Weaning Off of the Tempo Trainer

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The Tempo Trainer (TT) is a wonderful tool for training our stroke timing, just as a musician would use a metronome to train the rhythm for a certain song. But the musicians in a band or in an orchestra don’t use their metronomes in the concert. They have practiced with a metronome enough and then weaned off of it in such a way that this sense of timing is now burned deeply into their nervous system. They don’t need that metronome other than to check in and tune up their sense of rhythm, or to learn a new song, or an old song at a different tempo.

Likewise, we train with Tempo Trainers in order to no longer need them. And, for those who participate in certain sanctioned races, they are not allowed anyway. The point of using a device like this is to train our own brain with that skill, rather than use the device to replace our brain’s skill. We use the TT in such a way to eventually learn to keep timing without one BEEPing in our ear. I call this process ‘weaning’ off the TT, like a baby eventually weans off breast-feeding.

The process of weaning off the TT is simple to explain: at first, you regularly train with the TT BEEPing on every arm stroke. After a period of time imprinting certain range of tempos you that intend to use for your event, you then set the TT to skip BEEPS (set it at 2x the rate), so that you have to imagine the BEEP on every other stroke, rather than actually hear it.

If I were to use a tempo of 1.20 and want to eventually wean off it it I may follow this sequence:

  • practice some weeks with TT at 1.20 (BEEP comes at each arm entry)
  • practice some weeks with TT at 2.40 (BEEP comes at only right arm entry)
  • practice some weeks with TT at 3.60 (BEEP comes every 3 strokes – quite tough!)
  • practice some weeks with TT at 4.80 (BEEP comes every other right arm entry)

Your brain learns to anticipate the ‘silent’ strokes between beeps, until you don’t need the TT anymore to hold perfect timing. After this, you can use Stroke Count Intervals and a memorized time chart to check your tempo during swims (explained below).

 

An Example Of Weaning

Ricardo has been practicing to hold a cruising pace stroke at 1.25 seconds. This means the TT BEEPs for every arm stroke at 1.25 seconds. For the next phase of TT training, he slows the TT down to 2.50 seconds and then synchronizes just one arm to coincide with that BEEP – the arms must still move at 1.25 tempo, but only one arm gets a BEEP. The other arm has to hit it’s timing in silence, but in time the brain will anticipate and fill in that gap, and Ricardo will be able to hold the tempo with 50% less frequent BEEPs. On the first interval he synchronizes the left arm to the beep and on the next interval he synchronizes the right arm, in order to balance the effect on each arm.

To go further, Ricardo then sets the TT to 5.00 seconds and then synchronizes just one arm to coincide every other stroke – so there is a BEEP-stroke, then silent-stroke, silent-stroke, silent-stroke, BEEP-stroke. This is just like the 4-beat of many songs.

I have tried it with the TT set to every third stroke (to BEEP at 3.75 seconds in Ricardo’s case) and it is a very challenging timing interval. One could find some utility for this 3-stroke TT setting (like for bi-laterial breathing), but I think its value is limited. 4-stroke time gap seems to be the next reasonable frequency.

 

Final Wean

One can take it even further to set the TT at 10.00 seconds (every 8th stroke). But I think once you’ve got a good rhythm at 4-stroke interval you can practice turning the TT off altogether. At that point your brain can either fill in the gaps for the three silent-strokes or it cannot.

Next, if you are in the pool, you can calculate the number of seconds, and number of strokes you will need to reach the other wall, and set the TT to this number of seconds. Then push-off the wall on the first BEEP and follow your memorized sense of tempo with stroke counting, to see if you can touch the other wall at the moment of the next BEEP. This is a nice exercise, but if you get off count, you have to go off tempo for a while in the next length to re-align and you won’t know if you’ve come close until you get to the next wall.

 

Occasional Checkups

A great way to further imprint your own sense of tempo is to do continuous swimming with your own sense of tempo, and then periodically turn on the Tempo Trainer to check if your sense is accurate, and then make adjustments in your perception.

For example, if I wanted to test or challenge my sense of tempo at 1.20 seconds over a 1000 swim, I could preset my Tempo Trainer to 1.20 then turn it off and stick it into my swim cap. I would swim 150, then reach up quickly to touch the button on my TT to turn it on and immediately start another 50 to compare the TT BEEP to the sense of tempo I was just swimming with. I would repeat this 5 times, stopping briefly only to quickly turn off/on the TT.

  • 5 rounds of 150 without TT and 50 with TT – swim continuously

 

Monitoring Tempo in Open Water

In open water, my preferred way to monitor my memorized tempo is to touch the split button on my watch, count strokes to a certain number (I usually count 300 strokes) and then quickly look at the time split on my watch to see how many minutes and seconds went by.

I use this equation: Stroke Count x Tempo = Total Seconds

Here is my tempo-time chart based on 300-stroke intervals:

  • 300 strokes at 0.95 tempo = 4 minutes, 45 seconds
  • 300 strokes at 1.00 tempo = 5 minutes, 00 seconds
  • 300 strokes at 1.05 tempo = 5 minutes, 15 seconds
  • 300 strokes at 1.10 tempo = 5 minutes, 30 seconds
  • 300 strokes at 1.05 tempo = 5 minutes, 45 seconds

For various reasons I have settled into using 300-stroke intervals as a standard unit of distance and time estimate for open water swimming. Every 300 strokes I know I travel roughly 300m and about 5 minutes has passed. I can then be in the middle of a swim and if curious about my tempo, hit my split button, count off 300 strokes, and then glance at my split to see a ‘close-enough’ reading of my average tempo over the last 5 minutes or so.

This has become for me a quite reliable and useful way to monitor tempo without a Tempo Trainer.

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