Reply To: Stroke Effiiency & USRPT
From personal experience, it’s almost impossible to focus on a piece of the puzzle and stroke count at the same time.
At first, counting strokes took a fair amount of concentration. It didn’t take long, though, for it to become an automatic, “in the background” kind of thing for me. I don’t even think about it anymore until a turn or touch. But I can tell you the stroke count now on just about every single lap I swim; warm up, main set, recovery, cooldown, or race; back, breast, fly, or free. It takes zero conscious effort.
As someone who does distance events, I find counting strokes extremely helpful. Counting is half of a live-time feedback loop that tells me when I need to concentrate more on stroke mechanics, and whether that concentration is working.
I would agree that for sprint event training, the target time is, more or less, the control for stroke breakdown. But you can “fake it” a little on longer reps. When training for the 400/500 free a few years ago, I would jack up the stroke rate of the 3rd 25 of a 75 to compensate for degrading quality, and the 20 seconds rest was enough recovery to repeat the cycle of one good 25, one OK 25, being just enough ahead of target pace to survive a poor quality 3rd 25. I didn’t fully recognize that’s what I was doing until later. When it came time to swim the 400M (LC) at my “A” meet, I “raced it like I trained it,” going from 42 strokes on my second fifty to 54 on the last. When I saw the video of that, I intuitively recognized that wasn’t a very good way to swim a distance event. I was more or less cruising the front half. I was trying much harder on the back half, but going slower.
After a 1/2 season of using stroke count as a failure criteria, and a season of optimizing the stroke count/stroke correction feedback loop, I was able to swim 1000y at roughly the same pace as that 400, with my stroke count holding very steady (+/-1) for every length from 100y to the finish.