A Method To Determine Your Baseline Tempo Range

Technically, Stroke Rate (SR) is in units of strokes per second (or minutes). While Tempo (the settings we use on a Tempo Trainer) is in units of seconds per stroke. Therefore SR = 1/Tempo. Often we will see analysis of elite swimmers given in strokes per minute. It just takes a little conversion to translate the units to whatever discussion you want to have. I will usually give data in terms of Tempo (seconds per stroke) so we have a direct reference to the device we are using.

If you would like the quick-fix, just get in the pool with your Tempo Trainer (TT), set the TT to around 1.40 and start swimming, and keep adjusting the TT faster or slower until the tempo feels ‘normal’ to you.  This assumes you have a TT.

If you do not have a Tempo Trainer a simple way to measure your natural tempo is have someone on deck time you with a split-capable stop watch in the middle of your pool swim. Start swimming your target event in your normal form, and have your deck-friend choose a length in the beginning, middle and toward the end and click the split button every stroke cycle as you swim that length. Look at the splits to get an idea of the average, and then divide by two to get your stroke tempo.

But I highly recommend you get a TT. It’s arguably the best $50 you’ll spend on swim gear.

You will have a range of tempos that feel ‘normal’ to you right now. Typically, your range will have a fast end, for shorter, faster events, and a slow end for longer, slower events. For example: a swimmer might have a normal tempo of 1.00 seconds per stroke for sprinting events, and up to 1.30 for distance.

And of course, you will have different tempos for different strokes styles – your backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly will all have different tempo ranges. As you train SL and Tempo deliberately, your whole tempo range will shift towards faster tempos and those will become the new ‘normal’.

Your measurements on Tempo may vary a little from day to day, event to event, and will vary at different points in your workout, but it will not take long training with a TT to get a confident feel for your normal range.

If you want a more technical approach try this longer dial-in set…

  • Warm up at least 500 or so. Personally, I really only begin to feel loosened up after about 800.
  • Pick a distance event you intend to train for and swim at that pace by feel for about 200 to settle into your normal pace.
  • Have the TT pre-set to around 1.40, quickly turn it on and slip it under your swim cap, then swim 50 comparing the tempo you were using without the TT on to how it feels now being driven by the beep. If it feels too fast, then click down the speed (right button) 0.05 seconds (5 clicks). If it feels too slow, then click up the speed (left button) 0.05 seconds (5 clicks). Repeat this process until it feels close to ‘normal’ for your pace at this distance.
  • Begin swimming again, at least 100, using the TT at that last tempo. Then after every next 50 make fine tune adjustments of 0.01 or 0.02 seconds up or down (1 click or 2) to dial in the tempo.

Do you have a preferred way to dial-in your tempo range? Please share!

For some professional reference point here are some stats collected by Finis from Atlanta Olympics in ’96, and ’98 World Championships in Perth. Click on the image to get the link for the full pdf file.

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