I got two new toys in the mail this week: a Tempo Trainer and Fistgloves!

I was first intrigued by a beeping tempo device in how I could work on increasing my running cadence, as described in the Chi Running. Then I started to read about Terry Laughlin‘s experience with one in training for his upcoming Channel Swim in August, and other TI swimmers and triathletes. I am at that stage in my own TI swimming journey where I can understand and work with the feedback that such a device can give… I need something to help me train in open-water now that I spend half the year swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. When I saw that I could use the Tempo Trainer (TT) for both my swimming and running goals I was set on buying one.

I am in a stage of family and life right now where I swim on a small budget of time each week. I still want to explore my potential as a revitalized TI swimmer at age 37, but I have to do it much more creatively. Since I discovered  TI 9 years ago it has saved my aching shoulders and given me the tools to improve my swimming in every swim even when I cannot swim as much as I would like to. I want to work on speed- so a TT seems to be the gadget that can lead a swimmer down the most expedient path to get some.

Fistgloves are simple: Simple latex gloves that hold your hand in a fist while you swim. Up to now I just did it the old fashioned way- ball my hand in a fist (or hold a marble or pebble) and discipline myself to keep the fist, even on flip turns. Had these gloves been more than $9 I probably wouldn’t have bothered to buy a pair since the old fashioned way works just fine and I have two less things to keep track of, dry out, and protect in my swim bag. But I was placing an order for the Tempo Trainer anyway, so I tacked on a couple pairs (in two sizes) for the fun of it.

I took the TT and the FGs to the pool Tuesday. Maybe I should have tinkered with just one at first, but who can resist opening all their presents and playing with them in one day?

The FG were easy to figure out, but I had no idea at what interval I should set the TT. I am 176cm high with a 180cm arm-span. At 1500m my cruising speed I hold an SPL of 17 per 25m (counting EVERY arm stroke but the flip-turn anchoring stroke). I feel I have a well developed TI stroke, with an especially patient hand. But every body is different so what I hear Terry setting his TT at for various sets does not necessarily mean that’s where I should set it.

I started at 1.00 for my first 50 just to see- and it was way too fast for a warmup- maybe fine for when I was aiming to push my fastest 100m time. I dialed it slower and slower over the next few 50m until I settled on 1.60 to start my experimental set on.

Set [24x 100m] on the 2:30 interval- this left me plenty recovery time, since I wanted to test the devices not my heart. I had a fever off-on for the two days prior, so I was keeping tabs on my energy level- I would know quickly whether my body needed more rest or to clean out the pipes. I started this only thinking I would do 12x, but then 900 into it, it felt so good that I doubled it and made it my entire set for the day.

  • 1-3 FG, TT 1.60, held SPL at 16-17, came in on 1:57
  • 4-6 FG, TT 1.55, held SPL at 16-17, came in on 1:53
  • 7-9 FG, TT 1.50, held SPL at 16-18, came in on 1:50
  • 10-12 open hand, TT 1.50, held SPL at 14-15, came in on 1:44
  • 13-15 FG, TT 1.45, held SPL at 16-18, came in on 1:48
  • 16-18 open hand, TT 1.45, held SPL at 14-16, came in on 1:42
  • 19-21 FG, TT 1.40, held SPL at 16-17, came in on 1:45
  • 22-24 open hand, TT 1.40, held SPL at 14-16, came in on 1:38

Finished nicely tired, but not wiped. This was a purely aerobic set for me.

At first I had considered doing the entire set with FG, so not mess up my familiarization with the tempos. But after 900m I took them off, and kept the same tempo just to see how much of a difference they made. I was stunned. My hands were HUGE! I felt like I was grabbing and holding a stair step, and my body was easily sliding past the hand. The rebound effect was thrilling. I felt like I was actually accelerating after the pull and gliding further than ever (which is the ultimate sensation of a TI stroke). Imprinting the limitations of FG’d hand (and the properly compensating forearm) for several 100’s first made the sensation of swimming without so powerful and fast. One each successive 3×100 open hand group I took fewer strokes, glided further per stroke, and glided that distance faster- the precise effect FG are suppose to have.  The TT made it so that I could strictly compare the effect of FG to open hand and expose this secret of swimming hydrodynamics.

The other amazing effect was mental- I normally would focus on some element in my stroke as well as keep SPL count while swimming. This is enough to keep the mind engaged and time flying by- but then I added the element of keeping timing with the beep. A 24×100 set is not only long, it’s boring! But with these two devices in play the time flew by! My mind- was fully occupied with the sensations and adjustments as the pace increased and the gloves came off every 300 to refresh the thrill.

In this  one training session I did not find my natural “effortless and untiring” stroke tempo- I might need to do that in open-water where I can swim without the interruption of a flip-turn. When I was on 1.60 at first, I was still warming up. I was having to be even more patient with my hands to keep time. When I was on 1.40 I was having to be more aggressive to keep the tempo (with minimal extra exertion). I realize that, like a car engine, I need to warm up the joints and piping. Over time I will have to discover my current benchmark tempos for various favorite swim distances (100, 1500, and 5km). Once I know what these are I can start using the TT to improve the paces I can keep for each.

I cannot fully grasp the science of it quite yet, but I know it intuitively now- that as long as I can maintain my long stroke length I can literally set the TT to the speed I want to swim and swim it. The evil I want to avoid is shortening the stroke in the attempt to increase speed. So the key to swimming faster seems to be gliding just as far per stroke, but gliding that distance faster, perhaps even further. It’s idealy impossible to not waste some energy (shorten the stroke), but it seems, from what I’ve read, that as I set TT tempo, hold SPL, and track my times, over a few training sessions I should be able to pinpoint the optimal balance of tempo and SPL (knowing I may give up a fraction of SL) to achieve a certain pace I am aiming for- whether I want to improve my time for a 100, 1500 or 5km. I am excited how the TT seems to be a simple, truly scientific route to achieving this.

I go in tomorrow morning for another experiment.

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