What is a Tempo Pyramid Set?

A tempo pyramid is a special kind of practice set, using a Tempo Trainer and timing the stroke movement to coincide with the BEEP on the Tempo Trainer.

A Tempo Pyramid set is intended to help your brain discover ways to lengthen the stroke without slowing your speed to do it.

You will start with an assigned tempo (TS), or you may choose one near the middle of your comfortable tempo (TC) range. You count strokes on every length.

There will be a series of repeats, usually like 2x 25 or 2x 50. At each new step in the series you will change the tempo on the Tempo Trainer by the amount indicated in the practice instructions. 

It is called a ‘pyramid’ because of the way we might graph the changes in tempo, during the set.


In this example above, the swimmer starts with tempo 1.20 and swims 2x 25. On each next step she slows the tempo by +0.10 seconds and swims another 2x 25. She repeats this process for 5 steps, until arriving at tempo 1.60. On the way ‘up’ she is looking for ways to lengthen her stroke since she a little more more time per stroke on each next step. She wants to reduce her stroke count (SPL).

Then she begins working her way back down, swimming 2x 25 on each step, by increasing the tempo by -0.05 seconds on each step. These are half-steps (0.05 is half of 0.10 seconds), and this gives her brain more time to adapt as tempo increases. On the way ‘down’ she is looking to preserve as much of that longer stroke (lower stroke count, or lower SPL) even through tempo is gradually increasing.

The pyramid could be normal upright’, like this example above, where tempo is first slowing down, then speeding up. Or it could be inverted’ where tempo is first speeding up, then slowing back down.


The pyramid could be ‘symmetrical’ where the changes in tempo are the same on both sides. Or it could be ‘asymmetrical’ where the tempo changes half-as-much per step, on the second half (as shown in the first diagram). 

The main point of tempo pyramids is to trick the body and brain into discovering ways to lengthen and protect stroke length even though tempo is changing. The key to these sets is concentration on precise body position and movements, while relaxing all other parts of the body more deeply.

Tempo Trainer Pro Basics

Let us introduce you to the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. It is a waterproof metronome for swimming. You turn it on, place it under your swim cap or one a clip attached to your goggle strap. It creates a BEEP sound on the interval that you set with the buttons – that BEEP is beeping like seconds on a watch, and you control how many seconds there are between those BEEPs.

This is small, but extremely useful device. We would say it would be the most important part of your training gear after after your suit and goggles.


Coordinating The BEEP

In the most simple use of the Tempo Trainer Pro, you simply coordinate the movement of your stroke with the BEEP. You can coordinate that beep with any part of the stroke you want, anywhere on the body.

You could concentrate on timing the beep with one of these easily identifiable points in the freestyle stroke:

  • The fingers of your spearing hand cut the surface of the water in front
  • Your lead arm reaching full extension point
  • Setting the catch
  • Initiating the torso rotation
  • The timing of the kick

The Tempo Trainer can be used for the other three competitive stroke styles,  but it gets complicated when doing it with butterfly and breaststroke so we recommend you get skilled at using it on freestyle or backstroke before trying it on the others.


Tempo Trainer Instructions

You may want to view the official Finis Tempo Trainer Manual (pdf download).

On the Tempo Trainer Pro there are three modes it can be set to. When you depress the top button for 2 seconds, it toggles between Mode 1, 2 and 3.

For most of our training assignments in the Dojo and in live training we use Mode 1, which works in ‘seconds per stroke’. Mode 2 can be set for longer intervals, such as the seconds per length or lap, so that you can try to come to the wall on the BEEP. Mode 3 is an inverse of Mode 1, and works in units of ‘strokes per minute’ (SPM) – this is more useful for open water swimming, or is preferred by those who think more in terms of SPM.