What’s keeping your freestyle down – Stroke length

Training & Technique
Written by: Brant Best at 2 May '14 0
You are reading: What’s keeping your freestyle down – Stroke length

Last time we chatted, we discussed head position, resistance and balance… If your body is in the wrong position, your efficiency is out the window and you have to work a lot harder for the same distance and speed… it’s a real drag…. literally.

The other critical area in freestyle is distance per stroke….. improving it can have a massive bearing on your times. Neglecting it can mean a very tough day at the office and a scoreboard that is telling a story you don’t want to hear.

It’s not rocket science.

Stroke length – it’s another well discussed but misunderstood aspect of swimming fast. It is as critical as any aspect of freestyle and to put simply it is the distance you travel between your hand entering the water at the front and leaving at the back. And that extra distance, even if only a few extra centimetres can make a world of difference to your times.

Using a simple example with some very simple maths, it’s easy to see how a longer stroke can make you faster.  My apologies if you’re not a fan of maths but I am a coach and whilst I’m no maths genius, it comes in handy when looking for that edge.

For the sake of this example we will use John who is a 200m freestyler who has been stuck on his PB for quite a while, frustrated by this John has worked out with his coach that added stroke length is the answer. Before the change John takes an average of 35 strokes in 42 metres. (averaging 8m per lap underwater) This means the swimmer has a stroke length of 1.2m per stroke, no rocket science there! (Just some basic calculations)

If John adds just 3.5 cm per stroke and holds the same stroke rate, he is going to take significant strides towards taking down that PB. From a coach’s point of view that’s 1 stroke less per lap, which is 4 strokes per 200 and at that stroke length of 1.2 metres per stroke will be 4.8 metres in front of where he was before the change. He is now finishing the race where before he was barely inside the flags at the same time. Even at the finishing speed of some of the world top finishers that’s over 2 seconds.

2 seconds minimum improvement for just 3cm per stroke ??? … that’s a lot of bang for your buck John!!… Worth considering? Absolutely! Simple? Far from it !

Without the space left in today’s blog to go into it fully, the distance you travel per stroke is a more complicated beast than it would seem and it doesn’t always depend on how far you reach forward at the front and or push back.

But that’s another chat for next time where we look at some alternative but effective ideas to gain stroke length. In the meantime, keep counting your strokes per lap, set a new standard for yourself and have a bit of a play with how many strokes you can take for a given time. Challenge yourself and your team mates and pop back in for the net blog where I will give you some insights into how you can beat them and pick up your own 3.5cm per stroke.


Written by:

Brant Best

Brant Best is an Australian national swimming team coach and the Head High Performance Coach at the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) and the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (SOPAC). Among the athletes that train with Best are James ‘The Missile’ Magnussen (100m freestyle World Champion and Olympic silver medallist), as well as Olympians Daniel Tranter (2013 WC 200 IM finalist), Jessica Ashwood (2013 WC top-10 800 free), Jayden Hadler (IM) and Daniel Arnamart (backstroke).