The Trickiness about DPS & Stroke Rate

These two factors come up again and again for elite swimmers with the reason being – the best swimmers in the world MAINTAIN a GOOD Distance Per Stroke (DPS) with a FAST Stroke Rate, but how exactly do you teach that? Learning the fundamentals of how to keep the stroke LONG, while going FAST is something you can train – so let’s dive in to how you do that!

What is DPS & Stroke Rate?

An old blog post of mine titled: The Fine Line Between DPS and Stroke Rate really breaks down the definitions of DPS and Stroke Rate, along with the relationship they have to each other. If you’re not certain how these factors play a role into swimming, give that post a read. For today’s blog, we want to focus on how swimmers would train with these two factors to find their best (and fastest) stroke.

The general goal with swimming is to move water backwards – so swimmers can progress forward. Remember Newton’s Law: Equal and Opposite Reaction?! The goal is to move AS MUCH water as you can – at the FASTEST speed. This is a very diluted definition of all of what swimming is in a resistance-based medium.

So if you combine the amount of water you move to someone’s DPS and how fast they move that water as their Stroke Rate – BOOM – that’s the money maker. For the most part, swimmers will NOT struggle to speed up their strokes, but they will struggle to keep the length of their strokes at a faster speed.

Distance Per Stroke & Freestyle:

If we use Freestyle as an example, one of the biggest mistakes swimmers make when they speed up is SHORTEN their pull. This is bad for a multitude of reasons, but the main one being – if you miss out on length at the end of your pull, you miss a lot of time in your propulsive phase.

A swimmer’s Freestyle pull is like drawing the bottom half of a circle. One entire stroke cycle, including the pull and recovery is one full circle. If you don’t see swimmers finishing their stroke past their hips, they are missing some key time to keep moving forward from that specific stroke. You always want a swimmer to utilize the entirety of the pull itself – that is from a straight arm extension after the fingertips enter into the water – to – a tricep extension with the hands pushed past the hips.

The beginning and end of the Freestyle Pull are directly connected because a swimmer’s arms should always be at opposite points in that circle. So another way to think about it is if you don’t have extension at the end of your pull – you won’t have it at the beginning. This will greatly reduce the width of your circle and in reality – lower your DPS.

How Do I Train This?

One of the main ways you can train keeping a good DPS and Stroke Rate is to have your swimmers keep an eye on their regular Stroke Count per lap. Each swimmer will have an average Stroke Count per lap based on their stroke swimming. This average number will change based on their speed level.

Once a swimmer becomes aware that their stroke count is X – they can use that number to check-in during hard efforts to see what their count is then. For example, I swim with 12 strokes per lap in a 25-yard Freestyle. This is a good pace for me, but also not a grinding stroke. As I continue to ramp up my speed, I may add 1-2 more strokes to that number so I max out at 14 strokes per lap but anything more than that is just me spinning in the water or being lazy with my underwaters.

You can also play some games with your swimmers, where you have them attempt a small set like 4×50’s. The first one they count their strokes and in each repeated 50, they try to keep the same count but go faster. This type of set will encourage swimmers to continue with the length of their stroke, but maximize their kick, turns, and finish.


Combining a good Stroke Rate and DPS will help you swim efficiently. There is a lot of talk in the swimming world on how to be the *most* efficient and working with these two factors really is the key. I tell my swimmers all the time, it’s not who works the hardest anymore who wins – it’s who works the smartest. So next time you hit the pool, you better start counting your strokes.

Happy Training!

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

3 Responses

  1. Ummmm….good swimmers don’t push water back…
    ….rather they push back on the water 😜

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