Tempo Sets Explained

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    Admin Mediterra
    Keymaster

    When working on improving or expanding the range of tempos you can use in your training, there are a few kinds of sets we may use, with different purposes and names. Let me explain each for you…

     

    Tempo Pyramid

    A Tempo Pyramid is a set that has you monitor your stroke count while having you swim with gradually slower tempos, up to a certain point, and then work back with gradually faster tempos until you reach your original starting point. From there, it may have you continue into faster tempos for a while.  [Note: Counting strokes with slower tempo assumes you are using a 2 Beat Kick or a minimal flutter kick, so that your torso and arm stroke itself is being challenged to affect a longer stroke rather than just kicking your way farther.] 

    By gradually slowing tempo, this often allows the brain time to improve stability and streamline, adapt and lengthen the stroke in ways you could not do if you just suddenly slowed the stroke to an extreme amount.

    Once the stroke is lengthened, then the tempo is gradually increased while you attempt to hold onto the changes made in your stroke that allowed it to be longer. Often, you are able to return to the starting tempo with a longer stroke (a lower stroke count) than you had when you started. This means you are swimming faster, without actually trying to swim faster. You simply focused upon improving your stability and streamline to keep momentum flowing forward in longer periods of time between strokes (slower tempos), then you aim to maintain that superior stability and streamline as the tempo speeds back up again.

    Example of a Tempo Pyramid

    Round 1:

    1. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.30
    2. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.40
    3. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.50
    4. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.60
    5. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.70

    Round 2:

    1. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.60
    2. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.50
    3. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.40
    4. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.30

    Bonus Round (if you ended up with a lower stroke count at the end, than you started with)

    1. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.25
    2. 2x 25 at Tempo 1.20

     

    Asymmetrical Tempo Pyramid

    This has the exact same purpose as the regular Tempo Pyramid with the only difference being that (in Round 2) you speed up the tempo in smaller increments, allowing more time to adapt and preserve that longer stroke.

    The ‘asymmetry’ part comes from the fact that there are more (smaller) tempo increment steps back down the pyramid than on the way up.

    Example of an Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid

    Round 1:

    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.30
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.40
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.50
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.60

    Round 2:

    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.55
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.50
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.45
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.40
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.35
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.30

    Bonus Round (if you ended up with a lower stroke count at the end, than you started with)

    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.25
    • 2x 25 at Tempo 1.20

     

    Inverted Tempo Pyramid

    Where a regular Tempo Pyramid is moving UP (toward slower tempos) and then back DOWN (toward faster tempos), an Inverted Tempo Pyramid is going in the exact opposite direction, first working down into faster, more challenging tempos and then slowing back down.

    By counting strokes and monitoring perceived effort, you can measure how much your brain has adapted as you move back up into slower tempos. If your stroke count stays lower at each step on the way up, lower than it did on the way down, and the effort feels a bit easier, then you know you have adapted.   

    The purpose here is to help you make your starting tempo feel even easier than it did when you started. By challenging your neuromuscular system to execute the movements of the stroke at incrementally faster tempos, its sense of time is stretched. You start with a tempo that is just at the fast edge of what you can handle, then work down into faster tempos that push you to adjust, correct, and adapt. You will experience some failure in precision. But then when you back off to slightly slower tempos, your brain will perceive an abundance of time at a tempo that felt rushed to you just a minute ago. This is a way to trick the brain into figuring out how to adapt your current stroke precision to slightly faster tempos as a matter of skill rather than a matter of power. 

    When working with faster-than-comfortable tempos you should usually use smaller incremental changes, giving your brain smaller steps to adapt to as the tempos get more and more challenging. Use change increments (D=delta, or ‘change amount’) of -0.03, -0.02 and -0.01 seconds – smaller deltas for more extremely challenging tempos. And, you should provide more distance (more number of repeats) at each tempo step to give the brain proper time to adapt – you may need 100-300 yards/meters at each step.

    Example of an Inverted Tempo Pyramid

    Round 1:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.10 (at the fast edge of what you can handle)
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.08
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.06
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.02
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.00

    Round 2:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.02
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.06
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.08
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.10

     

    Tempo Ladder

    A Tempo Ladder is a series repeats at gradually faster (or slower, but more typically at faster) tempos.

    You start at a fast-but-comfortable tempo and work down then, using small increments, work into faster and faster tempos, giving your brain and muscles time to adapt to each tempo step. You keep going down until you can no longer adapt and maintain precision in your stroke movements. When you reach failure at a certain fast tempo and can no longer correct it, even with some additional rest, then you know you are done with that set for the day.

    You need to monitor stroke count as well because this is the primary way you tell when you reach your failure point. Your stroke count will go up as you go into faster tempos, but you must resist that count going up too quickly. As a rule of thumb, you are allowed to add one stroke for every -0.06 seconds you increase the tempo – and by this you are assured that you will gradually increase pace as the tempo gets faster. If you give up a stroke earlier than that, then you may actually be slowing down although your arms are spinning faster, and that is not what faster tempos are suppose to do for you.

    Example of a Tempo Ladder

    Round 1:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.10 (at the fast edge of what you can handle)
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.08
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.06
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04

    Let’s say you did 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04 and you did not feel adapted yet. So stay at this step one for another cycle to see if your brain and body can adapt with more time. If so, you may move on to the next tempo step, and so on.

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.02
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.00

     

    Tempo Step Ladder

    A Tempo Step Ladder is essentially the same thing, and same purpose as a regular Tempo Ladder, with occasional steps back to slower tempos, before resuming the gradual progress into faster tempos. This occasional step-back in the series can provide an active rest while continuing with the series. When you step back and work at a tempo slightly slower than the one you were just challenged with, you may feel a great more ease that you did, thus increasing your sense of confidence that you can handle the next faster tempo.

    Example of a Tempo Step Ladder

    Round 1:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.08 (at the fast edge of what you can handle)
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.06
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04

    Round 2:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.06
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.02

    Round 3:

    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.04
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.02
    • 3x 50 at Tempo 1.00
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