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

Here’s a neat way to use your Tempo Trainer Pro 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 Tempo Trainer Pro. 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 Tempo Trainer Pro and gradually increases. Take whatever rest is necessary between the 50m swims to change the stroke rate on the Tempo Trainer Pro.

If you have been using your Tempo Trainer Pro 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: (Start 10-15 Stoke Lower than your Natural Stroke Rate.)

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:

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 Tempo Trainer Pro. Here’s an example result from a swimmer:

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 Tempo Trainer Pro 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:

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