Swimming Stroke Rates for Freestyle and Backstroke

Freestyle swimming strokes for freestyle and backstroke involve the number 90.

I believe that everything in the world involves mathematics. The way objects are structured, animate or inanimate, down to their atomic configurations, and the ability and way in which they move, specifically in the stroke rate of swimming, all involve mathematics.

I do not know why, but in nature, when it comes to endurance events, there seems to be something magical about 90. In endurance running, 90 strides per minute seems to work well. In endurance cycling, 90 cycles per minute seems to work well. For swimming freestyle, in the longer events of 400 and 1500 or up, we frequently find elite swimmers holding a swimming stroke rate of around 90 per minute with the shoulder-driven or hybrid technique, which is a cycle time of 1.5 seconds.

In London, at 15, when breathing to her right, using a hybrid freestyle stroke technique, Katie Ledecky won the gold medal in the Olympic Games women’s 800 meter freestyle with a swimming stroke rate of about 86 strokes per minute. Four years later, in Rio, she swam faster and won the same event breathing only to her right with a freestyle swimming stroke rate of about 90 strokes per minute. Both races were swum in world record time.

The swimming stroke rates for backstroke and freestyle are very similar. So are their fundamentals. For the 200 backstroke, the longest official distance of that stroke, we recommend using the 86 stroke rate. Getting to 90 is even better, but 86 seems to be more achievable for most swimmers.

This week, in Lanes 2 and 3 of our Race Club subscription service, you will find a webisode on how we teach the 86 stroke rate in backstroke. You will also see world class backstroker, Luca Spinazolla, training at an 86 stroke rate, using beautiful swimming technique. To help maintain his swimming stroke rate at 86, he also uses a wonderful swimming stroke rate monitor and training tool, called the Tempo Trainer (Finis). It may be the most valuable piece of equipment that ought to be in your swim bag.

I am not sure why 90 works so well in so many different sports, but it does. To be able to hold 90 strokes per minute in endurance races, that means you will need to train at 90 strokes per minute. Or close to it. Check out our webisode and find out how you can do that.


Yours in swimming backstroke faster,


Gary Sr.