Can a higher stroke count be better?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on December 5th, 2010

Bsaaditya asked for advice on how to use the Tempo Trainer to swim faster on the Discussion Forum thread “Beep, Beep, Beep. Argh”

I finally got my Tempo Trainer and hit the pool with redoubled enthusiasm. This is what I noticed: My tempo is in the range of 1.5 to 1.6 sec/stroke, taking 12 SPL in a 21-meter pool. I can maintain this combination for 800 meters. 

But my stroking isn’t uniform ; my left side is a tad slower than my right. 

So… do I need to correct my stroke or should I just settle for pacing my laps evenly?

Two other Forum members, Stijn and Westy replied with suggestions. A day later Bsaaditya posted again.

Thanks for the replies. My last pool session with the TT was much better thanks to your inputs. I concentrated solely on syncing with beeps. Right now I feel like it’s best to sync the catch because that’s the pivotal moment of propulsion. It also feels really good.  I’ll stick with this tempo for a week before I change anything. SPL is 12-14, and I’m trying to correct my irregular breathing-stroke. I’m also working on a smooth flip turn in three beeps so I can keep at the same rhythm. It’s gonna be fun!

I would encourage you to be willing to progress in tempo a bit more expeditiously. The first time I ever used the TT (in 2004) I set it at 1.10 sec/stroke and swam 50m. I felt like I was scrambling to keep up with the beep. Not in my comfort zone. So I slowed it to 1.30 then swam 21 x 50, advancing the tempo by .01 after each and counting strokes. At the end of this set I was back to 1.10.

My focus was mainly on minimizing increase in SPL as tempo increased. I believe I was taking 35 strokes per 50m at the beginning and 38 at the end. I did some quick math and realized that:

One: 38SPL @ 1.1 was over 2 seconds faster per 50 than 35SPL @ 1.3. This translates into an improvement over 1500m of more than a minute! 
Takeaway: Sometimes a higher SPL is better. Learning precisely which SPL is better is invaluable.

Two: I had achieved that significant increase in speed without ‘trying’ to swim faster. It felt like I’d used about 90% mental energy (renewable) and 10% physical energy (non-renewable).
Takeaway: I now had an option other than ‘go harder’ for improving my pace.

Three: A tempo which felt too quick just 20 minutes (and 1000m) earlier had already become quite comfortable.
Takeaway: The nervous system is capable of adapting at lightning speed. (The aerobic system takes months.) And you can feel adaptation happen in real time. (Never true for the aerobic system.)

My training was forever changed that day. 
Exciting insights have continued to flow too.

Learn how to effectively combine SPL and Tempo at a special 1-day intensive Freestyle Made Faster class Dec 17 in Coral Springs FL. These classes will be led by Terry Laughlin, Shinji Takeuchi and Shane Eversfield.

5 Responses to “Can a higher stroke count be better?”

  1. surfsalterpath says:

    …thanks for the discussion. Found you youtube clip on tt

  2. Steve says:

    Seems to me there should be some consideration given to the height of the swimmer when considering optimal stroke tempo for training.

    There was a fascinating article in the NY TIMES recently about how cats drink (

    The relevance to stroke tempo is that the engineers who determined how house cats do it, were able to extrapolate to larger cats, based upon the size of the animal.

    Extrapolating to swimming, one would think that there is an optimum “sweet spot” for stroke tempo if one’s goal is optimum efficiency. Naturally, this would not apply where speed is more important than efficiency.

  3. Steve
    Absolutely correct. There are a couple of ways to determine, for any individual, what one’s Stroke Length Sweet Spot isl I’ll share it shortly in another post. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Isaac Ohel says:

    It seems to me that due to higher water resistance, a faster speed will always result in shorter stroke (or higher SPL). The trick is that as Terry says “Learning precisely which SPL is better is invaluable”

    How can we tell which part of the SPL increase is due to the higher speed and which is due to deteriorating streamline.

  5. I don’t know if it’s possible to distinguish exactly. The main point is to be constantly aware of (1) SPL – to be alerted when SL is decreasing, and (2) as much water sensation as possible so you can feel when either streamline or propulsion are deteriorating.

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