Practice Set for Stroke Counting

As you are getting acquainted with stroke counting, you may try these practice ideas to gradually increase how often you count or how much you can pay attention to when counting, while the counting is helping to build your strength and skill. 


Practice Accurate Counting

The more attentive, accurate and honest you are in your counting, the more useful it will be for helping you monitor your progress. 

As you approach the end of the lane, you may find that you might not need a full stroke to reach the wall or that you might need to glide a bit farther to reach the wall (rather than take one more stroke). If you’d like to be more accurate in your counting, then add this ‘half’ stroke unit into your counting – some lengths you may find that you don’t end on a whole number but need ½ half more or less of a stroke to reach the wall. 

Maintain the exact same push off intensity and glide distance to your first stroke. 

Swim 4x 25

  • First length count strokes
  • Second and third length do not count, and focus on your cue
  • Fourth length count stroke

Swim a chosen distance and count strokes on only every 4th length. 

Swim a chosen distance and count strokes on every other length. 


Practice Consistent Count

The first strength that stroke counting can help you build is to learn to swim with the same exact stroke count on every length, even as you get farther into the swim or practice and start to feel some fatigue – this will push you to increase strength and skill. 

Most often swimmers will find they naturally use 1 less stroke on their first length of a swim. So, the challenge here is to practice maintaining that same level of skillfulness and strength on the second length, or practice restraining any over-effort on the first length so that it matches what you are capable of on the following lengths.

Swim 8x 25 and aim to hold the exact same stroke count on every 25. 

Swim 4x 50 and aim to hold the exact same stroke count on first and second lengths. 

Swim 4x 75 and aim to hold the exact same stroke count on all three lengths. 


Practice Shifting Stroke Count “Gears”

The more you count strokes and get a feel for what your current ‘normal’ (N) stroke count is (which reflects your current strength and skillfulness) the more you can memorize what it feels like in your stroke to be on the way toward a precise stroke count result. You may possibly come to know, by feel, when you are swimming, for example, an ‘18-count length’ or a 19-count length’ before you even get to the wall and finish counting! When you are doing long swims and don’t want to count all the time or swimming in open water, you may be able to estimate your own stroke count just by how it feels, because you have done it so much attentively. 

The next step is to learn how to adjust your stroke count with precision, like shifting gears on a bicycle. You can practice ‘shifting up’ one number or ‘shifting down’ one number. This will help you develop more familiarity and control over the features of the stroke that directly affect your stroke length (count). 

Choose your normal stroke count ‘N’. Swim 4x 25 and aim to shift the stroke count ‘gear’ a certain amount on each length:

  • First length: N
  • Second length: N+1
  • Third length: N
  • Fourth length: N-1


Practice Stretching Your Stroke Count

As your strength and skills improve your stroke length should naturally increase (you slide farther on each stroke). This means your stroke count should go down, approaching what would be an optimal count for your body and event (or purpose for swimming). While it might be tempting to try to reach for a really long stroke (a really low stroke count) right at the start, this is not recommended for many reasons, the foremost being the safety of your body. Instead, you may engage in a small, gradual challenge to your strength and skill which will give your body more time to adapt to this. 

Choose your normal stroke count ‘N’. Swim 3x 100 (4x 25) and aim to shift the stroke count from N to N-1 for greater % of the swim. 

First 100

  • 75 at N count
  • 25 at N-1 

Second 100

  • 50 at N count
  • 50 at N-1 

Third 100

  • 25 at N count
  • 75 at N-1 

You can follow the same pattern for a swim of any distance…

  • First swim aim for 75% N count and 25% N-1.
  • Second swim aim for 50% N count and 50% N-1.
  • Third swim aim for 25% N count and 75% N-1.

Lesson for Stroke Counting

The most common way to count strokes is to count each arm entry. When you push off from the wall, you will glide for a moment with the arms extended in streamline in front of your head. As your body approaches the surface you set the catch with one arm and that becomes the “0” stroke count. That arm exits and swings forward to entry, and as it enters, that becomes “1” stroke count, and then you count every entry after that until you touch the wall on the other side of the pool. 

Another way to count is to count that first underwater catch (rather than wait for it to go all the way around to the entry), and then count every catch after that. This will result in 1-stroke higher count than the previous method. 

It does not matter which way you choose to count as long as you are always counting the same way every time you do stroke counting. If you want to compare your count to someone else’s count make sure the pool length is the same and that they are counting the same way you are. 

Your count will be affected by your push off from the wall. You should practice pushing off and gliding the exact same intensity and distance every time (when you intend to count strokes). If you push off and glide the same distance to your first stroke on every length of the pool, then your stroke count can be compared from length to length. But if you push off and glide less or more distance on each length then your stroke count will be affected – if you glide less distance then you have to take more strokes, if you slide more you take fewer strokes. 


What Is A ‘Good’ Stroke Count For You?

There is a lot of variability in what would be an appropriate or ‘good’ stroke count for different people in different situations and purposes for swimming. 

You can read more on the discussion of stroke counts in these articles:

Stroke Count Charts

When Choosing Optimal Stroke Count

Back Story on the Stroke Count Charts

Regardless of what is a ‘good’ stroke count for you, your first objective is to get in control of your stroke count and learn how to shift it up or down and develop the strength to hold consistent your current stroke count for longer durations of swimming. Then you will be in better position to know how far you should aim to improve it and what kind of work will be involved to do that.

Intro to Stroke Counting

Stroke counting is not the only, but it is one of the first, most convenient and important ways to measure your skillfulness in the pool. 

While you are taking strokes, your body slides forward some distance on each stroke. The farther you slide on each stroke the closer you come to the other side. The farther you slide on each stroke the fewer strokes it will take to get to the other side. By counting the number of strokes you are taking, you get a measurement of that distance you travel. You can travel farther on each stroke by either increasing effort or decreasing drag (water resistance). Strength is important to move forward, but shape is more important. As you improve your skillfulness in the fundamental and advanced skills your stroke will get longer as a result. 

Now, one can try to pull much harder, use more effort and travel farther, but that approach has very limited potential without at least as much skill in place to support it. And, it is possible to try to slide too far on each stroke, to overdo the rotation and strain the body in an attempt to go father, but that will not be comfortable, it will not be sustainable, and it is rarely a problem we see in the first stage of developing the stroke. 

Some people complain that they are concentrating too much on some aspect of their stroke to be able to count strokes at the same time. This might be the case at the beginning stage of learning a when the level of concentration on a newly introduced skill is high. However, the process of turning skillful swimming into something you can do without thinking about it will require dividing your attention. By counting, you get to occupy both sides of the brain – one side is focused on a quality in the stroke and the other side is focused on counting. Counting strokes gives you immediate feedback about what your stroke is producing, right there in that moment. If you are concentrating so much on making your body move forward better, then seeing how far you travel is a logical and convenient way to monitor how well your body is moving forward. You will only get comfortable with stroke counting by doing it more and more.

Practice Set for 2 Beat Leg Press

At this stage, if incorporating the 2-beat press rhythm is difficult for you to do in whole stroke, we recommend that you work on this separately from your other stroke skills for a while. You may spend part of many practices doing drills (without whole stroke) to give your body time to recognize and easily slip into the basic pattern and rhythm, then switch over to working on other aspects of your stroke without trying to make the 2BLP happen. Once you are consistent with finding and holding CBP in drills and you feel ready to challenge yourself, then you can try pulling that skill into your whole stroke swimming.


Establish The Skills In Order

We recommend that you spend several practice sessions on each step, as many as it takes to feel like you’ve established that skill in your nervous system.

First, establish the ability to lock your legs into the CBP on every stroke, without trying to ‘press’ deliberately on each switch. Just learn to find that position immediately on each switch and to lock that position while the body remains in streamline. Just keeping the legs in CBP on every stroke will greatly improve your streamline and ease.

Once that ability is established with consistency, then work on applying more of a press on each switch to add some emphasis to the torso rotation.

Then, work on refining the timing of the press. Try slightly earlier and slightly later and feel the difference it makes in how well it helps enhance the torso rotation.

Then, work on refining the way you press on the water to form that press in a more compact space.


Breaking It Down Further

To make it easier to get control over this in your initial practices, first work on positioning or moving just one leg at time, in and out of position. The other leg may or may not know where it needs to be; practice not paying attention to that second leg for a while and then try holding it in attention as well in order to pull it into its counter-balanced position under the streamline side leg. Notice if one side is easier to control than the other, and use that stronger side as a template for the other. You may spend some minutes focused on just one side, then switch focus to the other side.

Then practice alternating from one side to the other. Try single movements, starting on one side and finishing on the other, with just one switch. Try starting on the left side and switching to the right. Try starting on the right side and switching to the left. Be patient and work with single switches like this until you are able to make a smooth switch and immediately find the CBP each time.

Then try two switches in a row, and then three switches. These switches are not ‘swimming’ but more of a transition from one streamline side to the other. They are about maintaining balance and finding your best position, not about moving forward. So you will be pausing and holding streamline for a few seconds on each side in order to check your position and test stability.

When you can do three clean, smooth, precise switches in a row, consistently, then you can move to doing actual strokes, but do those in slower motion so you have time to notice and control what your legs are doing. Do these in short segments that do not involve breathing (yet) because the breathing action can easily throw off the stroke timing and the legs.

Once you can switch smoothly and find CBP on every switch in these short, non-breathing whole stroke segments, then you can try inserting a breath into the pattern.

Choose three or four of the drills to work with and do them in the order of increasing challenge. Spend a few minutes on each drill. Choose one or two cues to work with and alternate which one you use from time to time.

Lesson for 2 Beat Leg Press

We recommend developing the 2-beat press skills in the following order….


Step 1: Quiet Legs

The first step is to train the lower body to be connected to the upper body and form one long, straight, firm frame or fuselage (referring to the fuselage of a sleek sea kayak, jet plane or submarine). Hopefully, you developed this skill in the Freestyle Fundamentals stage of your training.


Step 2: Counter-Balance Leg Position

We’ve recently started referring to this as the counter-balanced ‘leg position’ rather than the ‘foot position’ to take attention off of the feet and onto the legs as a whole.

We sometimes introduce this skill in the Freestyle Fundamentals course, if a swimmer appears ready for it then. Otherwise we leave it for this course.

We first want to train the legs to find their counter-balancing position while the body is in streamline position. This is the start and the finish position for each leg press. This is the position the legs are locked into while the front of the body is locked into streamline position. This is why you want to develop this skill before the movement part – the legs need to know where they belong so they can find that position immediately on each switch.

As you can see in the side view in the photo below, the streamline side leg is straight and reaching up while that side of the body is down (they are counter positioned to each other). Meanwhile, the recovery side of the body is up, while the leg on that side is straight and pointed down. This counter-balanced position makes it feel like the legs are almost (but not quite) twisted around each other.

Looking at the rear view you can see how this places the streamline side foot higher than the recovery side foot. The feet are angled opposite to the torso’s angle. In your brain it will feel like the feet are ‘stacked’ on top of one another vertically, when in fact they are slightly apart and angled like this. However, you can’t see your own feet this way!

As you become more refined in this leg position, you can make it even better by rotating the streamline side foot inward, in what we might call ‘pigeon toe’ position. This turn of the ankle places a little torque inside the hip joint on that same side and supports the rotated position of the hips. The recovery side foot remains comfortably pointed. The upper thighs should be lightly touching each other. The knees should be close but not touching each other. The legs should remain close and almost wrapped around each other, maintaining an extremely low profile, hidden behind the torso.

The legs will have a tendency to spread apart when the brain detects instability in your upper body – the legs spread to stabilize. The stronger you are in the fundamental skills, the more stable your upper body will be in streamline position and the less your legs will be pulled away from this slender counter-balance position.

This is the position your legs will hold while your body is in streamline, and there should be no additional motion of the legs whatsoever until the torso rotates and the streamline side leg presses to assist it. When the upper body locks into its streamline position, the legs lock into their counter-balanced position and stay there. When the legs switch they go directly into the opposite counter-balanced position.

If you insist upon bringing the feet back together between switches, you’ll notice the legs sway from side to side on each stroke. The legs in CBP absorb the rotational force of the torso and keep the legs sliding straight behind. The parallel legs magnify it and sway in reaction.


Step 3: The Press and Switch

If the legs are in the counter-balanced position, the upper one is poised for the press motion. The streamline side leg is poised up, and awaits the entry of the arm on the other side of the body. The other leg is underneath and pointed, ready to counter the press. As the torso begins to rotate, the entry arm starts to slide into the water in response to that rotation, and the leg begins to press downward. The whole body rotates around the axis of the spine. The leg pressing down against the resistance of water creates leverage which supports and enhances the power of the torso rotation, making it stronger. That rotational force is transferred into the entering and extending arm and propels the body into the streamline position and slides forward in the water. When the rotation, entry and press of the leg are all synchronized this creates a tangibly (pleasing) smooth flow of force through the body and it adds to the sense of acceleration in that moment.

In the basic sense, the streamline side leg is pressing downward and the recovery side leg will drift upward to it’s next CBP. The idea of ‘drift’ is important because this is not a two-legged action, and there is definitely no ‘scissor-like’ action of both legs moving away from each other by muscle activation. Instead, one leg is actively pressing down and the other leg is passively sliding up in response. (If you reach out with both straight arms in front of you right now, then reach farther ahead with the right arm, you’ll notice the left arm pulls back passively, without you having to pull back on it consciously – the reaching of the right arm causes the left arm to retract through the rotation of the torso).

In the more refined sense, the streamline leg is arcing with some pressure downward and the recovery side is arcing passively upward. Because the hips are rotating as part of the torso unit, the hip socket is rotating and the leg is rotating with it and the foot is rotating with it. Notice in the photo below how the feet are turned inward slightly. And notice the arcs drawn over it – that is the approximate pathway the feet trace when switching from one side to the other.

The movement is 3-dimensional – while the leg is pressing down it is also rotating and when the legs are held close to each other, this creates an arcing pathway, which we affectionately call ‘crescent moons’. This pathway can be accentuated by conscious thinking of turning inward into a ‘pigeon toe’ on the upward drifting pressing foot, or flicking the big toe outward of the downward pressing foot.

At this step the main objective is to just get the basic motion and the basic timing. The press of the leg is generally downward and it happens just after the torso starts to rotate in order to assist and enhance it. Up to this point we may advise that you keep the leg straight and fairly stiff. Just get used to pressing the straight leg in order to lever the rotating torso. Notice the general effect of moving the leg mass in how that helps shift the torso mass.

Lastly, try to avoid pulling any air down into the water on each press. This means the leg has been reaching too high and trying too hard to push downward. Those bubbles create voids in the water and actually decrease water pressure and make the action less effective.


Step 4: Make More Pressure

Now we want to work on getting more refinement and pressure under that press. You do this by allowing a slight flex in the knee (but definitely not a bend) and an outward flick of the toes. You manipulate these two features to create a bit more pressure (water resistance) against the lower leg and top of the foot. The more pressure you feel the more leverage there is.

At this point the temptation is to kick or snap the leg to get more pressure by faster motion. This is a misleading shortcut that gives the false impression of being effective when it is not. Instead, use the minor flex of the lower leg and the curve of its path to create more pressure without increasing the rate of movement too much. The flex and curve is a little like sculling with the hands to feel a grip on the water.

You may also start to notice that the flow of force from the leg press into the torso is not instantaneous like a bolt of lightning. It is slower, like a wave flowing toward the shore. When you press with the leg there is a lag, and it takes a few microseconds for that wave to flow up the leg and into the torso and across to the other side and into that extending lead arm. You have to be patient for that flow to finish its journey – so the longer you can extend that press of the foot (making it more steady and less ‘snappy’) the more it will add to your forward propulsion.


Step 5: Refine The Timing

There may still be a lot of details we can improve and refine in the previous steps. But at some point you’ll be swimming at different tempos (different stroke rates), at when the tempo changes enough you’ll notice that the timing of the leg press seems like it needs to change a little too. Yes, it likely does!

The general idea is to have the 2-beat leg press happen with the torso rotation, but at extremely slow tempos (when rotation is happening more slowly) you’ll notice that you have a big window there where the timing could be a little earlier or a little later – which is best? You may find that at slower tempos, you’ll time that press a little later, to assist with the finish of your extension of the lead arm into streamline.

At extremely fast tempos (what is ‘fast’ for you) you’ll notice that you’ll have a hard time getting your torso to rotate that fast. You’ll be looking for a way to get it moving sooner, faster. The leg press can help with this. On this extreme you may find that at faster tempos you’ll time that press a little sooner, almost as if the press of the leg is helping the torso start to turn.

This takes a lot of awareness and a lot of experimentation to find the best timing for your stroke tempo and your level of skill. As you become more skillful, and your abilities to handle extremely slow and extremely fast tempos expands, you’ll be refining the timing of the leg press further.


Cues For Counter-Balanced Leg Position

  • Keep knees straight
  • Lift streamline side hamstring
  • Point recovery side leg
  • Comfortably point the toes
  • Stack the feet
  • Pigeon Toe (on streamline side foot)
  • Upper thighs touching
  • Legs twisted around each other


Cues For 2-Beat Press

  • Crescent Moons
  • Press – Don’t snap
  • Flex – don’t bend knee
  • Steady press, feel pressure
  • One smooth switch, no extra motion between


Drills For 2-Beat Press

  • Standing rehearsal – leg swing
  • Torpedo (or Hug) Position – alternating leg press
  • Balance Position – one leg press and release
  • Balance Position – one leg press with opposite arm reach
  • Balance Position – alternating leg press
  • Balance Position – alternating leg press and arm reach
  • Balance to Streamline with CBP
  • Streamline Right with CBP, then 1 switch to Streamline Left with CBP
  • …Then with Two Switches
  • …Then with Three Switches
  • Stroke > Streamline and Glide > Stroke > Streamline and Glide
  • 3 Whole Strokes then glide in Streamline with CBP
  • Whole stroke, emphasize CBP on one side
  • Whole stroke, emphasize CBP on each side
  • Whole stroke, emphasize press on one side
  • Whole stroke, emphasize press on each side

Intro to 2-Beat Leg Press

A Different Way To Use The Legs

You might be expecting us to describe how to ‘kick’, but instead we’d like to show you a different way to view the role of the legs in freestyle.

Here are some of our observations…

  • The rapid fluttering most people are doing is doing more to hold the lower part of the body up, near the surface, than moving the body forward.
  • Most people think kicking is necessary or at least helping them move forward better, when it is not.
  • Most people do not have the big feet, flexible ankles and hips, good kick mechanics and muscle tone to make kicking worthwhile, even when they do a lot of kicking sets to try to make it better.
  • Flutter kicking might possibly assist with very short distance racing (if you have the features noted above), but arguably is not a good use of energy for distance and recreational swimming.

We propose a better way to use the legs…

Once you have connected the legs to the torso frame and have learned to establish balance in the body in the fundamental skills, the legs no longer need to kick to hold the lower body up. The flow of water under a straight, unified bodyline will take care of most of that.

With the legs freed from lifting the lower body, we propose these roles for them instead…

  • Their primary role is to remain an extension of the torso frame (the fuselage), enabling more lift with the flow of water underneath, and less drag with a longer (straighter) bodyline.
  • They are placed into a ‘counter-balance’ position in coordination with the streamline side of the body to increase stability in that asymmetric streamline position.
  • In this counter-balanced position they are poised to press and assist the torso in its rotation by adding leverage.
  • Only a single press of one leg is needed as the torso turns.

The legs coordinate with the movement of the upper body while minimizing motion which would increase turbulence and drag around the body. This minimalist approach to propulsion saves enormous energy and lowers the rate of fatigue during intense swimming efforts.


Different Kicks For Different Purposes

First, you may appreciate a view of the 2-beat leg press in action. [insert link to Mat demo]

The flutter kick is meant to provide linear thrust; it is meant to push backward on the water to push the body forward. In contrast, the 2-beat leg action is meant to provide rotational thrust – the press is meant to push downward on the water to lever that side of the torso upward, rotating around the spine. The two kinds of leg action have quite different purposes. If you lay with a kickboard in the water and flutter, it will move you forward, more or less. If you use a 2-beat press pattern you will notice that it does not push you forward; it rocks the body from side to side instead.

The decision to use a flutter kick or a 2-beat press is a matter of trade-offs. In the flutter kick the leg action must be disconnected from the torso action in order to produce linear (rearward) thrust that is added to the torso rotation and the pulling action of the arms. But those are two separate actions in separated sections of the body. The body is divided at the waist so that the lower part (legs and pelvis) can move in a way that serves the kick and the upper part (arms and shoulders) can move in a way that serves the arm strokes. And, even for those with suitable physique and good kick technique, flutter kicking takes a lot more energy for a modest increase in thrust. It may be worth the expense for experienced short distance pool swimmers, and it might be tactical to use it at the very last meters of a longer race, but it is a questionable expense for long distance swimmers, especially those who are not set up with good kicking features, fitness and technique for it.


Why A Leg ‘Press’?

More recently we’ve begun to use the term ‘press’ instead of ‘kick’ to emphasize the intent of the leg motion – we’re not kicking the water like kicking a ball. One leg is pressing downward to enable the torso to more easily rotate in the opposite direction – a basic lever. On that downward press, the lower part of the leg is seeking water resistance against itself (to have something to press against) and the rate of the press is meant to be proportional to the rate at which the torso is rotating. A swift kick would be much faster than the torso is turning and thus the wave of force it sends into the body would pass through before the torso can make use of it. A slower press against sufficient water resistance allows the leg to stay engaged over a longer period of time, allowing more force to be transferred into the torso.

This slower press and downward direction makes the 2-beat action more suitable for rotational thrust and makes it less suitable for linear thrust. A small rapid flutter kick is more suitable for linear thrust and less suitable for rotational thrust.


Why A ‘2-Beat’?

We recommend and teach (in this course) a ‘2-beat’ leg press, which indicates that there is one single action of the legs for each torso rotation, or 2 presses of the legs for the two torso rotations per stroke cycle, hence the ‘2-beat’ name. Any other movement of the legs than this would be increasing turbulence, and working against the stability of the torso in streamline position. Any other movements are not only unnecessary they are costly.

A flutter kick is where there is 4 or 6 beats per stroke cycle. (Note that there are different ways to make a flutter kick and they are not equal in their cost and effect.) A flutter kick could be used, if done skillfully, but those who can do that tend to be swimmers from an early age where their bodies were able to develop the features that make for an effective kick. It is rare to see later-onset swimmers develop a useful flutter kick, but it is possible. There could be reasons to develop a good flutter kick and we would be glad to help one learn how. But in this course, we teach a 2-Beat Leg Press as a core skill for swimmers seeking efficiency skills. It becomes an excellent foundation for learning an efficient flutter kick later on.