPS could have shifted either way. Assuming one could do the math there’s no reasonable way to do it in the moment during a set. It seems to me stroke count is all that’s readily available to help a swimmer self-assess.

I don’t think I’m arguing or, really, disagreeing I just got hung up on the notion that stroke count isn’t important. I had a thought that perhaps you meant that there isn’t a stroke count that, generally, we “should” be doing. Rather one’s ideal stroke count is specific to the swimmer. Which would parallel what you were illustrating with all the numbers.

Getting back to Gary…I’d say that I would’ve liked to see his 400 splits flatten out at a 38 mid or high, but it’s tough to be too definitive without seeing splits from other races. Maybe Gary is one of those bat-out-of-hell mid distance swimmers. I’d expect a split spread like that out of a good 200 swimmer who leans toward the sprinting, but got tossed into the 500. Not a bad race, really, but not the splits of a refined 400/500 swimmer (with no disrespect intended toward Gary).

Looking at the stroke counts themselves I’d toss out the 1st and last 50. The 1st includes the start and all the adrenaline…everyone is wicked low in the first lap. We should all see that effect rep to rep in a set much less a race. I didn’t see the video (where’s the link?), but I’m guessing the last 50 included some end-of-race spurt of speed which usually involves a big gear shift in tempo. So you went from 42 to 51…closer to a 20% rise which is probably not great but better than 25%. There seems to be a pretty consistent 0.40 second correlation per added stroke after the 2nd 50 which would tend to point to your mechanics staying stable. I keep ringing the bell on the walls, but is there a difference in your approach to the walls and/or the speed/distance you’re carrying off of them? So often I see an extra stroke force a glide into a wall or a weird half stroke to make the turn work and poof…there goes your turn momentum and distance on your push. Also, what are you doing in your breakouts? Where and how that first breath happens can make all the difference in the world. Easily enough to account for your splits and stroke counts.

On a slightly different but related topic whenever I work with sprinters on increasing tempo they usually dislike how it feels at first. Especially the larger power sprinters with smooth mechanics. They hate the feeling of rushing a stroke or pulling in a way that’s obviously slipping to some degree. I am always forced to go to the white board to show that if you normally take 12 strokes and get it up to 16 then you can lose up to a third of your DPS before you break even with your 12-strokes. Get that stroke count up to 18 and the math is even better. The first thing I have them try is to move their arm through the recovery quicker and change nothing else. Once they balance things out a bit there’s a tiny hit to DPS and instant gain of 2 strokes. Now if we’re smart about things and slowly add strokes then DPS doesn’t suffer much and we’re left with a buzz-saw of a sprinter. Hopefully.

Both in sprinting (raising tempo) and longer races (maintaining tempo) it’s all about the mechanical mistakes that creep in. Is the sprinter shorting their stroke to boost their tempo or are they forcing the proper mechanics and allowing their CNS to adapt to be able to fire their arms around faster? Is the mid distance swimmer shorting their stroke because that’s their personal tendency? Or is it body rotation. Or head position. Or hips & kicking. Or on and on. Sort that out, gain control and the swimmer should get a lot faster.

I had another thought pop in my head about stroke count and Gary’s race. How much rise is generally good or bad? Most of my experience is in 25 yard pools where (from a push) I usually start off with 10 strokes, then 11 for 50-75 yards and then stabilize at 12. From a start I’m sure I’d be 8 or 9 strokes the first lap then 10-11 and into my normal pattern. 10 to 12 is a 20% rise and really doesn’t strike me as bad at all. Food for thought.