Stroke length is a vital component in any efficient freestyle stroke. Not only does a longer stroke add stability and control in the water, it also facilitates more efficient swimming. In the most basic terms, a longer stroke means you swim fewer strokes. When it comes to open water swimming and Ironman swim legs, efficiency is imperative. But please note; I am not talking about gliding, but stroke length, they are very different!
One of the most effective tools for focussing on, maintaining, and improving stroke length is counting your strokes per lap. This allows both swimmer and coach to know whether your stroke is shortening up or becoming less efficient. To illustrate this, we can use a discussion that took place on pool deck earlier this week with an athlete.
One athlete was swimming with around 20 strokes per lap, which was higher than normal. This athlete was finishing their stroke at their hip, and as a result was missing out on the final 25-30% of their stroke each and every stroke.
For this athlete, that was roughly 30cm of water they weren't pushing each arm. If we extrapolate that out, each lap that athlete is missing out on 30cm of water 20 times: or 6m. So per 25m effort, they could be up to 6m more advanced down the pool simply by maintaining their stroke length. I'll let you figure out how much further advanced they would be in an Ironman swim! Stretching out at both ends of the freestyle stroke and aiming to hold long strokes helps reduce your stroke count per lap. To put it another way, if you do fewer strokes, you do less swimming! Everyone enjoys less swimming!