Stroke Rate Ramp Test: Find Your Efficiency Sweet Spot(s)

Related articles: All About Stroke Rate


Here's a neat way to use your Wetronome to learn more about your individual stroke efficiency and find the right stroke rate for you. We call it 'The Stroke Rate Ramp Test' or just 'Ramp Test' for short.

The Ramp Test gives you a full profile of your freestyle stroke and helps you find naturally occurring sweets spots in your stroke technique. Train and race at these stroke rates to swim faster and more easily. Click here to jump ahead and watch a video of a Ramp Test.

Ramp Test Instructions

You will need: A Wetronome. A coach or friend to time your 50m swims with a stopwatch and to count your strokes.

The Stroke Rate Ramp Test is a series of 50m (or 50 yard) swims with a short break in between. The stroke rate during each 50m is controlled by the Wetronome and gradually increases. Take whatever rest is necessary between the 50m swims to change the stroke rate on the Wetronome.

If you have been using your Wetronome regularly you will be aware of your strokes per minute for steady paced swimming. Start the ramp test about ten strokes per minute below this natural rate and increase it by three strokes per minute for each 50m swim. You can keep going as high as you like but normally 15-25 beats above your natural rate is enough to experience your full stroke spectrum.

Ask a friend or colleague to time each 50m with a stopwatch, count your strokes taken (counting both arms) and record how that stroke rate felt to you in terms of effort. It's a good idea to use a scale of 1 to 10 to record your effort level where 1 is no effort at all and 10 is eyeballs out!

Here's an example Ramp Test table to complete for a swimmer with a natural stroke rate around 70 strokes per minute:

ramp test table

To keep the test as unbiased as possible don't try and assess the results or analyse things as you go along. Simply perform the set of 50m swims at the given stroke rate and record how each felt.

Use the tips below to interpret the results. Also watch the video clip below where Paul Newsome runs a Ramp Test with Riaz to show how it's done.

How Often Should I Repeat The Ramp Test?

The test is a snapshot in time - as you continually work on your stroke technique your efficiency at different stroke rates will evolve. For instance, if you work on improving your catch and feel for the water, you tend to gain efficiency disproportionately at higher stroke rates. We suggest you repeat the ramp test between every 6 and 12 weeks to keep abreast of your efficiency spectrum.

Example Ramp Test Video

Watch Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome conduct a Stroke Rate Ramp Test and interpret the results with Riaz:

↑Switch to HD here

Warning: Contains Sound

Analysing Your Results: Classic Sweet Spot

The Ramp Test looks at your speed and stroke efficiency over a range of stroke rates, as controlled by the Wetronome. Here's an example result from a swimmer:

ramp test example 1

As stroke rate increases we can see that the 50m split follows a downward trend - as we'd expect our swimmer is moving faster at higher stroke rates. We can also see that perceived effort (how hard it feels) follows an upward trend.

However, notice how there's a definite sweet spot for this swimmer where lap time takes a dip and yet perceived effort also stays low. For this swimmer, their sweet spot comes at a slightly slower stroke rate than the natural rate at which they swim. If you get a result like this, this shows you will gain efficiency at this lower stroke rate from lengthening out your stroke technique. At first it's likely that swimming at this stroke rate will feel strange - the ramp test normally shows results you aren't expecting!

Equally, depending on your stroke mechanics, you could achieve a sweet spot above your natural stroke rate. This will happen if you have a tendency to over-glide - in this case the test will show that a touch more stroke rate will help remove those deadspots and allow your swimming technique to click and so increase your efficiency.

Analysing Your Results: Overgliding

Overgliding is where a swimmer has introduced glide to their stroke and is losing efficiency from the introduction of a deadspot, normally at the front of their stroke. This will show up on the ramp test at low stroke rates where speed will be slow for the level of effort.

As the stroke rate is increased slightly above their natural stroke rate, the swimmer gains efficiency and will often pick up some speed for the same level of effort. Or the effort level could actually drop as stroke rate is increased.

If the ramp test shows you are more efficient at a slightly faster stroke rate than is natural, you can expect this to feel strange at first. By setting the Wetronome to this slightly faster rate in training you will soon adapt and give your swimming a real lift in efficiency.

Analysing Your Results: Fighting The Water

As stroke rate increases, every swimmer gets to a point where they are fighting the water and their efficiency falls away. You'll soon see this in your Ramp Test results when it happens: you won't be moving much faster but your level of effort will be much higher.

Analysing Your Results: Two Sweet Spots

Many swimmers discover they have more than one sweet spot in their stroke. This is more common with fast swimmers but can show in any swimmer's results. The two sweet spots are normally found at around a steady level of effort and then at a faster threshold level suitable for intervals and racing:

ramp test example 2

By being aware of these peaks in your swimming efficiency you can use them in training and racing to optimise your speed.

************* Learn How Rhythm, Timing and Stroke Rate Can Improve Your Freestyle Swimming

Rhythm, Timing and Stroke Rate In Swimming

the forgotten secret of fast freestyle technique!

What are Stroke Length and Stroke Rate ?

Your Stroke Length is how far you travel with every arm stroke. To measure this count the number of strokes you take to cover a length of the pool, counting both arms. The fewer strokes you take the longer your stroke.

Your Stroke Rate is how many strokes you take in a minute, counting both arms. For example, 40 Strokes Per Minute (SPM) is a slow stroke rate, 80 SPM is a high stroke rate.

Jump to related articles: Dealing with a High Stroke Rate and Dealing With a Low Stroke Rate.

What Are rhythm and timing?

When a great swimmer is moving quickly through the water they seem smooth and powerful. But look carefully, there are no lurches, pauses, hitches or dead spots in their stroke technique - they have excellent rhythm and timing, moving seamlessly from one phase of the stroke to the other.

There was a trend at the end of the 20th century amongst age group triathletes and swimmers towards developing really long strokes - to try and go as far as possible on one stroke because it was seen to be more efficient. (aside: the elite triathlon and swimming world didn't subscribe to this theory).

Swimmers are now realising that there's more to fast efficient freestyle than the length of your stroke and that an overly-long stroke can be less efficient because of the introduction of dead spots and pauses.

Swim Smooth are at the forefront of the movement away from overly long strokes. We suggest you need to find the right balance between stroke length and stroke rate. Read on to find out more.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

A long stroke is a good thing up to a point. Think about where a long stroke comes from:

- Good propulsion comes from a good catch, pull and push. It means you go further on each stroke as you are propelling yourself forward better. This is a good factor in a long stroke.

- Low drag comes from a good body position, a straight body and an effective kick. Low drag means you go further on each stroke because you slip through the water more easily. This is a good factor in a long stroke.

'Glide' is a Dirty Word!

Swim Smooth believe that the word 'glide' has a lot to answer for! Whenyou add an element of glide into your stroke you introduce a pause. That hurts your rhythm. Imagine riding a bike and pausing on every pedal stroke!

When you glide you also slow down. On your next stroke you have to re-accelerate yourself, which feels hard.

Have you experienced this? Do you have a long stroke but on each stroke it feels hard, like a lot of force is required to maintain the long stroke? That's because you're having to re-accelerate all your body mass on every stroke!

Remove the glide, don't decelerate between strokes and it'll feel easier and be faster.

- A 'glide' in the stroke means you pause and wait a while before performing the next stroke, gliding a bit further off the last stroke. This is a bad factor in a long stroke because you lose touch with your rhythm and timing. You also slow down in the glide phase and then have to re-accelerate yourself with the next stroke - that's hard work!

So,having a long stroke is a good thing up to a point but it shouldn't be achieved by sacrificing your rhythm and timing or by introducing pauses into your stroke technique.

Short Strokes

Of course you can also have too short a stroke! If your stroke is short and scrappy with a very fast turn over then you need to sacrifice some of that stroke rate at this stage, slow things down a little and work on your propulsion and lowering your drag. This will give you a longer stroke technique, which in the long run you can look to speed up again.

Whether you are looking to improve your rhythm and timing or looking to slow things down, it's good to have a handle on your stroke rate.

Stroke Rate

Your stroke rate is how many strokes you take per minute (counting both arms). This is useful to know because it tells you about your rhythm and timing. Too low a stroke rate and your arms are moving over too slowly and you almost certainly have some big deadspots in your timing. Too high a stroke rate shows your stroke technique is too short and needs lengthening.

Stroke rate is a powerful thing to know because these days you can precisely control it with a tool called the Wetronome. This allows you to make changes to your stroke rate and develop your stroke for the better. We'll explain how from the links below.

75 strokes per minute
75 strokes per minute - Ian Thorpe's racing stroke rate.

Where Do you fit in?

First you need to know your stroke rate. If you've been using a Wetronome it's easy, you'll know what stroke rate you swim at. If not, ask a friend or coach to time you for 10 strokes with a stopwatch (don't include any push-offs, just normal swimming). Put this time in this box and press calculate:

Time for 10 strokes:

Stroke rate:

Now, look up where you are on this chart using your stroke rate and the pace you are swimming. The chart works for any effort level e.g. easy, steady or sprinting:


We have nick-named this the "BMI Chart" because it reminds us of the Body Mass Index charts you find in a doctors surgery.

One word of caution - this chart is nearly always right but is not complete gospel. For instance, if you're exceptionally tall you might want to be on the blue borderline. If you are very short with short arms for your height then you may be best bordering on the red region with a high stroke rate. But for 99% of adult swimmers, aim for the white region.

For further technique advice follow these links:

Developing your swimming if you have a slow stroke rate.

Developing your swimming if you have a high stroke rate.

Swim Smooth's Simple Stroke Calculator

If you like numbers you may like to experiment with our stroke rate calculator below. Enter your stroke length and stroke rate and see how it effects your swim times:

Pool Length:

Your Strokes Per Length:

Your Stroke Rate Per Minute
(counting both arms) :

Your Length of Push Off in meters
(if you're not sure, use 3) :

100m time:

400m time:

1500m time:

3800m time:

See how trade offs between stroke length and stroke rate work for you.

Everyone has a sweet spot in their stroke.

The Stroke Rate Ramp Test

Swim Smooth have designed a special test to help you understand your individual stroke efficiency and find the optimal stroke rate for you. Find this stroke rate 'sweet spot' in your technique and you will swim faster for the same effort.

Everyone should run their stroke through the Stroke Rate Ramp Test. Full details here.


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