The term algorithm was coined by mathematicians over 1,000 years ago; today–we hear it in the media all the time!
An algorithm is an effective method that can be expressed within a finite amount of space, time and in a well-defined formal language for calculating a function. In layman’s terms, an algorithm is a process that solves a recurring problem.
The recurring problem swimmers face is how to get faster. We’re continuously looking for ways to push our bodies to the physical limits and swim faster than ever before. The majority of swimmers fall short of their true potential because they choose ineffective methods to swim faster.
Simply swimming harder does not equate to swimming faster!
Fortunately there is an algorithm for swimming success. It’s backed by years of data collected by USA Swimming on their very best swimmers. The data shows most clearly that a rare and completely counterintuitive skill is the key to success in swimming. That skill is the ability to maintain Stroke Length while increasing Stroke Rate.

Swimming Chart From MySwimPro Mobile App
Screenshot from MySwimPro mobile application

Why counterintuitive? Well what does everyone do naturally when trying to swim faster? Work harder and stroke faster—while ignoring Stroke Length! No wonder this virtually always leads to failure and frustration: Most swimmers have it exactly backwards!

The Swimming Equation

ST = (UT + TT) + (CC * SR)
ST = Swim Time
UT = Underwater Time
TT = Turn Time
CC = Cycle Count
SR = Stroke Rate

Scott Colby, a USA Swimming High Performance Consultant presented The Swimming Equation in an online coaches webinar for USA Swimming. Full presentation can be found here.

How To Swim Faster

Plan A: Increase Tempo – Faster Stroke Cycles

55 strokes x 1.33 sec = 1:13.15
55 strokes x 1.23 sec = 1:07.65

Can you do this? Yes, with training!

Plan B: Increase DPS – Take Fewer Strokes

55 strokes x 1.33 sec = 1:13.49
53 strokes x 1.33 sec = 1:10.49

Can you do this? Yes, with training!

Plan C: Do Both – Faster Stroke Cycles & Take Fewer Strokes

55 strokes x 1.33 sec = 1:13.15
53 strokes x 1.23 sec = 1:05.19

Can you do this? Yes, but it will take time!

How To Optimize Your Swimming Algorithm

The reality is you can’t have faster stroke cycles and simultaneously take fewer strokes. It takes time to re-wire your neuromuscular system, and extensive training to condition your body to this increased swimming efficiency. Honing in on your technique is the best way to reach your potential and make the most of your time in the water. Improving your technique regularly can drastically improve your overall swimming efficiency, speed and confidence in the water.
Related: Why Technique Is So Important To Swim Fast
Below is Katie Hoff’s 100 breaststroke split in her world record progression for the 400 IM. As you can see, her stroke rate decreased, but the number of strokes also decreased meaning she had a much higher distance per stroke cycle. This was enough to make up for a slower stroke rate and improve her 100 breaststroke split by nearly 3 seconds!
Related: How To Build A Yearly Training Plan

  • Season planning – start each season focusing on maximizing Distance Per Stroke
  • Work on tempo and DPS separately
  • Train sets that focus on improving SWOLF – “swimming golf”

Craving a swim workout? Download our free mobile workout app for iPhone and Android.


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