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Thread: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

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    Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    After recognizing that my stroke is much longer than most OWS, I decided to poke around and see if stroke was different for OW as opposed to swimming in a pool. I found this (There is a part 2 if you click on the channel and scroll down the right side):

    [nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8SEJpvZSOY&feature=relmfu"]YouTube - Swim Smooth: What Is An Efficient Freestyle Stroke? Part 1[/nomedia]

    I would love to get reactions. I know that when I quicken my stroke rate and shorten my stroke I seem to fatigue much more quickly. However, this could be due to not pursuing this long enough to re-establish breathing patterns. (When I concentrate on my stroke, I tend to hold my breath without realizing it).

    I do know that while my per 100 pace is slowly improving with more speed work in my work outs, it has dropped now where near what it used to be 20 years ago.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Brilliant video - though it's nearly 6 minutes long so I'll summarize:

    Paul begins with the observation that any given heat of elite pool freestylers will have sometimes wildly divergent styles - not all of which are the classic "long, smooth" form taught in books, articles, and videos (which Paul diplomatically doesn't name). He points to Laure Manaudou and Janet Evans as particularly striking examples.

    Further, open water swimmers and elite triathletes "seem to be a lot more choppy, punchy, and with a much higher stroke rate" than their pool counterparts.

    The "choppy, punchy, high SR" style - despite seemingly breaking all the rules of [unnamed stroke technique philosophy] - is by definition efficient for these swimmers, because they are competing (and often winning) at the highest level of the sport.

    Therefore, he says, "Efficiency in the water cannot be measured by the number of strokes you take per length, by itself. That would be a gross oversimplification of the freestyle stroke."

    Personally, I use a higher SR in open water than I do in distance pool races, and I think it works for me.

    As a counterpoint - and, I think, much less compelling argument - see this:
    http://www.totalimmersion.net/blog/T...er-Stroke.html
    Last edited by evmo; May 6th, 2011 at 12:10 PM. Reason: wording

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    The broader point here is that the stroke rate, length, and style that is most efficient for you may or may not be what is efficient for someone else.

    And regarding OW vs. pool - a naturally "punchier" style may be one correlate of a swimmer excelling in OW relative to the pool.

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    Very Active Member E=H2O's Avatar
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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    The first time I saw that video series it improved my self esteem. No more feeling bad because of my high stroke rate in the pool. When people approached me to offer some kind suggestions about my stroke, i just tell them that I come from the Janet Evans school of freestyle. One of the great things of open water is that no one can see how sloppy your stroke is from shore.
    "If you didn't swallow water in your last open water race, you weren't racing."

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by evmo View Post
    Paul begins with the observation that any given heat of elite pool freestylers will have sometimes wildly divergent styles - not all of which are the classic "long, smooth" form taught in books, articles, and videos (which Paul diplomatically doesn't name). He points to Laure Manaudou and Janet Evans as particularly striking examples.
    i had the pleasure of watching the distance guys at UT a couple of years ago...
    they were doing a set of 5x 200 on 2:30. the leaders of 2 adjacent lanes were both holding 1:43's... one at 16 SPL, one at 9 SPL. at 16 SPL: very impressive. at 9 SPL; mind blowing (at least to me). what does this have to do with OW? nothing

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    To maintain 16 SPL at any kind of speed requires a very powerful kick, or a 6' 8" body and a 7' wingspan
    "If you didn't swallow water in your last open water race, you weren't racing."

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    Very Active Member srcoyote's Avatar
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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    OK. So I just adjusted my workout today to focus on seeing if I could hold a shorter stroke with a faster turnover. My workout was mostly sets of 100's and 200's.

    I found that if I swam 100's on a 1:30 interval targeting 1:20, I could sustain this type of set much longer with a shorter stroke and faster turnover. Unfortunatley, I also found out that I could NOT finish a 300 with shorter stroke and faster turnover. I had lactic burning in my arms (I almost never feel that unless I'm doing a lot of sprinting). I couldn't seem to find a forever pace.

    Maybe it's just so foreign to my usual much longer stroke that it is still screwing with my breathing rhythm. So at a distance of 100 yards, I don't quite feel the fatigue and the 10 seconds rest allows me to catch up.

    I'm still wondering if I should continue this experiment.

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    Very Active Member chaos's Avatar
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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by srcoyote View Post

    I'm still wondering if I should continue this experiment.
    golf is a good experiment:

    repeat 50's on x interval
    establish a comfortable avg time
    reduce SPL until you can no longer hold time as above.

    now experiment with adding strokes without increasing time.
    does this feel easier? better able to sustain over long periods?
    these are questions you have to answer for yourself.

    now, add all the OW variables.... chop, waves, current, sighting, etc. i know i vary my SR and breathing pattern to adjust to the moment though i have watched some very impressive performances where the swimmer held steady through quite varied conditions.

    you have to work with what you have. me? i never had a high SR... and i'm not that fast.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by E=H2O View Post
    To maintain 16 SPL at any kind of speed requires a very powerful kick, or a 6' 8" body and a 7' wingspan
    I think you have this backwards. 16 strokes per lap is very short, not long.

    I read this article on Lance Armstrong. His pedal rate into strong winds is in excess of 110. He gears down and pedals really fast. His rivals do the opposite. They slow their rate down and pedal harder. The writers explanation is that Lance' stregnth was his Vo2 Max while others strength was their leg power.

    The translation to swimming is obvious. This possibly explains why Triathletes have higher stroke rates than "true" swimmers.

    Anyone notice that people are swimming on the left side of the lane in that video?

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by chaos View Post
    they were doing a set of 5x 200 on 2:30. the leaders of 2 adjacent lanes were both holding 1:43's... one at 16 SPL, one at 9 SPL.
    ...
    what does this have to do with OW? nothing
    Here's a hypothetical question: Of the two guys holding 1:43s, which one would be better in open water? (Assuming similar navigational IQ, psychological make-up, etc.) My bet is on the guy doing 16 SPL. How do I know? I don't. It's just that - for whatever reason - the best open water swimmers seem to have higher SR's than the best pool distance swimmers. Correlation isn't causation - but it is what it is.

    When Grant Hackett went 14:34, he was holding 75 SPM. In the 2000 Olympics, the average SR for the top 8 men in the 1500 was 82 SPM (Salo & Riewald, Appendix A). What about the 400 Free? 84 SPM. And then there's open water. Here's a video of the 2010 USA-S 10K Nationals:

    [nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzJv-SZ41II"]YouTube - Tactics & Techniques of Elite Open Water Swimmers[/nomedia]

    I measured the SR's of 5 or 6 different guys, and I couldn't find a single one under 80 SPM - in the middle of a 10K. Indeed, many were substantially higher. The end of the video shows the final 100m, when Fran Crippen out-touches Chip Peterson. Chip was stroking at about 92 SPM, and Fran at certain points was over 100 SPM. After 9,900m of swimming.

    My pet theory (as you know) is that higher SR's have an advantage in those types of races because they're able to maintain more consistent velocity when knocked off balance by choppy water and/or other swimmers in close proximity. The scrum of an open-water peloton (especially during starts and around turn buoys) is not the place for a leisurely SR. Also, I find I can sight more efficiently with a higher SR. It's less disruptive to the flow of my stroke.

    Am I saying any given random Masters swimmer should try to increase their SR to become better in open water? Not at all.

    P.S., I guess I'm a little sensitive on this issue because I recently had a TI coach encourage me to be more "patient" with my catch - to do more of a catch-up style stroke, even if it lowered my SR. I experimented this for a while - and it made me slower. I think it was bad advice - and he knew I'm primarily an open water swimmer. I wonder if Paul Newsome would given the same advice?
    Last edited by evmo; May 6th, 2011 at 05:37 PM. Reason: addendum

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by lefty View Post
    I think you have this backwards. 16 strokes per lap is very short, not long.
    You're right. I quoted the wrong SPL number.

    I read this article on Lance Armstrong. His pedal rate into strong winds is in excess of 110. He gears down and pedals really fast. His rivals do the opposite. They slow their rate down and pedal harder. The writers explanation is that Lance' stregnth was his Vo2 Max while others strength was their leg power.
    I agree. Compare Lance to Ullrich, who some refer to as riding like he has a diesel engine. Diesel engines have relatively high torque and reach there peak HP at relatively low RPMs. Compare that to a normally aspirated Honda engine. Low torque numbers, and reaches its top HP at high RPMS
    "If you didn't swallow water in your last open water race, you weren't racing."

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    mine in bold
    Quote Originally Posted by evmo View Post
    Here's a hypothetical question: Of the two guys holding 1:43s, which one would be better in open water? (Assuming similar navigational IQ, psychological make-up, etc.) My bet is on the guy doing 16 SPL. don't know... but the 9spl guy was in the olympics the other was notHow do I know? I don't. It's just that - for whatever reason - the best open water swimmers seem to have higher SR's than the best pool distance swimmers. Correlation isn't causation - but it is what it is.

    When Grant Hackett went 14:34, he was holding 75 SPM. In the 2000 Olympics, the average SR for the top 8 men in the 1500 was 82 SPM (Salo & Riewald, Appendix A). What about the 400 Free? 84 SPM. And then there's open water. Here's a video of the 2010 USA-S 10K Nationals:

    YouTube - Tactics & Techniques of Elite Open Water Swimmers

    I measured the SR's of 5 or 6 different guys, and I couldn't find a single one under 80 SPM - in the middle of a 10K. Indeed, many were substantially higher. The end of the video shows the final 100m, when Fran Crippen out-touches Chip Peterson. Chip was stroking at about 92 SPM, and Fran at certain points was over 100 SPM. After 9,900m of swimming.SR being =, the higher stroke length wins

    My pet theory (as you know) is that higher SR's have an advantage in those types of races because they're able to maintain more consistent velocity when knocked off balance by choppy water and/or other swimmers in close proximity. The scrum of an open-water peloton (especially during starts and around turn buoys) is not the place for a leisurely SR. Also, I find I can sight more efficiently with a higher SR. It's less disruptive to the flow of my stroke.

    Am I saying any given random Masters swimmer should try to increase their SR to become better in open water? Not at all.

    P.S., I guess I'm a little sensitive on this issue because I recently had a TI coach encourage me to be more "patient" with my catch - to do more of a catch-up style stroke, even if it lowered my SR. i find that i have to slow things down to learn something new. the lesson is 2 parts. part 1 increase distance per stroke (one must usually slow down to do this) part 2 maintain distance per stroke while increasing SRI experimented this for a while - and it made me slower. I think it was bad advice - and he knew I'm primarily an open water swimmer. I wonder if Paul Newsome would given the same advice?i think paul would agree that there are only 2 ways to get faster; increase SR while maintaining DPS of increase DPS while maintaining SR

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    My issues with TI aside, the thread topic is "Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW." David linked to a video by "Swim Smooth" coach Paul Newsome, which argued that a shorter, punchier stroke can be efficient for some swimmers, and indeed may confer an advantage in open water.

    The following statement is, I believe, uncontroversial: For each individual, there's an ideal combination of SL and SR. All other combinations (SR+/SL- or SR-/SL+) are "inefficient." For the mathematically inclined, see this graph from Maglischo:



    So in Maglischo terms, the idea is that in open water, the curve may shift slightly to the right. In other words: Sacrificing some SL in favor of SR may help in OW. I presented some suggestive evidence for this (video of elite OW swimmers), and offered a few potential reasons (more consistent velocity, balance, more efficient sighting).

    I'm still waiting for someone to engage in an evidence-based debate with me on this (or something besides "This has nothing to do with OW").

    Quote Originally Posted by chaos View Post
    SR being =, the higher stroke length wins
    If you're referring to the video of Fran and Chip, it actually shows the opposite: SL being equal, the higher SR wins.

    Here's another video from yesterday's Crippen SafeSwim 10K, showing pros Andrew Gemmell (97 SPM), Sergiy Fesenko (86 SPM), and Chad LaTourette (81 SPM). Gemmell won.

    [nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu92fvauYBs"]YouTube - Fran Crippen SafeSwim 10K Elite Men[/nomedia]


    The video was taken at about the 8K mark. 97 SPM in the middle of a 10K! Interestingly, the lowest SR of the three (LaTourette) is the best pool swimmer.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by chaos View Post
    the lesson is 2 parts. part 1 increase distance per stroke (one must usually slow down to do this) part 2 maintain distance per stroke while increasing SR
    I'm familiar with the lesson - and I think it's the right approach for novice swimmers. Is it the right approach for an expert swimmer? Maybe - but maybe not. A smart coach looks at both factors - SL and SR - and decides where the "low-hanging fruit" are. In some cases, SR might be the lower-hanging fruit. A coach shouldn't automatically assume that a catch-up stroke (higher SL) will be more efficient. I'm sure there were coaches who thought Janet Evans should be more "patient" with her catch. And those coaches would be idiots.

    Chaos, you're a TI coach, so I'll ask your opinion:

    I'm currently an 18:08 miler (unrested). In college I was about 16:30. My stroke count per 25 yards - then and now - is 14. The difference between my 19-year old self and my 31-year old self is the stroke rate I was capable of sustaining.

    At 14 SPL, I'm well below the suggested stroke-count range (16-19) for my height (5 ft 7 in), as suggested by Terry Laughlin. For an open-water 10K, my SR is typically 65-67 SPM. World-class OW swimmers - most of whom are 6-9 inches taller than me - are more like 80-90 SPM.

    Here's a video of me swimming 100 yards in a pool at my 10K effort (65-67 SPM):

    [nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5MHwQo_dx8"]YouTube - 110310d 100FR d2-3[/nomedia]


    Given this information, would your advice to me be: "Evan, the best way for you to take your swimming to the next level is to do more of a catch-up stroke" ? Is my stroke length really the low-hanging fruit here?

    Sounds crazy, right? Well, that was the advice given to me by a TI coach.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    I'd like to offer an observation, based only on my own personal experiences and some tenuous connections to physics.

    First, not all open water swimming is the same. Let's assume just for the sake of argument that in all cases a swimmer in a pool is faster if they lower their SPL. If we move that pool swimmer into a calm lake, and assuming there are no other swimmers around, then that swimmer should remain the fastest. So the question is: does the longer stroke being used by the swimmer become a disadvantage as the conditions worsen? If so, how bad do they have to get.

    Second, not all swimmers ultimately reach a magic SPL that guarantees success. Regardless of SPL, some swimmers simply will not make it to the top. So that means that there are other biomechanical & physiological issues that will determine maximum performance.

    So what does this mean? Frankly, I don't know other than comparing one swimmer to another by simply comparing SPL seems helpful but not definitive. If I understand Chaos he is saying they as to each individual swimmer, decreasing SPL makes them a faster pool swimmer. Not necessarily when they are working on the skill, but it does once they return to their previous SR. This seems to be a good common sense argument, but my question is: so what? (SARC INT)

    What I think EVMO is saying (and please guys correct me if I am wrong) that a higher SR allows the swimmer to adapt better to the conditions in a swim. If this is true, how bad do the conditions have to be for it to be a meaningful advantage. I don't know.

    However, what I do know (or believe, if you prefer) that a shorter stroke (i.e. higher SR) allows me to adjust my stroke to take advantage of the conditions - or at least not be dominated by them. If I have a low SPL and low SR then as I swim in rough water the wave, or waves if the the wind and deep swells are not identical in direction and period, will interfere with the rhythm of my stroke and cause me to lose momentum. If I switch to a higher SPL and higher SR this will minimize the negative effect of the waves. This is critical because it always requires less power to achieve a certain average speed if your speed is constant, than if you are constantly speeding up and slowing down. each stroke cycle.
    Last edited by E=H2O; May 8th, 2011 at 06:55 PM.
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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by evmo View Post

    Here's another video from yesterday's Crippen SafeSwim 10K, showing pros Andrew Gemmell (97 SPM), Sergiy Fesenko (86 SPM), and Chad LaTourette (81 SPM). Gemmell won.

    YouTube - Fran Crippen SafeSwim 10K Elite Men


    The video was taken at about the 8K mark. 97 SPM in the middle of a 10K! Interestingly, the lowest SR of the three (LaTourette) is the best pool swimmer.
    gemmel certainly looks smoother in this vid. he is out in front and the other two are catching a draft. that alone might account for the difference in SR... fesenko appears to expending a lot of energy looking at gemmell. i would think he could feel whats going on from such a vantage point. was there a sprint to the finish? or did they spread out?

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    Very Active Member chaos's Avatar
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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by evmo View Post

    Here's a video of me swimming 100 yards in a pool at my 10K effort (65-67 SPM):

    YouTube - 110310d 100FR d2-3


    Given this information, would your advice to me be: "Evan, the best way for you to take your swimming to the next level is to do more of a catch-up stroke" ? Is my stroke length really the low-hanging fruit here?

    Sounds crazy, right? Well, that was the advice given to me by a TI coach.
    i won't comment on what advice you were given as i don't know the context but, based on your swimming history and present shape, i would say that there may not be any low hanging fruit. since 14 SPL seems to be a comfortable i would try and design sets that help you test the hypothesis that a higher SPL will be faster.... but that isn't the only question. there may be a net gain even if there is no benefit to your speed and that would be if a higher SR felt easier, and more sustainable over long distances. i would assign sets like this:
    12x 600 on 9:00 descend in sets of 3

    1. 13 SPL breath every 3
    2. 13 SPL breathe 2r / 2l
    3. 13 SPL breath 25yds r / 25yds l

    4 - 6 as above 14 SPL

    7 - 9 as above 15 SPL

    10 - 12 as above 16 SPL

    try to maintain the same effort throughout so you might determine how both SR and breathing pattern effect speed and sustainability. the next time... do the set in reverse. as a data junkie, i think (hope) sets like this would appeal to you and perhaps give you some of the feedback you're looking for. i would avoid giving any instruction as to how i think you might change things to hit the targeted SPL's but would say to try and keep the walls consistent.

    thats what i would do (and its why i don't have any friends)

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by E=H2O View Post
    If I have a low SPL and low SR then as I swim in rough water the wave, or waves if the the wind and deep swells are not identical in direction and period, will interfere with the rhythm of my stroke and cause me to lose momentum. If I switch to a higher SPL and higher SR this will minimize the negative effect of the waves. This is critical because it always requires less power to achieve a certain average speed if your speed is constant, than if you are constantly speeding up and slowing down. each stroke cycle.
    i think its important to have a range of SR's and breathing patterns at ones disposal to be able to establish peace with adverse conditions. sometimes i slow it down, sometimes i speed it up.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by chaos View Post
    i think its important to have a range of SR's and breathing patterns at ones disposal to be able to establish peace with adverse conditions. sometimes i slow it down, sometimes i speed it up.
    I think this is the conclusion I'm coming to. I originally began exploring this to see if there was anything I could do to speed up my long distance pace for 3K to 5K swims. For the last two years, I've stagnated at a 1:27 to 1:30 (depending on my conditioning) per 100 yard pace at 15 SPL.

    I came across the video at the top of the thread and noted that it wasn't only OWS that have the shorter, choppier stroke. Some well known distance pool swimmers (Janet Evans) have the same stroke. So I decided to try to see if I could adapt my stroke.

    I tried the golf exercise this past weekend. It took a lot of effort for me to fit in more than 17 SPL. While my physical effort felt very similar at both 15 SPL and 17 SPL, the 17 SPL 50's were much faster. However, I found I can't sustain 17 SPL at higher stroke rate for longer than 200 yards. I believe much of the reason for this is my failure to find a new breathing rhythm at 17 SPL.

    I have decided to table my experiment until I can get in a 50m pool so I'm not having to factor in newly awkward turns as well. 25y may be too short a distance for me to experiment. I can't find a stroke or breathing rhythm before it's time for a turn.

    I do think I will continue to work on a "second" stroke for use in some OWS. There is 2.4 miler I've done that involves 1.2 miles of up river swimming. My usual 15 SPL didn't seem very effective up river on that one. Maybe a shorter stroke will help me maintain forward momentum.

    As for speeding up my distance pace, I may have to keep looking for other ideas.

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    Re: Stroke Rate & Stroke Length in OW

    Quote Originally Posted by chaos View Post
    i find that i have to slow things down to learn something new. the lesson is 2 parts. part 1 increase distance per stroke (one must usually slow down to do this) part 2 maintain distance per stroke while increasing SRI
    This is more or less what I have spend the last 13 months doing. I decided I was going to increase DPS and committed to swimming lmost every lap at 12 LPS in 25 yards and 14 in 25 meters. I only bothered with speed once or twice per week. I think it worked well because at races I reverted my focus back to rate, not DPS. Yes, you have to find the right combination of DPS and Rate to attain maximum speed, you also have to find the right combination of working on it at practice.

    Here is the article I referenced: http://www.trifuel.com/training/bike...daling-economy

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