You might think you should turn your arms over faster to swim faster, but that isn’t always true. In fact, you might go slower.
How can that be?
In your attempts to get your arms spinning, you could unintentionally allow your hands to slip through the water less efficiently. Preventing this means maintaining good propulsive contact with the water as your cadence increases. A tempo trainer is one way to develop a higher turnover while maintaining a low stroke count.
Tempo trainers—I use the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro—are a small waterproof device that you place under your swim cap or attach to your goggle strap. It’s a variable-speed electronic metronome that transmits a beep that you can hear while you’re swimming.
Here are some tips for using it.
To begin, establish your base swim stroke rate after doing a warm-up. Set the time interval for each stroke, starting with a setting of one beep per second. Swim 25s of freestyle at about 75% effort, then adjust the trainer to beep faster or slower until it matches the timing of the strike of your hands as they enter the water at a comfortable pace. This setting varies from person to person, but for example, here’s a swim set using a setting of every 0.94 seconds.
Swim 21 x 25s freestyle on 20 seconds rest. As you push off the wall, have each hand enter the water in time with the trainer’s beep. Count your strokes as you swim the 25. For this example, pretend your stroke count per 25 is 18.
Swim 3 x 25s holding your original stroke count (18) at your starting pace (0.94). Then adjust the setting down by 0.02 to 0.92. Complete three more 25s using 18 strokes. Drop the setting down another 0.02 to 0.90. You’ll begin to feel the challenge of maintaining the same stroke count as your arms go at a slightly faster pace than what was comfortable earlier. If you happen to add a stroke, simply continue until you’re able to swim three 25s at each setting. You can take rest between sets of 25s.
Repeat this pattern for a total of 21 x 25s (or perhaps a set time, such as 15 minutes). Your last two rounds should be hard to achieve. You might feel like you’re nearing race pace. Don’t give up when you think you’re failing or cannot get back to your original stroke count. Your body can adapt. Keep working at it! You’re showing yourself what you’re capable of.
Do this set monthly and measure your improvement. If you found it wasn’t difficult to hold your stroke count at the end, drop your setting by 0.04 next time because you may have started off at too slow of a pace. Over time, continue to lower the start setting to challenge yourself.
You’ll have to make some technique adjustments for this set:
Apply greater pressure to generate more force
Be more streamlined to have even less resistance
This fun set teaches self-awareness of your stroke while going fast. This challenge can be applied to all four strokes.
Susan Ingraham on U.S. Masters Swimming