This blog post is sponsored by Airofit! The Airofit Breathing Trainer helps improve accessible lung capacity and breath control with swimming-specific training programs in the Airofit Sport app. Save 15% with code MySwimPro >

If you’re struggling to swim faster, there’s a good chance you need to improve your stroke efficiency. When you learn to move through the water with more power and less resistance, those speed gains will come – and you’ll probably be less tired after your swim workouts.

While there are a few ways to improve your efficiency, let’s focus on one of the big ones: Distance per stroke.

Understanding your unique distance per stroke can help you improve your stroke technique and pull power to move further with every stroke. 

What is Distance Per Stroke?

Your distance per stroke (DPS) is a measure of how far you move forward with each arm stroke (otherwise known as your stroke efficiency!). If we think about a car, we measure its efficiency in miles per gallon, or distance per charge. It’s the same concept with you swimming through the water!

DPS is most commonly measured with the number of strokes you take per lap. A good rule of thumb is that a high stroke count means that your stroke is inefficient, and a low stroke count means that you’re swimming efficiently. 

Related: 4 Ways to Swim Faster with Less Effort

When your stroke count is high, you cover less distance with each stroke. 

DPS applies to all 4 strokes, and will likely vary between them. In breaststroke and butterfly, you’ll notice that your DPS is slightly lower than in freestyle and backstroke.

The goal is not necessarily to swim with as few strokes as possible – doing that could actually hurt your speed – but is actually to find a stroke count sweet spot that allows you to make the most of every pull.

Why Does Distance Per Stroke Matter?

Related: What is Early Vertical Forearm?

Efficiency is the name of the game in swimming. If your stroke is inefficient, you’re going to have a tough time improving. A few other reasons to focus on DPS:

  • Swimming Gets Easier: When you find the optimal distance per stroke, you’ll move through the water more easily, and won’t get tired as quickly. 
  • Swim Longer Distances: A more efficient stroke allows you to swim longer. And whether you want to try a mile for time or just want to increase the distance of your workouts, that’s a good thing!
  • Reduce Risk of Injury: When your DPS is better, your stroke will most likely be more technically correct. Better technique means you’re less at risk of shoulder injury!

How to Find Your Distance Per Stroke

To find your DPS, count your strokes for a 25, swimming at various speeds. You’ll notice that your stroke count will be different for sprint pace and a relaxed, easy pace – that is totally ok, and is expected. When you’re sprinting, you sacrifice some efficiency for that extra arm turnover.

Over time, you’ll start to notice a general range for your stroke count, and voila, you’ve found your DPS!

When you’re counting your strokes, it’s important to be aware of the following variables and how they affect your stroke count:

  • Distance Off the Wall: Are you overcompensating on your underwaters to achieve a lower stroke count?
  • Use of Equipment: Your stroke count will vary when you use fins, paddles or a pull buoy.
  • How Tired You Are: Your stroke count will be different at the beginning and end of your workout, based on your fatigue level. 
  • Effort Level: Depending on the pace you’re trying to achieve, your stroke count will differ. Don’t expect your stroke count to be the same when you’re swimming easy and when you’re going for an all-out 50.
  • Tempo: When you’re swimming really fast, your stroke count will be higher (and your DPS will be lower). That’s completely fine, and does not mean that you’re swimming inefficiently. Spend time counting your strokes at various tempos to find the numbers that work best for you.

What is SWOLF Score?

Counting your strokes is a great start, but just counting your strokes doesn’t factor in how long it took you to get to the other end of the pool. SWOLF does!

Related: What is SWOLF?

SWOLF factors in your swimming speed and your stroke count to provide a more robust measurement of your efficiency.

SWOLF = Stroke Count + Lap Split

The lap split is based on a 25-meter pool. If you don’t swim in a 25-meter pool (or don’t want to calculate SWOLF on your own), download the MySwimPro app for automatic SWOLF calculations when you swim with a smartwatch!

Think of SWOLF like golf. Your goal is to get your SWOLF as low as possible. An elite swimmer will have a SWOLF score under 30.

How to Improve Distance Per Stroke

There are 2 main ways to swim faster:

  1. Reduce drag: Create less resistance while you move through the water.
  2. Increase propulsion: Pull more water with each stroke

To reduce drag:

  • Improve head position
  • Focus on rotational momentum in freestyle & backstroke

To increase propulsion:

  • Improve your early vertical forearm catch
  • Get stronger with dryland training

It’s important to note that you can overdo this! If you focus on reducing drag so much that you’re only taking a couple strokes per lap, your lap split is going to go up, which increases your SWOLF score.

Beyond Distance Per Stroke

Your stroke efficiency and DPS certainly play a role in your swimming performance, but it’s important to pay attention to your kick, rotation and breathing pattern when it comes to overall swimming efficiency.

The Airofit Breathing Trainer can help you improve your accessible lung capacity so you can hold your breath longer, and stop finishing your workouts completely out of breath. 

Start with a guided accessible lung capacity test in the Airofit Sport app, and you’ll begin a swimming-specific training program that takes just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Save 15% on an Airofit Breathing Trainer with code MySwimPro >

Distance Per Stroke Swim Workout

Try this workout to improve your DPS!


  • 300 Freestyle Easy
  • 6×50 Streamline Kick on Stomach (focus on high hips)
  • 8×25 Fist Drill

Main Set (3 rounds)

  • 6×50 Freestyle, Negative Split Strokes (take 1 less stroke on the 2nd 25 of each 50)
  • 4×25 Maximum DPS

Cool Down

  • 1×100 Freestyle Easy

For more tips to improve your swimming technique and efficiency, plus personalized Workouts and Training Plans download the MySwimPro app! Save $35 on your first year of training with code SWIM35 >

Save 15% on an Airofit Breathing Trainer with code MySwimPro >


Comments are closed.