We explain how to improve your swim cadence and stroke so you are ready for any open-water conditions Credit James Mitchell
Training > Swim

Front crawl: how to develop your swim stroke and cadence

This front crawl swim session will help you develop your stroke length and cadence, to suit every race and weather conditions

Swimming speed (and efficiency) = stroke length x stroke rate. But which element should you focus on? The answer is both, but you need to balance the two elements based on your physique/stature, style of swimming and swim conditions.

Tall, muscular swimmers and technically experienced swimmers will tend to naturally generate greater stroke length, whereas smaller statured and novice swimmers tend to have higher stroke rates. 

What is a good swim cadence and how can I increase mine?

How can I increase the length of my swim stroke?

Is there a difference between front crawl and freestyle?


As in this session, experiment stroke counting over a set distance and time. Then increase your stroke rate while trying to hold your stroke count and removing any propulsive dead spots. To improve, aim to key into the sweet spot where your stroke movements and rhythm click in harmony.   

Increasing your stroke length by overextending results in reduced propulsion and breaking at the front of the stroke, whereas increasing stroke rate too much will shorten your stroke and reduce propulsion/efficiency. 



Use technique drills like the ‘broken arrow’ wearing fins to slow down, lengthen and improve your stroke length, followed by stroke-counting/reducing-swim intervals. 


Using stroke counting per length, measuring stroke-rate changes, ‘Swim Golf’, and completing a stroke
rate ramp test are all effective ways to monitor progress.


Use drills such as ‘head-up swimming’, using ankle bands and fast arms to increase stroke rate. Tempo trainers can then be used to increase/monitor stroke rate in swim intervals.



200m build, stroke counting

4 x 25m slow arms, fast legs

4 x 25m fast arms, slow legs

15secs rest after each rep

Stroke length drills

3 x 50m as: 25m 6-1-6 drill (6 leg kicks on one side; 1 full stroke; 6 leg kicks on other side)/25m swim

3 x 50m as: 25m broken arrow drill (see below left)/25m swim

15secs rest after each rep

Stroke rate drills

3 x 50m as: 25m head-up fast/25m easy

3 x 50m as 25m overspeed arms/25m easy

2 x 50m as pull with ankle band

15secs rest after each rep


3 x 100m stroke counting @target race pace

3 x 100m stroke reducing @target race pace

3 x 100m stroke counting @target race pace

3 x 100m stroke counting, increasing stroke rate    

30secs rest after each rep


200m  Alternate front crawl/backstroke


Reduce the swim drill distances to 15m drill/10m swim. The majority of novices need to slow their stroke rate down and work on stroke length and efficiency.


Practise changing your stroke rate while holding your stroke length as an efficient means of accelerating/de-accelerating and adjusting your stroke to open-water conditions. 


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