The swim speed equation. Find out how to train for it!

Training & Technique
Written by: arena coaches at 11 November '15 0
You are reading: The swim speed equation. Find out how to train for it!

(S)peed =  (S)troke length X (S)troke rate

This is the equation for swim speed and it is the product of two simple factors, stroke length and stroke rate. The former can be improved by targeted technical drills, while the latter can be increased by specific strength and endurance exercises.

Stroke length is defined as the number of metres covered with each stroke. Attempting to reduce the number of arm strokes required to swim a length is a fundamental target for improving this particular skill. There are some basic techniques that can affect this factor, as we have already seen in some of our previous articles, for example the underwater phases and kick propulsion.

Here are some technical drills that will help you improve your stroke length for the various swim styles:

– Butterfly technique. Up & down. Make one complete butterfly arm stroke as long as possible, then dip underwater and perform 5-6 underwater leg kicks trying to cover as many metres as possible paying careful attention to the length of the movement.


– Backstroke and freestyle technique. Reducing the number of strokes every 50 m. This drill is the same for both swim styles. Swim 200 m attempting to gradually reduce the number of arm strokes every 50 m.

– Breaststroke technique. 1 arm stroke/2 leg kicks. Perform one complete breaststroke without moving your legs, dip slightly underwater as you extend forward and then perform 2 complete butterfly leg kicks in a streamline position (with your arms stretched out and your head underwater). Try to cover as many metres as possible during both the arm stroke and leg kick.

Stroke rate refers to the number of arm strokes taken in 60 seconds. It can easily be worked out using a stopwatch with a cadence measurer for arm strokes. If you do not have one, the easiest method is to count the number of strokes for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four.

To improve this factor, it is advisable to perform specific strength exercises out of the water, while you can try some of the following exercises in the pool alternating sprint power drills of no more than 15 m with conventional speed drills with a proper start.

– Sprint power drills (15 m):

  • Swim with clenched fists at the fastest possible stroke rate.


  • Swimming with hand paddles without pushing off the wall at the start. Perform three arm cycles without attaching the paddles to your hand (gripped along the sides), release them immediately and perform 3 quick arm cycles followed by 3 arm cycles at your fastest stroke rate with clenched fists.


– Speed sets (25 m):

  • 25 m sets dividing the pool into three parts (8-10 m) with 4/6 second rests performed at the fastest rate possible.

Speed is a perfect equation. Learn how to train for it scientifically!


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arena coaches

Swim coaches, trainers and experts will give you all kinds of tips for performing at your best in both training and races.