In this post I will attempt to answer the long standing question of whether a high stroke rate wins races or a long strong stroke.
Firstly let’s clarify both stroke rate and stroke length.
Stroke rate is the number of full strokes taken, by a crew, per minute. e.g. 60 strokes per minute.
Stroke Length is the distance the boat travels between each stroke taken by the crew. (e.g. from catch to catch). It includes the distance traveled by the boat while the paddles are both in the water and in the air.
Note that stroke length in this post is NOT the paddler‘s stoke length (e.g. “enter at knee. exit at hip”) While the paddler’s stroke length does contribute to the boat’s stroke length, there are other factors as well. And I believe this confusion is what makes the question so difficult to answer, when in fact the answer is clear.
OK. Here we go.
Let me introduce the All-Stars crew.
For the All-Stars crew the distance the boat travels from one catch to the next is 3 metres. This is determined by a number of factors not limited to the technique they have been taught and their current power output.
The All-Stars crew paddles within a range of stroke rates. Again this is related to the technique they have been taught and their power. They currently hover between 65 and 70 strokes per minute.
What is interesting is that we can calculate the expected 500m time for our All-Stars crew based on these two measures.
Have look at this table (You may have seen this table in one of my other posts – Laying it All on the Table):
The boxes highlighted in red are this crew’s length of strokes (3 metres +-5%) and when cross referenced with their stroke rate range (65 to 70), shows us the expected race times for a 500m race. (Somewhere between 140 and 160 seconds)
More precisely, if this crew can hold a stroke rate of 65spm and a stroke length of 3m for 500m, they will do a time of 154 seconds. This table holds true for a standard boat, small boat, mixed, open, juniors, elite or recreational paddlers. It is pure maths.
Where this table is most useful is when a coach is trying to get their crew to go faster. There are two ways we are considering:
- Lift the stroke rate
- Increase the (boat) stroke length
Let’s look at these options more closely.
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