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dealing with a Slow stroke rate

over-gliding? dead spots and pauses? no problemo!

See related technique articles: Rhythm, Timing and Stroke Rate and Dealing with a High Stroke Rate.

More Reasons Why Glide Is A Dirty Word!

On our main stroke rate page we explained why gliding is a bad thing for your swimming. It causes dead spots and it causes you to slow between strokes.

Well, here's another reason why it's bad. It's a very hard thing to do! Gliding along on your side with one arm in front takes a huge amount of balance and skill.

If you lose your balance on your side, we guarantee something will happen - you'll develop a scissor kick. It's your body's natural reaction to keep your balance.

Scissor kicks are like opening a parachute at the back of your stroke!

One solution to this is to spend hundreds of hours working on your balance in the water. Of course after this you'd still have a dead spot, decelerate between strokes and probably lose fitness from a lack of training.

Or you could lift your stroke rate a touch, stop gliding and focus instead on the business of swimming.

We've fixed many scissor kicks caused by gliding in this way. It doesn't take hundreds of hours either, with a Wetronome it takes a few minutes. Bonus!

A Slow Stroke Rate

big dead spot in stroke
This swimmer has a large dead spot at the front of their stroke. Faster swimmers can have them too.

You should have arrived here from our Rhythm, Timing and Stroke Rate page. Perhaps you used the BMI chart on that page to identify that you have a low stroke rate for your swimming speed. A low stroke rate means you turn your arms over slowly, with a long time between strokes.

Since you have a low stroke rate it's very likely you have dead spots or pauses in your stroke. This will normally occur at the front of your stroke technique when the hand is at it's full extension, gliding there for a while before starting the next stroke.

How to raise Your Stroke Rate

If you have a lot of co-ordination you can raise your stroke rate unaided. It is possible to do this through concentrating on lifting the tempo of your movements and removing pauses and hitches in your stroke.

However, for most swimmers we really recommend a Wetronome to do this. It's so precise and purpose built for this job.

When starting with a Wetronome we recommend you first determine your current stroke rate, either by having a friend watch you and measure it (see calculator on the stroke rate page) or by swimming with the Wetronome set to different rates until it feels normal.

The first thing to do with the Wetronome is to spend a little time swimming with it set to your current stroke rate. This is often very useful by itself, it will immediately show you if your stroke technique is at all lopsided (you'll be out of time on one side) and it will also show you what your pacing is like over several lengths. We find that nearly all swimmers start all their swims too fast and then slow down.

Once you understand how you are swimming at the moment, try increasing your stroke rate by about 3-5 beats. Whenever you make a change with the Wetronome, take a little time to get used to it. As you increase your stroke rate, swim in small repetitions of say 100m and keep an eye on the times you are swimming. Also monitor the effort levels.

Taking your stroke rate up 3-5 beats at a time is about right. If it feels hard at the higher stroke rate, take some time to relax and adapt to it and work on removing the dead spots in your stroke.

As you increase the stroke rate you will be swimming faster, that's a given. The key is keeping it controlled and not too hard physically. If you keep the dead spots and just speed up the rest of the stroke it will quickly become physically hard - so it's important to increase your stroke rate by removing the dead spots from your stroke technique.

Tips For Raising Your Stroke Rate

- Relax and go with the flow of your new stroke rate. Trust your stroke technique to hold together, don't think about the actions of the stroke too much and just concentrate on the rhythm and timing of it.

- Think about starting the catch earlier.

- Keep the lead hand in constant motion, it's either extending, tipping, catching or pulling. It never actually stops moving in good swimming technique.

- Experiment with timing the Wetronome beeps to different areas of your stroke technique. Normally we suggest hand entry, but try timing the catch to the beep or the push at the back of the stroke. Or if fancy a challenge, try timing your kick to the beep!

- If you have the Swim Smooth DVD Boxset, focus on the catch section drills and the Unco drill. They are excellent to develop rhythm and timing.

- PT Paddles also help improve your catch, which is often a key to raising your stroke rate.

Back To The Stroke Rate Chart

Keep an eye on where you are on the stroke chart. As your stroke rate is low you are either in or close to the blue area. Your objective is to move yourself into the middle of the white area. Here is a typical path for someone increasing their stroke rate:

Swim Smooth Stroke Rate Chart

As you gradually lift your stroke rate and adapt your stroke you should move diagonally up and right on the chart. This is what happened to Simon on line (3). As long as things are physically manageable and you keep getting faster, we suggest you keep going!

Eventually there will come a time where things become physically too hard or you stop getting faster. Your path should kick upwards on the chart then, this happened to Simon when he got to (4). The kick upwards indicates that you have lost a lot of efficiency so it's time to back off again.

The power of the Wetronome is that it helps to break stroke habits. Once you are used to swimming at a variety of stroke rates you won't need the Wetronome to vary your stroke rate. You'll be ableto do it naturally. Of course you'll still use it to keep tabs on your stroke technique as the weeks and months of training go by.

Stroke Rate And Open Water

Here's something interesting about stroke rate.

It's well known in the elite swimming and triathlon world that low strokes are bad news in open water. You are very prone to being stalled by chop, waves and shifting currents.

A small wave or a push from another competitor can stop you dead during a pause in your stroke.

The solution? Increase your stroke rate and remove the dead spots Elite triathletes often switch to higher stroke rate styles in open water for exactly this reason.

Find out more about open water and triathlon swimming.

Won't My Stroke "Fall Apart"?

This is a very common and understandable fear of swimmers who have worked hard on lengthening out their stroke.

In our experience, swimmer's strokes don't fall apart when they increase their stroke rate in a controlled way. Most swimmers over-estimate how much effect their concentration is having! Sometimes too much concentration is detrimental, making the stroke awkward and mechanical.

So don't worry about your stroke technique falling apart. Give it a little time and go with the flow. We suggest you judge the results on speed versus effort alone, not on how it feels initially. As we've discussed, increasing your stroke rate very often improves your stroke technique by removing dead spots and scissor kicks.

Watch Simon Increase His Stroke Rate

During one of our recent 1 to 1 stroke consultations, we started to film Simon as he is a classic example of someone benefiting from increasing their stroke rate using a Wetronome. Whilst he is quite an extreme example of an overgliding stroke technique, it's interesting to watch his progress. See how his scissor kick disappears as he increases his stroke rate (he didn't know he had it). The lines 3 and 4 on the above chart are Simon's progress during this session.

Wetronome Example - Simon Increases His Stroke Rate.
!!Warning: Contains Sound.

Swim Smooth's Simple Stroke Calculator

If you enjoy playing with the numbers, you may like to experiment with our stroke rate calculator below. Enter your stroke length and stroke rate and see how it effects your swim times:

Pool Length:

Your Strokes Per Length:

Your Stroke Rate Per Minute
(counting both arms) :

Your Length of Push Off in meters
(if you're not sure, use 3) :

100m time:

400m time:

1500m time:

3800m time:

See how trade offs between stroke length and stroke rate work for you. Can you trade off a little stroke length for more stroke rate and swim faster?

Everyone has a sweet spot in their stroke.

The Stroke Rate Ramp Test

Swim Smooth have designed a special test to help you understand your individual stroke efficiency and find the optimal stroke rate for you. Find this stroke rate 'sweet spot' in your technique and you will swim faster for the same effort.

Everyone should run their stroke through the Stroke Rate Ramp Test. Full details here.

Swim Smooth Terms and Conditions

Swim Smooth Links

improve your feel for the water to swim faster.
kick ass triathlon training plan for you.
heard about a high elbow catch but not sure what that meant?
wow, this is an amazing swimming visualisation to help you see what a great stroke looks like.
Swim Smooth's handy swimming glossary.
more open water swimming from Swim Smooth.
all about freestyle technique to swim faster.
a guide to triathlon and swimming in a wetsuit.
here's a great beginner swimming program, totally unique.
all about swim swimming stroke rate and how to control it.
learn about bilateral breathing here.
all about swimming technique in your language.