Stroke count, stroke length, and glide are important in swimming, but the overriding KING of efficient swimming is rhythm. One of the best tools for developing a sense of rhythm is the Tempo Trainer by Finis. Here’s a fun, challenging freestyle set that uses the Tempo Trainer to help you find more power in your stroke.
If you’re using a Tempo Trainer for the first time, swim a few lengths of medium-speed freestyle with the TT to get a sense of your cadence. You might start with an initial TT setting of 1:00, 1:05, or 1:10. This means that the TT will beep every second (or every 1.05 or 1.10 second). Swim so that each "hand hit" corresponds to a beep of the TT. Remember: this should be relaxed swimming, not all out. Start by swimming 25s, and adjust the TT up or down until you find a TT setting that feels comfortable.
When you’re ready to start the set, keep the TT at the setting that felt most comfortable. Then swim four to six rounds of the following:
50 free, building speed on the final 12.5 yards
100 free, building speed on the final 12.5 yards
Use a sendoff that gives you 15 to 20 seconds rest on the 50s, and then double the sendoff for the 100. For example, if you use a 55-second sendoff on the 50s, use a 1:50 sendoff on the 100s.
Keep swimming to the beat, even as you try to build speed. The trick is to find more speed — more power — within each stroke.
How do you do this? Here are some ideas, which came from my Masters group when we did this set:
1. Kick faster.
2. Push back farther to finish each pull.
3. Put more "umph" into each pull.
4. Glide a bit more on each stroke.
5. Search for a better, more balanced body position for the build.
6. Rotate more cleanly.
How do you know if you’re really going faster on the last 12.5 yards, or if it just FEELS faster? One of the Masters swimmers played a game to find out. She not only swam to the beat of the TT, but also counted her strokes. (It helps that she’s a data wizard in real life, but really, any swimmer can learn to do these two things at once.) She reasoned that if she took one (or two) fewer strokes on the final 25, she HAD to be going faster. Think about it. Her cadence (and pushoff distance) never varied. The only variable was the number of strokes. If she swam the final length in one fewer stroke and her TT was set at 1:00, she would be one second faster on the build length than on a non-build length.
What kind of setting is "ideal" for freestyle? To quote Glenn Mills: "Uh huh." There is no one ideal setting. The setting that’s right for you depends on many things: arm length, height, straight-arm vs. bent-arm recovery, strength, and ability. In our Masters group, we had settings of everywhere from :82 to 1:20 when we did this set. Many of the swimmers made quick adjustments after the first round, to find a cadence that worked for both moderate pace and build pace. And the TT setting that works for you on this set, might not be the right setting for a set of, say, 200s.
The Tempo Trainer is simply a fun and useful tool, with endless possibilities. It also keeps your mind focused in a good way. This set went by REALLY quickly.