Which Arm Cadence for Which Swimmer?


Good swimmers are beautiful to watch it move forward, it feels smooth and powerful at the same time! Looking closely, we notice above all that there is no parasitic movement, no downtime in swimming. They have an excellent rhythm, the timing of their movement is perfect and their body moves in perfect harmony like a pendulum.

But is there only one effective swimming and lifeguard requirements technique? Is a movement that seems easy necessarily THE movement to apply? This is what we will see today.

A very smooth style, while power on one side against a style all in frequency … The same time at the finish. Two different morphotypes and therefore two swimming techniques adapted to their profile. This example is perfect to show the limits that there can be and what may be the recommended swimming pace for different types of swimmers.

A common misconception is that the priority is to seek length with each stroke in order to progress. But that’s not the only way to go faster. Adding cadence is another. Ideally, you have to find the right balance between length and cadence …

Maximum distance per arm stroke?

— A good propulsion comes above all from a good catch, pull, push sequence. This means that you go further with every push.

— A low drag (drag) in the water comes from a good position of the body with an aligned body and an effective kick. A low drag allows you to go further with each stroke because you slide in the water more easily.

— A moment of gliding in the swim means a break or one waits before starting the next arm stroke. This is a negative factor because we lose the rhythm of swimming and we break because of the resistance of the water. You must then accelerate again with the next arm movement.

— Covering a great length with each swing is a good thing up to a point. You should never sacrifice the swimming rhythm for the benefit of the length and especially avoid adding moments of pause in the movement.

Is the “sliding” totally to be avoided?

Swim Smooth believes that using the word “glide” says it all! Many coaches ask their swimmers to glide while when you add glide to the swim you introduce moments of pause. This breaks the rhythm and prevents you from maintaining fluidity in the swim. Have you ever tried to run trying to fly for as long as possible? Or to ride a bike with breaks in each cycle? It would seem absurd!

Sliding is slowing down and it requires re-accelerating afterward, which requires a lot of energy. It takes a lot of strength to be able to perform a slide swim without getting tired or slowing down. If you recognize yourself in this and have that “braking” feeling, just try to suppress that sliding effect by starting your movement faster when your hand enters the water. With a little practice, it will seem easier to you and it will also be faster!

Distance per arm stroke 

Obviously, it does not cause the opposite effect to fall and have too short a distance covered with each stroke. If your movement is too short and laborious with a very high cadence, it may be beneficial to decrease the cadence a little. Slow things down a bit and work on good propulsion with more efficient movement and less drag. This will help you to gradually cover more distance with each stroke … And when this goal is reached, be able to put a little more pace with this efficient movement!

Swimming cadence

Swimming pace is the number of swimming cycles you do per minute (including both arms). It is very important to know this value because it says a lot about the rhythm. Too low a cadence means that your movements are too slow and that you probably have moments of pause in your movements. On the contrary, too high a cadence means that your movement is too short and that you will gain by trying to lengthen it.

Swimming cadence is easy to learn and work with today with a tool like the Tempo Trainer Pro from Finis. To learn more about this tool. Alternatively, your swimming pace can be calculated by counting your number of arm cycles over a length and reporting that over a minute. (add at least one arm cycle per length to compensate for the push off the wall). 

An ideal swimming pace for each swimmer?

To help swimmers know if they are having the correct stroke pace, Swim Smooth has created a chart that groups all types of swimmers together. The graph mainly takes into account the swimming speed (pace / 100m) and therefore covers the swimmers from beginner to elite as well as all your personal swimming rhythms. Whether you swim in pure endurance, CSS, or sprint, you will find the ideal cadence zone for you.

How to read the graph: 

  • If you are in the blue zone you should be looking to increase your swimming pace. 
  • If you are in the red zone, you should reduce your swimming pace and work on the length of the stroke.  
  • If you are in the white zone, you are in the correct zone. In any case compared to the standard. Every swimmer is different and an individual analysis is always a good idea to know what to work on!

A glance at the cadence of elite swimmers?

Elite swimmers sometimes seem to have very different swimming styles! As we could see in the initial video, that does not mean that one is more effective than the other.

Take the example of Ian Thorpe who seems to have a slow, poised swim, with great length with each stroke. The notion of slowness is subjective since it has a rate of around 75 movements per minute! It’s much faster than many of us! It’s subjective because next to it, we see a lot of swimmers with a very high pace. The Brownlee brothers in triathlon, for example, swim at a much higher cadence, above 90 movements per minute. Knowing that they always come out close to the head after swimming proves that this style works for them.

And the American nugget Katie Ledecky, already five times Olympic champion and holder of the world records of the 400, 800, and 1500m at only 21 years old? Well, she’s right in between. Around 85 movements per minute! further proof that the arm cadence must be adapted according to the swimmer…

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