Using A Tempo Trainer – SLOW IT DOWN!

If you have not read the Introduction, I invite you to do so now to get an idea of what I’m trying to explain with these Tempo Trainer lessons.

If you know your current normal SPL and SR for your targeted distance event, then you’ll be in a good position to try this practice set. If not, I suggest getting that data first. Click SPL or SR for ideas on how to determine your baseline measurements.

There are many creative ways to use a Tempo Trainer, beyond what I am sharing here. (Please share your ideas!) What I present here is one that we often introduce to swimmers in a TI workshop because of how effective it is at exposing a swimmer’s underlying struggle with Balance and Streamline. (For some the experience is thrilling, while for others it is depressing- but please be patient and gracious with yourself! The TI mindset helps us embrace the learning and continual-improvement process for life!)


PURPOSE: To expose, examine and give you an opportunity to solve Balance and Streamline problems.

WHY? Balance and Streamline are the foundation for speed, efficiency and ease of movement in the water. No matter how hard you work, how strong your muscles and metabolic system become, you will never reach your potential as a swimmer without perfecting Balance and Streamline. These skills are the essence of excellent swimming regardless of your goal. But the good news is, they are neuro-muscular skills which means they are developed by great concentration and repetition, not by great muscle power- so anyone can work on these and succeed- any age, any body shape, any skill level.


6x 50m, descreasing tempo 0.10 per 50m , then 8x 50m increasing tempo 0.10 per 50m.

  • Starting tempo (at 1.50 for example), then decrease 0.10 per 50 until reaching 2.00, then increase tempo 0.10 per 50 until reaching original SPL count.
  • Count SPL every length.
  • No more than 2-beat kicking.
  • Hold effort level to #3 (if #1 is easiest slow, and #5 is all out effort)


  • Limit yourself to a 2-beat kick (1 foot flick to correspond to each catch). This is not a kicking exercise. By removing the kick your skill for Balance and Streamline in the water will be exposed- there will be no kick to compensate for Balance and Drag problems.
  • Set your TT to the slower end of your comfortable baseline tempo range. Generically, I might suggest 1.40 or 1.50. It should feel comfortably slow, but not exaggerated.
  • Swim a 50 and count your strokes each length. (Click HERE for an explanation on how to count strokes). Take 5 or 6 deep breaths in between. This is a neuro-muscular set, not a metabolic one- so do not distract your system by raising your effort level above #3 (on a scale of 1 to 5).
  • Click the TT 10x to make it 0.10 seconds SLOWER (the right button) then swim another 50. (Tip: I leave the TT in my cap at the back of my head, and just reach up by feel and click the left or right button. Only when I am unsure do I pull it out to check the time.)
  • Repeat this process until you reach 2.00 seconds, counting and comparing your decrease in strokes as the tempo gets slower and slower.
  • Once you reach 2.00 you will begin speeding up by 0.10 seconds per 50. You goal is to add as few strokes as possible. If you hold this incredibly small SPL count now as you increase tempo, you will, by pure mathematics be going faster. See how many tenths you can increase and how few strokes you can add.
  • When you reach the tempo you started at, compare your starting stroke count to your finishing count.
  • Now continue going 0.10 seconds faster per 50 until you reach a tempo at which you are taking the same number of strokes you started the set with.

There are often two main results swimmers encounter from this:

  1. They make it back to the starting tempo and are amazed they needed far fewer strokes to swim at the same tempo and the same effort level. This means that instead of stroking harder, they were tapping into better Balance and Streamline in order to make those kind of improvements.
  2. They start descending from 2.00 and find they can’t hold SPL at all, and end up at the beginning with the same stroke count or worse. This often means that they need more time to isolate Balance and Streamline positions and work on them.

In a set like this both those who feel success at lower SPL and those who feel failure, are discovering the power of neuro-muscular training has for improving their swimming, even if they made no progress in their metabolic and muscular strength.

For those who quickly discover and improve their Balance and Streamline, it is then time to look into using the TT for increasing SR.

For those who struggle I recommend that you don’t rush into increasing SR work yet. Without the foundation of Balance and Streamline, increasing SR will likely only magnify your stroke flaws and exhaustion, as well as increase your risk of injury.

Everything about excellence encourages us to be patient and persistent. Don’t give up on working on Balance and Streamline. Neuro-muscular control requires a lot of precision repetitions and time for the body to build strong and precise pathways (want to understand this process in an amazing book? Read “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle). Take your whole off-season to work on this… but even if you took a year or more to work on just those skills, the pay-off will be immense for your future swimming. Even the best swimmers in the world cannot over-train their Balance and Streamline.

Next lesson: Using A Tempo Trainer – SPEED IT UP!

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