A few months ago, I was asked at a talk how to use a Tempo Trainer effectively in a swim practice. For those not familiar with Tempo Trainers, they are little plastic discs that can clip to your goggles or go under your cap when you swim. You can set it to beep once or multiple times on a time interval by using the controls on the front of the device. A picture of one is seen to the right.
My first suggestion to the attendee at the talk is to use the Tempo Trainer like a person taking piano lessons would use a metronome — set a tempo and play the notes of the music at that fixed tempo. Like a piece of music, a swimming stroke should have an even beat where the arms, legs, and body are moving to a set tempo. This tempo might change as the speed changes, but it should be even at a given speed. The first challenge we give our swimmers coming out of our Freestyle clinics is to learn to hold an even beat. By “even beat” we mean that the stroke shouldn’t have dead spots (e.g., stopping the hand at the stroke finish, taking extra moments during the breath) or it shouldn’t unintentionally speed up or slow down during a lap of swimming (e.g., speed up as you need to get air as the lap goes on). A steady or even stroke is the first step to developing the kind of control that more advanced swimmers have.
So what should your beat be? Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Calculating it by Observation — Have a friend time how long it takes to swim 10 strokes during a moderately paced swim. Have them say “0” when your hand first enters the water, count “1” for every time another hand enters, and stop at the 10th hand hit. Divide by 10, and that will give you your “seconds per stroke.” If it’s 1.18 seconds per stroke, you would plug “1:18” into the Tempo Trainer. For those more scientifically minded people, take 3 samples and average
- Calculating by Intensity Feel — Start at 1:00 and swim a few lengths of the pool. If it feels slow or strained, drop the tempo by :03 and repeat until you find a comfortable tempo. If it feels to fast or you are winded, add :03 and repeat until you find a comfortable Tempo. Most people trained in the Total Immersion stroke would probably want to start at 1:15 because the stroke emphasizes stroke length
Option 2 can take a little time, so see if you can find someone to help you calculate it using a watch.
Practice swimming at that beat, spot any dead spots, and work the kinks out. Then see how well you can hold the beat over a set of 25, 50, or 100 yard swims. For an additional challenge, see how well you can stay on beat and keep your stroke count within 1-2 strokes per length of its starting value. Then you will really be practicing a steady stroke.
Have fun with the discovery process.