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Will having a "long stroke" help triathlon swimmers?

Kevin Koskella explains how to develop an efficient freestyle arm action.

There is some debate going on in the triathlon world about whether it is important to have a long stroke in freestyle, and if so, how can this be developed?

Being long means extending your arm and gliding with each arm stroke. It also means getting more out of your stroke while saving energy (ideal for triathletes).

Do not get me wrong. You can achieve a lot with a shorter stroke, and you could go very fast this way. However, for most people, especially the beginner crowd, this stroke is just not efficient enough to allow them to swim ½ to 1 mile, and still have a fair amount of energy to tackle 20 to 40 miles on the bike, and an additional 5 to 10-mile run.

The mistake people make is comparing competitive pool swimmers who swim 50, 100, 200, or 400 meters as either an all-out sprint or a controlled sprint, to triathletes who swim much further and have to complete a race lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours.

Here are some ways to achieve a longer, more fluid, more efficient freestyle:

  1. Practice kicking on your side. This will improve your balance in the water and aid in your ability to extend and glide. By all means, use fins as they will help your swimming in so many ways
  2. Count your strokes. Start by just keeping track of how many strokes you take per length when you swim. Then, begin to work on ways to lower this stroke count. Hint: Do not just kick harder to achieve a lower count! This defeats the purpose of the drill
  3. Play golf. Well, not golf like the game the Scottish invented. Free golf! Do a set of 6x50s. Count your strokes, and for each 50, lower your stroke count. Also, keep track of your time on these. Maintain your pace as you drop the number of strokes you are taking for each 50
  4. Swim with your fists. Alternate a few lengths of swimming with your hands clenched in fists, with 1 or 2 lengths of open-handed swimming. This will force you to use your hips more as you swim, and you will not be able to "muscle" through the water
  5. Use a hand paddle. The Freestyler hand paddle is different - it forces you to do proper hand entry, glide, and pull. Also, they do not cause shoulder problems. Use these for a long swim and then take them off for a few lengths. You will be amazed at how fluid you will feel!

While you may not ever become a top-notch freestyle sprinter, learning how to lengthen your freestyle will pay off as a faster, more fun overall triathlon.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • KOSKELLA, K. (2006) Will having a "long stroke" help triathlon swimmers? Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 35/ September), p. 6-7

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • KOSKELLA, K. (2006) Will having a "long stroke" help triathlon swimmers? [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Kevin Koskella coaches masters and triathlete swimmers in San Diego, CA. He operates the website, a resource for beginner to intermediate level triathletes looking for help with swimming.