Q+A: How many swimming strokes should I take per minute?



triathlon swimming

Q. How many swimming strokes should I be taking per minute?

A. The key to any progression in swimming is to first develop an effective and sustainable technique. This means generating an efficient and powerful stroke.

Powerful means ensuring a strong pull phase, effective leg kick and rotation. Efficient means streamlined body position, comfortable breathing pattern and an ability to maintain a stroke rate and leg kick that matches your fitness levels. Once you address these areas you can consider what is the best stroke rate for you (stroke rate being arm rotations over a given distance, eg 20 strokes per 25 metres). Ideally, it's the rate you can maintain for your given distance.

Record the time it takes to cover a given distance and the amount of strokes taken, for example 320 strokes for 400 metres in seven and a half minutes. From this point on, try to reduce the strokes used to cover the distance and note the effect it has on time, on different muscles, time to recover and how you feel.

Hopefully, the strokes will become fewer and you'll cut down the time, meaning that you have generated a more efficient stroke and more power while also improving your swim fitness.

As a novice/developing swimmer and triathlete, try to avoid increasing your stroke rate; the increased arm turnover at this stage of your development can lead to more drag and a loss in form. This may result in slower times and require more physical effort. Aim instead to be smooth and relaxed.

At the advanced/elite level, increasing stroke rate can be advantageous to some because any 'dead spot' (a point at which no power is produced against the water) can be addressed. But this requires good technique and high levels of fitness.

Finally, don't compare yourself with others: body size, injury, physical condition and physiological make up can have a bearing on the stroke rate.

To summarise:

  • focus on stroke efficiency
  • to begin, attempt to reduce strokes
  • measure strokes/distance and time
  • experiment with your stroke rate

As always, try to work with a buddy/swim partner or coach. 

Dewi Winkle

With four Ironmen, three London-to-Paris cycle rides and a selection of marathons under his belt, Dewi Winkle is a top motivational trainer, a qualified triathlon coach, Watt Bike instructor and Run In England leader, and also oversees the Parachute Regiment selection process. He has sub-1:00 Ironman swims to his name and regularly competes in triathlons and challenge events.


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