Intro to Training with Tempo

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In most of our training plans in the Dojo and in live training sessions we will be working with tempo (a form of stroke rate) and controlling it using a device known as a Tempo Trainer Pro, made by Finis.


What is Tempo?

Tempo is the rate at which your arms (or whole body) are moving through the stroke cycle. For convenience in pool training, we measure tempo in units of ‘seconds per stroke’. Over many stroke cycles to get a more accurate average, we can measure from the time between each rotate of the torso, or we can measure the time it takes after one arm has left a position in the stroke cycle for the other arm to reach that same position . For example, we could measure the time between the left arm coming to the entry point and the right arm coming to the entry point in the stroke cycle.


What is the Tempo Trainer Pro?

A Tempo Trainer Pro (which we often abbreviate as “TT”) is a small, waterproof metronome we use for swimming. You can read more about this in Tempo Trainer Pro Basics.


Why Train With Tempo?

The first objectives for training with a TT is to provoke the brain to refine control over the precision and consistency of your movement patterns. The Tempo Trainer helps build your focused attention and sense of timing, helping the body ‘memorize’ the movement deeply. When you train enough with the TT, you’ll eventually not need it any more – just like a musician would use a metronome to perfect timing then set it aside for the concert.

There are three ways we may have you first start to use the Tempo Trainer:

  1. Using a comfortable tempo, set a steady rhythm to the stroke and train the brain to memorize that rhythm.
  2. Using a comfortable tempo, call your attention to a particular point in the stroke cycle, stroke after stroke.
  3. To expand your comfortable tempo range by working on the edges of what is uncomfortably fast tempo and what is uncomfortably slow.

By first working with a comfortable tempo you can give the brain a chance to organize and smooth out the motions under the constraint of a fixed time interval.

Then you can begin working with slightly uncomfortably-slow tempos to challenge your balance and streamline skills. Then you can begin working with slightly uncomfortably-fast tempos to challenge your precision under the stress of faster movements.

There are more ways to use it once we get into advanced training, but these are where we like you to start. Later on we use TT training, in conjunction with stroke length training, to bring your stroke rate down to the range suitable for your pace goal. Tempo work is recommended only after you have the four fundamental features working in your stroke.

Using a Tempo Trainer adds a new level of challenge to the brain while training your stroke technique. For this reason it takes some time and understanding to learn to use one, and to enjoy using one. Some people love it immediately, and sense it will help them focus. While some people find it annoying at first. If so, don’t worry. That may be a sign your nervous system is not ready for it yet. But that annoyance could also mean that your brain just needs some time working with it to get used to a new form of stimulation and start to appreciate it.

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