Why Stroke Rate Matters to Your Triathlon Swim - Part 2

In the last blog, we looked at the importance of not only knowing and maximizing the cadence rates of your bike and run but also that of your swim. In this blog, we’ll look at how to calculate your strokes per minute (SPM) and whether to slow down or speed up your rates to be as efficient and productive as possible.

Slowing Down and Speeding Up

First of all, you should discover for yourself what your actual SPM are. The easiest way to do this is to use Swim Smooth’s calculator and measure how long it takes you to perform 10 strokes. Follow this link to find the calculator and the pictured graph below.

In fact, I will be referencing much of Swim Smooth’s written work through the rest of this post. I personally have tremendous confidence in their swim philosophy and they have proven to be a great partner to the TriDot Triathlon Training System. To best execute the test, have a friend or coach time you with a stopwatch during the 10 strokes. You should not hit the wall during this test. Remember we’re only measuring pure strokes.

Once your stroke rate is determined, use your average pace per 100m and the Swim Smooth “BMI” graph to find out where you are in terms of stroke rate.

If you’re on the upper end of the graph (as seen here), then obviously this means it’s time to slow down. The best way to handle this challenge, as Swim Smooth says, is to work with a swimming metronome. Personally, I’ve enjoyed products from Finis so I would recommend the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro.

First, set the tempo trainer to your current stroke rate. Initially you’ll want to get used to swimming to the beeps consistently at what is already normal for you. Once that is established you can go ahead and adjust the tempo trainer down by 3 to 5 beats per minute. So, for example, if your current SPM is 85 then decrease the metronome down to 80, 81, or 82 beats per minute.

I agree with Swim Smooth’s advice to be patient with the new stroke rate speed. You’ll need to think about good hip roll and long extensions. But don’t just extend the front of your stroke. Follow all the way through. Have your thumb brush your side as you finish the stroke, all the while remembering to re-correct your body position when necessary for optimal balance.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself on the lower end of the graph (as seen here), then you’ll want to consider speeding up your stroke rate. The advice here is nearly the same. Use a swim specific metronome like the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro only now increase the rate by 3 to 5 beats per minute. Again, be patient with the transition. Don’t panic. Relax and trust in your technique. Like how Swim Smooth recommends, don’t think too much about the individual nuances of your stroke. Instead, focus on the rhythm and keeping to the beat.

You’ll need to start the catch earlier and always keep the lead hand in constant motion. If your stroke rate is too slow then most likely you are incurring dead spots – usually right before the catch.

By using the tools we now have available and following the prescribed advice above, we can treat stroke rate, and thus our swimming as a whole, in much the same way we treat our cycling and running. Swimming efficiency during a triathlon is not as easy to monitor as the bike and run.

Therefore, the efficiency groundwork of your training encompasses all the more importance. I highly recommend checking out all three articles from Swim Smooth as referenced and linked in this post, as well as this video on how to properly use the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro.


To achieve optimal timing, understand what your stroke rate is and how to improve it if needed. Your goal is to obtain the “sweet spot” between too many and not enough strokes per minute.


Do you know what your stroke rate is? If so, where do you fall on the Swim Smooth “BMI” graph? Also, do you use a swimming metronome and, if so, have you noticed any benefits from its use?

JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.

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