Tempo Training: Swimming to the Beat of a Different Drummer by Kerry O’Brien (2009)


Okay, here we go. My name is Kerry O’Brien; I coach the Walnut Creek Masters Swim Team in California. If you are not familiar with Walnut Creek, we are about 30 miles inland from San Francisco in the Bay Area. Swimming to the Beat of a Different Drummer: Tempo Trainers. The Tempo Trainer that FINIS makes I think are great little tools.

This is our primary mission; and this is what I want people to understand. This works a lot with, especially with open water swimmers and triathletes, is that: efficiency begets speed. If we are going to be fast, we have to be efficient first. Very few cases are there that we go fast first to learn how to become efficient. But I always want my swimmers to learn how to be efficient first, and then through that efficiency we are going to gain speed. And with working with triathletes, what I tell them is: even if you get out of your swim, and through the efficiency work that you have done even if your time isn’t any better than it was the year before, if you get out of the water feeling more relaxed, more rested and you didn’t exert so much more energy, that is going to translate into a much faster triathlon at the end of the day. And that is the bottom line.

A lot of people, sure they want to have a faster swim split, but as we learned from the open water talk just before this, is that it is hard to really know if your swim actually got faster because the distance is going to be so arbitrary. It may say a 1,000-meter swim, but it might be a 1,200m swim. So it is really hard to gauge your swim based on what you see on your watch when you get out of the water. So I tell my triathletes: when you get out of the water, look at your watch and see what your time is. But do not let that be your definition of success, okay? Because you really do not know if the swim was long; go by how you feel. Am I getting out of the water… did I not expend as much energy as the last time I did that? Is that going to result in a much faster day at the end of the line. And that is kind of what we want.

Some factors in efficient swimming—we are just going to touch on this real quick.
pace: learning how to swim at a particular pace over a given distance during that sets of short swims, long swims. Developing the feel for that pace. Being able to hold that pace. And then extend that pace over longer distances.

stroke length: How am I keeping my body through the water? And if you think of your body in nautical terms, the longer it is at the waterline, the more potential it has for speed. So it is kind of the difference between a barge and a schooner. The longer you are through the water, the more potential you have for speed. If you were to grab a towrope behind a speedboat, once that boat started picking-up speed, your body would naturally roll-up onto its side, ‘cause that is how it cuts through the water easier. So that has to do with stroke length.

stroke rate: Or the tempo at which you are turning your strokes over. This talk is going to deal mainly on stroke tempo. Because what I love about this is it is just another piece to the puzzle: you have pace, you have stroke length, you have stroke rate. And when you start combining some of these pieces, it just gives you a little better sense of where you are at.

velocity: is dividing your stroke length by the number of strokes—to get your velocity. And then

heart rate: If I am swimming a certain stroke, it may look nice and long through the water, but am I having to over-kick my legs to maintain that long stroke and is it jacking my heart rate? And if my heart rate is getting jacked-up, what’s that going to do by the end of the swim?

So when working with these things, some of the factors that we deal with as far as efficient training:
have a long-range plan. And Jim [Halstead] and Frank [Marcinkowski] were talking about it. Your triathletes are usually really good about having a long-range plan, because they are so regimented on: what they want to do, what time they want to do when they get there, and how they are going to get there.
short- and long-term goals to reach those goals. For me being a 200 flyer, short- and long-term goals for my 200 fly are: my stroke rate, my stroke pace, early season for short distances and trying to maintain that through broken swims as I get later in the season.
set design: How you design your sets to create and be able to fulfill these long- and short-term goals.
Your set, your workouts need to be challenging. Everybody has goals. You want to challenge them to reach those goals.
There should be some sort of progression in your training: whether it be your long-term cycles of how you regiment your workouts or even within your sets. You want to have some sort of a progression that allows your swimmers to build.
And then of course: rest and recovery.
(If you just came in and you did not get one of the stroke max papers handed out to put your name on, could you raise your hand and Rob will hand those out to you—would you do that for me Rob. The idea behind this is we are just using these as raffle tickets. Again, FINIS was kind enough to give us 6 Tempo Trainers that we can hand out during the talk as kind of a gift. So we are going to use these as our raffle tickets. All you have got to do is put your first name on them. In a few minutes we will collect them, we will lay them out on the table and then we will just draw from there.)

Okay, early attempts to Tempo Train.
Trying to figure out how our swimmers can maintain a tempo. It kind of gets the point across. Not very effective, and you surely can’t do it at 5:30 in the morning. I could not believe how loud those things were. So that [on the video] is one way. But that is setting a tempo that your swimmer is trying to maintain. Over time, technology allowed this to get smaller and be more individualized . And thank God we’ve progressed from there.

Okay, I am go into two things: first of all I am going to talk about a stroke focus, and then we are going to talk about a kind of a training focus in using the Tempo Trainer. Anybody not familiar with the Tempo Trainers? Great.

They come with two modes. One is you can set a mode so it will chirp at whatever you set it for: it is like having a little metronome in your head. And it is because of these Tempo Trainers that we are no longer allowed to wear watches when we swim. Because they found that coaches were sneaking these under their swimmer’s caps, to help them maintain tempos towards the end of their races. And one coach was telling me he had two or three swimmers that was the only way they made the Junior National cuts, because they couldn’t maintain their tempo at the end of the race. So they started wearing these. And they said: no, you can’t wear these. And they said we better not allow them to wear any type of electronic device. So that is why we cannot wear watches anymore.

First thing I want to try to do with this is control the out-of-control. And you are going to see some of my swimmers here that I consider out-of-control: they are all over the place in the water. And a lot of them come from the Type-A personality that: more is better, the harder I go, doesn’t matter what I look like the harder I go, the faster, the better, I am going to be when I get out of the water. We had this one guy on our team that I videotaped and he could not believe what he looked like. He thought, in his mindset, it was so different because he had never seen himself videotaped before. And he was throwing his hands so far back behind his shoulder and winging it around so far that I showed him and said: you know, John, if your main concern is just to get a good workout in, nobody in this pool is getting a better workout than you are. And he didn’t come back for three weeks. He was just blown away by what he saw.

I have a lot of these people that are… they say they want stroke instruction. And you give it to them, and they are good for about 50 yards. Then they start thinking about the guy in front [and] the guy behind them, and they are back in that mindset: I gotta go, I gotta stay in front of these people, have gotta make the workout. And I will show you some of those people.

This is one of them; this is Jamie. When we were talking about the March Madness, Jamie is the gal that swam 280,000 yards in the month of March, with this stroke. And the thing with Jamie, [it] doesn’t matter—you will see it coming up here. It doesn’t matter how far she is going, it is the same stroke at the same speed. You get a sense of what her stroke is really like when she comes off the wall here. That’s how she swam 280,000 yards in the month of March. So what I want to do with Jamie….

That was 19 strokes per 25 yards. So I took Jamie aside, and I put a tempo trainer on her, and I slowed her tempo way down. And all this does, again as a coach: it gives you control. It says: this is going in your cap. Every time you hear it beep, put your hand in the water. And what I will do is I will have one set at the same tempo, so I can tell if she is doing it. When her hand is going in the water beeping here, mine may be beeping when she is here—because they are not in sync. But her arm should be at the same spot every time if her arm is on the same tempo. This is what we did with Jamie when we slowed her down : much longer stroke, she has moved the stroke out in front of her, she is much longer through the water.

And when she swims at this tempo, I have got control. I can give her things to work on. I can say: I want you to work on your hip-switch, I want you to work on really setting your catch. At that tempo, she can think about those things. This tempo here, without the tempo trainer, she goes back to what she has always done. If you always do what you have always done, you are always going to get what you got. Without making any type of a radical change, it is very unrealistic to believe that the results are going to be any different. This was a radical change for her. It was… what was she? 15 on that one. That is much different, and the time was actually not much different—it was a couple of tenths, maybe a second slower per 25.

But again, if I am trying to get her at a tempo where she can focus on stroke mechanics and things, I would much rather have her swim slower at this pace than doing what she was doing there. The guy who was talking about coaching Rebecca Adlington from Britain last night [Bill Furniss], he talked about her doing a lot of super slow swimming. The slower you go, the more control you have over all these things you are trying to do. It is really hard to learn how to balance your body when you swim really fast. You have got to learn how to do that at a very slow rate, so we tried to really slow her down.

This guy, this is Ky. Ky is a big thick guy. Ky is a sub-950 Ironman. And you watch him swim—and from what I have heard from other people who are triathletes, he bikes and he runs pretty much the way he swims—he is just all over the place. They say he is really hard to do a group ride with because, you know, he is all over the place. But here is Ky. Okay?

Ky must weigh about 210—big thick guy. We had our year-end barbecue, a family barbecue we do—we have it coming up again in a couple of weeks. Last year at this time, he had went for a long ride before that, came in, ate like 6 hot dogs before he even sat down to talk to anybody. That is just the way he is.

Ky was… he was 18 strokes per 25 yards, 17.5 seconds for those laps at a stroke rate of .82. So then I plugged him in: Ky, come on, we are going to go and work on something. I took him over to our other pool—which is a 6-lane 25m pool. I set his tempo at 1.14. I said: all I want you to do is think nice, long, balanced stroke. Try to keep the stroke out in front of you, so we are not catching and releasing at the same time, so you are not coming back to your short boat. Try to have hands pass out in front. And do not try to go fast. You cannot go fast at this tempo, so you might as well focus on what you are doing. Here’s Ky. (I put the tempo next to the video camera so you can kind of hear it.)

Okay, we are going to go back and watch him the first time again. What I want you to do on this one: watch his hips. Watch how just all-over-the-board his hips are. His head is moving, his body is following his head, and his hips are sliding all over the place. Okay, watch him again here [second video]. Watch his hips. So much more under control. Very little lateral motion, little bit more hip drive so his hands are hip driven—the entry of the hands were hip driven. It is not a perfect stroke, but it is so much easier for me to work from here than to try to work from there.

And without giving him something to listen to, or even when you are doing drills with some of your swimmers, if you do not give them something physical to do it is really hard for them to figure it out. Give them something physical to do, give them something, you know, to listen to like this, to keep them focused. And again, if you have any questions, please feel free [to ask].

Ok, this is B.J. B.J. is a distance swimmer, but she is also becoming a 200 flyer. I think I got those backwards; I think this is B.J.’s first stroke. B.J. breathes every stroke. She breathes really late in her stroke, because of the timing of her stroke. I think you will notice too, is her hips are really low. I think this is her first one—nope, that is her second one. (Rob, you had it right.)

Now it may not look like a lot of difference, but between those two there was actually quite a bit of difference. Her first lap was 17 strokes for 25m; 23 seconds, 1.14 tempo. She swam the 200m fly at Indianapolis like this, and it was just a lot of up and down motion: her hips never got near the surface.

So before she swam this second [videoed] lap, we did some hip-kick drills with her to get her [a] sense of lifting her hips and feeling both kicks, to the time to the tempo of the beat. And then we did some one-arm drills at the same tempo that she swam at, which is going to be 1.39. Setting the tempo, so she is kicking the hand in, kicking the hand out. She could get the rhythm of the two kicks to the arm cycle. And then this second lap, here , was at that rhythm.

What you will notice is her hips are much higher towards the surface of the water, a much slower tempo. This is 13 strokes, as opposed to 17 strokes; and is 1 second slower per lap.

Still not a perfect stroke, but much closer to [it]… because with these tools of slowing her tempo down, giving her time to get all the things that she needs to do, her breathing is actually better—still breathing a little bit late. But giving her more space between her kicks and lengthening the length of her stroke, allows her to find more time to make sure she takes her breathing at the proper time.

Alright, lets give you another one [new slide]. This is Doug. Doug is kind of another all-over-the-water place. He’s the second one towards the back of the lane there.

See it, the same thing: his hips are all over the place. He can’t control his kick behind him, ‘cause every action there‘s an opposite, equal reaction. And every time that hand goes over that side line, everything kicks out from behind him. Is this just my swimmers or do other teams have swimmers like this too?

All this was done, all this video I took is just… it was one of these FlipShare cameras—like a $150 bucks. Starts up real easy. When you are done, put it right into your computer, download it all, or you can plug it right into a TV. And we started using this on-deck. Because it is real easy: just pull it out of your pocket, see something, shoot them, grab them [out of] the water, plug it into the TV, show Doug this, tell Doug what you want him to do, put them back in the water. These are great, like $150 bucks. They fit in your pocket. They give you like 2 hours worth of video time.

[Question]: What is it called?
[Answer]: It is called a FlipShare. They have one with a… they have a $210 model, I think, which has an HD port for HD screens and this type of thing, but really easy to use. That is what I did all of this with.

[Audience]: You can email this as well.
[Answer]: Yes you can, you can email it to them and everything.

[Question]: Where did you find it?
[Answer]: I got it at Best Buy. You could Google FlipShare and it will come up.

OK, here is what we did with Doug. I had him put some fins on to kind-of control his bodyline a little bit. [On] his first lap, he is just doing a 3-stroke kick-and-balance on his side. I want him to wear the fins because I wanted them to—while he is trying to kick-and-balance and learn how to balance—I wanted the fins to do a lot of the propulsive work for us [him].

[Question]: Does he have a tempo trainer on?
[Answer]: No, he doesn’t. No, actually, he does have it on—I put it on for all three laps. That is why he is trying to control his arms.

[Question]: What is it set at?
[Answer]: I can’t remember what I set him at, probably like 1.2. And then what I had him do for the last lap, I had him take his fins off so that we can compare the two. Because he didn’t have the fins on in the first one.

The first lap he was 21 strokes; I think this lap he is at 15 strokes.

Again, you see the strokes out in front of him, the hips are settling down. He is over-kicking at this point, but that is okay. Let him over-kick for now, we can fix that later.

Until he really gets a sense of the… the piece of learning how to balance his body, which he does not have yet, he is going to over-kick. Once he learns to balance his body by how he is pressing into the water, he is going to lay-off of his legs a lot more. And again, working with this is so much easier to work with this. Pull him back, give him some things to think of, and gradually progress their strokes, either by increasing the tempo….

And if you do not have Tempo Trainers, you can do the same thing by unplugging a person from the lane they are in, move them down two or three lanes, and tell them they cannot go first. Because as soon as you pull someone from a faster lane to a slower lane, everybody in that lane is going to say he has to go first because he is much faster. Say no: “Coach said I have to swim here and I have to go last.” So what you have done essentially is you have taken the control of him trying to swim fast by putting him in a much slower lane, and making him go last. And I said: “I don’t want you to hit the people in front of you—stay off their feet. Do not aggravate these people; they are here for a good workout too.” But what we have done is, essentially what I am saying to Doug is: Doug, you cannot swim fast. Why not spend this time to… you cannot go fast. I do not want you irritating these people by hitting them in the feet. Why don’t you just slow down for a while, focus on some of the things that I give you. Taking control of the uncontrollable.

[Question]: So do you give them one or two things to…
[Answer]: One or two things to think about, work on that for a while. Stay there for the rest of the day. Come back the next day, you know; go back in your normal lane if you want. And some of them will say: “You know, that is true, that really helps me. I am going to swim down there for 2 or 3 more days and really kind of focus on what you want [me] to do.” Take that Type-A personality they have out of the equation, make them swim slow, and say: “You can’t go fast. In this lane you cannot go fast. Why don’t you just focus on some of the things that you want to do?”

Any questions?

[Question]: Were you adding 25% percentage, or something, to whatever tempo they were going? I was trying to figure out if there was a pattern there?
[Answer]: No. After using these for a while I know 1.3 is a fairly-slow tempo, 1.6 is a really-slow tempo. So I just find something that I know is going to slow them down. I am not that scientific, or trying to go percentage wise; all I know is I just want to really, really slow them down.

Ok, so all of that… the stroke focus work that we use with the tempo trainers is all done on Mode 1. It sets a tempo for them to maintain, and you can play a lot of different things with this. Actually we are going to do some Mode 1 stuff later too, but what we are going to talk about now is a little bit of Mode 2.

[Note: Mode 1 has 1 beep at the end of “x” amount of time; Mode 2 has 3 quicky, consecutive beeps (or “chirps”) at the end of the set time.]

Now, when you put it on Mode 2, you can do interval training. You can set it for anything you want. If your swimmers can always go 50s on the 45, but they cannot go 50s on the 40, set it for 42. And what it will do is it will chirp three times. [chirp, chirp, chirps] time to go. When it chirps, push off. Come back in, chirps, push-off. Come back in and wait for it, chirps, push off. You can set intervals for that, okay? And I am going to show you one of those things that I found was creative—it was fun to do.

[Ernie [Maglischo] says]
As far as tempo training goes: increasing your stroke rate is going to result in a shorter stroke length. Increasing your stroke length, you are going to swim at a shorter rate. And this is where it gets tricky for each of us is: swimming fast is the result of the optimum combination of the two, and it is going to be different for everybody. So that is where you have to experiment as a coach and as a swimmer. You have got to find the right stroke rate at the right tempo at the right stroke length to find out what works for you.

Obviously what we saw Doug do was a long, long stroke, but because of the way that he was over-kicking his legs he was not going to be able to sustain that for any real distance. So that was not an optimum for him. He has got to find out what optimum is.

Maximum or minimum values of either only produce slow times. So, if you only focus on stroke length, you are going to swim slow. If you only focus on a stroke rate, you are going to swim slow. You have got to find that optimum value of the two.

I kind of gave the answer away, but I am going to do it anyway. Ernie Maglischo, this is from his book, and he teamed up with the people at FINIS when they were doing this tempo training, so they refer to his book quite a bit. Does anybody know what the title of the last book that Ernie Maglischo wrote? Swimming Fastest.

[Training Set #1 (Round 1)]
Okay, so what I am going to do is, I am going to go over some training sets that I have done with Tempo Trainers. I will kind of walk you through this. Do not feel like you have to write this down. If you want to, you can go to our website which is swim4wc.org—that is our team website—and on there under Events -> Past & Archived it lists “ASCA World Clinic 2009 Documents”. So you can pull all this up if you want.

So the set is this way: You are going to go 3 rounds of 1×200, 2×100, 4×50 and 8×25—so everything is 200 base. I did this set and these are kind-of my splits for early season. I set my tempo at 1.08, which is very slow tempo. Then what I did is, every time I started a new set [200], I would knock my tempo trainer down four clicks. So I went from 1.08 [on the 200] to 1.04 for the 100s, and 1.00 for the 50s and .96 for the 25s. The next time through, whatever my setting was for the 25s then became my setting for the next 200. So on the second line you see I started at .96, .92, .88, .84 and so on. And then my last set started at .84.

At the bottom it gives you the times those 200 freestyles were [2:37, 2:30, 2:23]. I do not have to worry about whether those are fast times for me or not, because it is all set on tempo. It is not me trying to swim hard; it is just me trying to swim as efficient as I can at that tempo. And as I did the set, I was being conscious of my stroke count too, to make sure… my stroke count might change a little bit as those tempos got faster. But especially on the 200s, I wanted to try to maintain the same stroke count. So again, it is putting the pieces together: stroke count and tempo.

And this is the first time [that] I did it. Three weeks later, I did the set again. And this [slide] is the comparison of the two.

[Training Set #1 (Comparisons)]
This time—the second set on the right [slide]— three weeks later I started my tempo at 1.00. Same idea: everything in sets of 200. Every time I changed to a different distance within the set, I knocked the tempo down four clicks. So I went from… the first set I went from 1.08 to .72. Three weeks later I went from a 1.00 to .64—which was really fast for me to try to maintain. And again, my stroke rate did jack a little bit, but that is okay because I was really just trying to focus on swimming at a faster rate. And you can see what that did to my 200s: I went from 2:30 to 2:24 to 2:15. And on those, I maintained the same stroke count that I did on the 200s of the first set.

[Question]: Your send-off and tempo on the…
[Answer]: No, no, unless you want to put one [tempo trainer] on both sides [of your head]. One set at Mode 1, one set at Mode 2: it will drive you crazy. It would just absolutely drive you crazy. If you wear them too long, you leave walking: beep, beep, beep. You have got to be careful, you know. So my send-off intervals in these were fairly moderate, I think I went on something like 2:40 for the 200s, 1:25 for the 100s, 45 for the 50s, and 30 seconds for the 25s, okay? I had that up here [on the slide] and I said that is just way too much information so I took that down.

[Question]: So each time you pushed off, you would then activate it?
[Answer]: No, I just let it run; I just let it run in my head. I would just sit there until it beeped again, you know. I watched my intervals on the clock, and I just let it beep. And then once I got-in 2 or 3 strokes, within 2 strokes off the wall out of my breakout, I would find my tempo, okay? So again, it is controlling the uncontrollable. If I had done this set, 2-3 weeks apart without a tempo trainer on my head, it still would have been a great set but it would not have been the same result. I would not have been focusing on the same thing. I would not have had the same results that I have here.

[Ernie continues]
Stroke rates are one of the best ways for swimmers to control their distribution of effort during races. So many times we go out way-too fast, and so many times our tempo is way-too fast on the front end of our races. Or we have tried to slow our tempo down… we equilibrate [equate] going easy with a slow tempo. But if I slowed my arms down, I would have to over-kick my legs, like Doug does, to maintain that slow tempo. I am burning more energy than if I swam at a faster tempo anyway because the largest muscles I have are in my thighs, and the more I kick the more energy and more oxygen I am going to use.

It [the slide] says it might be more realistic to swim at desired stroke rates or tempos than to try to match race pace during mid-season. So if my race pace for a 200 fly is 31.5 or 32 seconds per 50, and that is what I want to try to do in May, it might be unrealistic for me to think that I could do a broken 200 holding 31-32 seconds right now [in September]. But I could hold my race tempo; I could maintain my race tempo. My stroke may not be as efficient as it should be, but again: it is just working a different piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t always have to be pace. It doesn’t always have to be stroke rate or stroke length—sometimes it can be stroke rate. And you can combine two of the pieces. Combining three of the pieces is really hard. But mix-up how you combine the two, again to try to make yourself as efficient as you can.

They did some studies with… some swimmers had a tendency to swim off of feel: what they feel is right for them. And they did some studies with some swimmers who swam off feel. They took heart rate and lactate tests afterwards, and they found out that they swam much… those levels dropped considerably when they swam at a prescribed rate. So what they thought was probably… intuitively what they thought was their best stroke rate to swim at, was burning too much energy. It was either jacking their heart rate or it was just creating too much lactate in the muscles, and it wasn’t the best, most efficient way to swim. So again it is just trying to find another piece of the puzzle

[Load Set]
We do a lot of what we call load sets. Load sets are when we do a fair amount of extensively hard freestyle—we use that as the load—and then we come back and do some race-pace stuff in our specialty strokes. So rather than me swim, if I am training for a 200 fly, rather than me swimming 5x 100 fly’s on 1:30—knowing that I am not going to be able to sustain my pace or my stroke rate—what I want to do is:
I will swim 2×100 freestyle on a very fast interval—to jack my heart rate up, to get my body tired, to put some stress on my energy systems.
Then slide my tempo trainer into my head and try to swim 2×50 with 10 seconds between them, at my ideal stroke rate or at my ideal pace. I could do one of them just working pace; [the] second one, put the trainer in and focus now on the tempo—work different pieces of the puzzle within the same set.
Then I will go 2×100 easy freestyle as a recovery—as active recovery.
That is 500 yards. Repeat that 3 times, that is 1500 yards. That would be a main set of a day when I am really working on stroke focus—specialty stroke focus.

[Training Set #2]
This is another set. We do this quite a bit in the early season to get people thinking about being long through the water. Everything is in base of 150; it is essentially six 150s. You start off with… no that is a different set; we will come back to this.
6×25 on a very slow tempo. This is where we are really doing a stroke focus. Getting to think about kicking and balancing on their side. Stacking their shoulders and hips so we are perpendicular to the water. Even though most of us are not going to go up that high, we are going to work that idea of being up on our sides. Pressing our armpit in the water to use that as our leverage point to help elevate our hip. For swimmers who are trying to swim a long-boat freestyle with the hands out in front of them, if they cannot balance their body they really have to struggle to leave this hand out in front of them. But once they learn how to press their armpit in the water and use that as their leverage point, this hand floats out there and stays out there much easier. So we will go 6×25, working kicking balancing on our side, working those 3/4 catch-up idea of: once I switch sides, to not catch-and-release at the same time but draw the recovery arm up somewhere around my ear before I set my catch so that when my hands do pass each other and I switch sides, the entry of my hand is driven through the hip, and my hands are going to pass each other out in front of the head and keep me a little bit longer through the water. So this is at a very, very slow tempo, because you want them to kick and balance on their sides. And sometimes if they have a hard time balancing on their sides, go ahead and let them put some fins on and let that do the propulsive piece for them because they can still learn how to press their arm pit in the water and balance their body.
Then go 6x25s on a very moderate tempo, now kind of working on speed consistency: trying to swim at about the same speed. This is something I got from Roque Santos, and they talked about this in the clinics too—if you listened to Gary Hall yesterday, he was talking about distances. This idea of the law of constant momentum: once you get something moving, it is much easier to keep it moving than to allow it to stop and start again. And when Roque talked about training breaststrokers and teaching breaststrokers, he talks and refers to Yield signs as opposed to Stop signs. If you are traveling eight blocks, and you are going 25/35/45 miles an hour, but every time you come to a new block you have to hit a stop sign: stop, restart all over again and expend all that energy. If you change those Stop signs to Yield signs and swim at a much slower pace, you are going to save a lot of energy, save a lot of gas. Your MPG [miles per gallon] is going to be much higher and you are probably going to get there at [the same time] or at a better time. So what this teaches about consistency is the idea of finding consistent speed all the way through a stroke: try to eliminate dead spots.

There was a guy years ago who worked with the Cal-Berkeley team when Matt Biondi was there named Bob Pritchard… Richard Prichard. He had a company called Somax. He was very into detail; working with track runners and he started working with swimmers. And he… his classes were expensive, I think it was $1200 for a consultation; working with him started at about $3,000. And he would videotape your swims. And he would guarantee you, that he could get you at spike rates—and he talked about these 15-year-old kids that he worked with. The peak rates of your energy—spike rates of your energy—were as high or higher than Matt Biondi’s. He would guarantee this. But the piece that he would never talk about is the drops. And when you are going to swim your fastest, is when you can take your high peaks and your low valleys and bring them closer together. Sacrifice some speed so you do not have so much drop-off and some more consistent speed, you are going to swim faster. And the tempo trainer kind of helps you to do that. It kind of learns [teaches] you to try to swim at a very consistent speed and a very consistent tempo.

Then go 3×50 on 20 seconds rest, trying to find what would be a comfortable tempo for me.
I am going to go 3×50 on 20 seconds rest, maintaining that tempo and now setting a pace at that tempo. So again, I am putting two of the pieces together: I am finding a tempo and a pace that I can maintain at that tempo.
Then I will go 3 more 50s, and I am going to try to descend time without changing my tempo. So, how do you do that? As competitive swimmers—pool swimmers—there are different ways to do that. One [way]: all you have to do is have better walls. [If] You bring more speed off your walls before you even start getting your tempo, you are going to swim a faster stroke. It can teach you to drive your legs a little bit harder, even though… I mean if you are not talking about a 3-mile open water swim, you are talking about a 200 freestyle, you should be kicking your legs. And if you do not have a tendency to kick, you can find speed in there, and you can train it as an energy system to make your 200 faster. So it forces you to find speed without changing… well I want you to increase your speed without increasing your stroke count.
And then what we will do is we will go another 3×50, and what we are going to do now is increase the tempo without adding strokes. So I want to swim those same strokes at a faster rate. Just because I am going faster does not mean I have to add strokes, okay? So, it is just finding different ways… again each of you and each of your swimmers are going to have to find that optimum balance between stroke length and stroke rate to swim at their best speed. And all we are trying to do here is figure some of that out by experimenting with different stroke rates and different stroke lengths.

[Training Set #3]
Okay, this is the set I thought I was talking about [earlier]. We do this… the first part we do without tempo trainers because I do it as a large group and I do not have enough to go around, and everybody is beeping underwater and sound travels really-well underwater so it is really hard to cover.
6x25s—the fastest swimmers do everything on 25 seconds per 25, so all the 25s on the 25, 50s on the 50, 75s on 1:15; slower swimmers go at a slower rate. Your six 25s are to establish a comfortable stroke count; what they average per 25 for that.
Then they go 3×50 establishing a comfortable pace at that stroke count. So, if I am swimming long and I am going 14 strokes per lap for my 6×25, my first 50 I am going to try to go swimming at 14 strokes per lap for both laps and see what my time is. Then maintain that pace for the next two 50s.
I always come back to 6×25 to give me an opportunity to reset my stroke, reset my focus. So I go 6×25, 3×50, 6×25.
Now 2×75 at the same pace that I established on my 50s. So from here-on-in, everything is the same stroke count, same pace. So if I was holding 34 seconds for my 50s, now I have got to go 51 seconds for my 75s at that same stroke count. Same idea, I just have to carry it out a little bit further.
I go 6×25; take an additional 30 seconds rest.
And then I go a straight 150. And this is the one you get graded on: maintaining that same pace, same stroke count for 150 yards. And again, the only way you can usually do that is to make sure you work your walls: good push-offs; good, tight streamlines; make sure you swim to the surface. You know: do all those things to keep your stroke count down.

And then what I will do with… I can’t do it with everybody, but I will take some people out, what I will have them do is take that 150 pace and go 3×150 at that pace, followed by 3x50s easy with a tempo trainer. And what we are going to do, as we go trough that three rounds, we are going to experiment with trying to find a tempo that works for that pace, to make sure. Because they may have succeeded on the first half, but it may have spiked their heart rate too high. So let’s change the stroke tempo a little bit to see if we can find a tempo that works better for them at that speed. So what they will do is: they will swim 150, they will take their heart rate, they will go 3×50 easy and we will change the tempo, check the heart rate again. Again, mixing-up some of the pieces to figure out: how am I going to be most efficient.

[The Electronic Coach]
Okay, this is… like I said, at our workouts, we are fortunate: in all of our workouts we have two coaches on deck. So that gives us the flexibility to break-up into groups. Where I can say: alright, I am going to take the main group here; those of you who want to do a stroke-focus, backstroke set, you are going to go over and work with Steve in the first four lanes, something like this. If you are the only coach on deck, and you want to have an opportunity to do this, you use the Tempo Trainer as a coach.

And what we did with these four swimmers that you will see [slide], is what I had them do. I had four people in a lane. I had them go 10-seconds apart for the first two; 5-seconds for the last two. I had them go a sprint 100 as fast as they can, and know their time at the end. Their times on this varied from 1:05 to 1:11 for the 4 swimmers that were in the lane. So then I gave them each a Tempo Trainer; we put it on Mode 2 now, so we are thinking about pace. I had them set that for two seconds faster than what they averaged per 100. So the one guy who went 1:08 for the 100—that is 32 seconds per 50 [1:08 ÷ 2 = 34-2= 32]—he set his for 30 seconds or 15 seconds per lap—we did it for 25, okay? So that would be 15. So I had him set it at 13: 2 seconds faster than what he averaged per 25.

And the set was this: they are going to go 4×25 sprint. They wait until they hear the chirp, [go at the chirp] and they have to get on the wall at the other side before it chirps again. It goes beep-beep-beep, take off, boom-boom-boom, get your hand on the wall before it goes beep-beep-beep again. And then they get 2 cycles of that as rest, so it actually works as a send-off interval for them too. So this guy, he was going 13 seconds. He was going to try to sprint a 25 in 13 seconds, get 26 seconds rest, and then do it again. And he did this for 4 times.

Now the people behind him were on different [tempos]… some were going 16 seconds. But it works-out fine, because we only go four at a time. It is not enough time… the speed differential was not enough in that lane for the first guy to catch the fourth guy by the end of the fourth 25, so it worked out fine.

And this is kind of what it looks like. The first guy [S1] takes off: he is sprinting a 25. The second person in the lane [S2], she is waiting to hear the chirp. He [S1] goes; she [S2] is listening to what is in it. You don’t look at the pace clock at all on this because the pace clock isn’t going to tell you: it is all what is going on in your head. Fourth guy takes off. Now he [S1] is starting a second one at the other end: listen to the chirp. There is a pre-conceived idea of how fast he has to go: 2 seconds faster than what he averaged on that hundred. They are working hard. I am getting great swims out of these guys.

What’s that?

[Question]: When do they leave again?
[Answer]: When it chirps in their head.
[Question]: So they are trying to touch before it beeps a agai
[Answer]: Right: it goes beep-beep-beep. They get one cycle of rest, or you… you say you have got one cycle to rest, 2 cycles to rest—whatever you want—and they just listen for it to go.

So, what it has done is:
given them a great sprint workout,
you are getting 25 sprints out of them,
you do not have a coach standing over them, and
it has freed me up to go work with somebody else.
And the cool thing about is they are trying to get that hand on the wall because they are sprinting. Most of these people would never finish a repeat like they finish these 25s. They are doing everything they can to beat that beep to the wall. So all of a sudden I am seeing this hand slam into the wall, I am seeing them roll-up on their sides to get there; we are having great finishes.

So, they went through a set of 4×25, and then once everybody was in, they swam an easy 100. And then we reset and we went through it four times or three times. Great sprint set for the sprinters; great sprint [set] for anybody who needs to do some speed work and good stroke focus. And yet it was controlled, they did a great job, and I am free and I am working with someone else doing something else. Yes?

[Question]: So on your repeats, when you are going through the set the second and third time, are you re-timing the 100?
[Answer]: No. We are all basing it off of that. If they were not making it, we set it 2 seconds back. If they weren’t making it, we let them go-up one more second. If they are making it with way too much rest, they try to drive it down one more second. The only thing that we tell them is that when they start, if the first guy goes and the second person hears theirs chirp within like 1 or 2 seconds of the first guy: don’t go, let it cycle through one more time. We have plenty of room out there, you know. Do not feel like you have to crawl all over each other. And so it just acts as another coach.

[Question]: What was the interval time?
[Answer]: Well for the first guy who was trying to go 30, he was going 13s. The guy at the end had a 1:11, so we could call that 36 or 34, he was going 15s. So, by the end of the 4×25, you could see the first guy is pulling further away from the other guys because they are having to wait longer because their interval is different. But it is only different by a couple of seconds, and he is not going to make that up in 100 yards. So then, they swim an easy 100, and then they regroup/reset, and go through it again. And it is a great sprint workout.

Okay, this is going back to Tempo 1 [i.e. Mode 1] and this is some of the ideas that you can do with some of the other strokes. And this is Sara Marshall, great backstroker. And what we are doing is we are working on two things on this set:
We are working on the speed of her dolphin kicks off the wall. And then,
We are working on the timing of her hip switch. Because we talk about it in freestyle and in backstroke: we want the entry of the hand to be driven through the hips. And the best way to change the tempo of your backstroke is how quickly you switch your hips.
So what we did is we set it at a fairly moderate tempo to begin with, and that is the tempo that she was kicking at underwater. And then when she broke to the surface, that became the tempo of her hip switch as she swam.

So we did a series of progressions here with Sara. We had her go 3×25, and we will go through these. This is the first one ; this is at a very-moderate tempo for her. She has great kicks off the wall already. Okay, I only had her do a half-a-lap on that, but you can see the tempo off the wall—I will show it again—and the tempo of her kicks. And I watched her at Clovis swimming the 100 freestyle, and I didn’t get to see the whole race—I was doing something else. So I got what I thought was her first 25. Coming off the wall for her first 25, she did like 7 or 8 dolphin kicks underwater in the 100 free. I go man, I wish—no I thought it was her first—and I said: man, I wish I could do that on mine. It was her fourth one: at the end of her race she was dolphin kicking 7 times on her 100 freestyle. But again, this is just very moderate for her. [replay video]

Now that same tempo she was kicking to is the same tempo she is switching her hips to. Then we pulled it out and said: okay, lets go do just a little faster tempo and see how that works for you. And again, whatever she kicks at, she is switching her hips at when she swims.

And that dolphin kick underwater worked well for her too, because she also won the 50 fly at Long Course Nationals in Portland last year and a lot had to do with her kicks. So this time we really jacked her up a little bit, and she found this hard.

Much different tempo on the arms. And she realized: she said, “that was really hard.” Yeah, it was hard. And she realized, and I realized as her coach: she needs to more of this. Her 200 back and everything is fine… yes?

[Question]: So you were using that, the tempo of the underwater butterfly kick, for the hip rotation.
[Answer]: Right. I just said… I was experimenting. Is there a form that says that you should be able to dolphin kick and switch your hips the same? I don’t think so. But I said: let’s try this. Let’s see if it works for us, and for us it worked really well. That was a really-fast tempo for a kick; that was a really-fast tempo for her to switch her arms. She traditionally has a very-slow turnover, which bodes well for a 200 backstroke; but she has always had trouble on her 50 backstroke, getting up and getting going.

So what I am going to do is play these [videos] at the same time and have you watch them, and you can see the difference. We will start this one first because it is longer.

So now with Sara, she and I both know that anytime I do some sprint backstroke work we have a pre-conceived idea what her tempo should be like for her stroke.

[Question]: What did you set the tempo at?
[Answer]: You know, I cannot remember; it might have been something like .79 or something like that. And the other thing—that is a good question—is that FINIS has also made up this chart that you can get—you can probably download it off their website too—that has all the stroke rates for all the events. And then it also has on the backside, is you can take that and you can judge that if you have a stroke-rate watch, stop watch. The stroke rate watch will correlate exactly to the tempos they have set on the trainer. So if you are at a meet and you are timing someone and their stroke rate is 1.46 for 3 cycles of arms, you can take that to a tempo trainer and bring that back to workout with you. Another thing that you can do too which works great is set their race tempo, especially mid-season and end-season, off the videos from the year before. If you have video races for them you can take that tempo off the race and now they have something to train at.

Any other questions? Okay lets see what else we have got for you…

This is one way that we have used it for breaststroke. What I do is I set it at a fairly aggressive tempo for her. She is tethered on a belt, and she has got a tempo: 10 kicks to that belt. And every time she hears a beep, she should be finishing a kick: beep, beep. And then after 10 kicks, I had her come up and swim at that same tempo; now the tempo became a surge for the arms. Trying to maintain… establish a tempo with the legs for the speed of her kick, and then get her arms to match that tempo. Then she starts swimming try and maintain that same tempo.

[Question]: The beat of 17, or…
[Answer]: On that one? No, it was considerably slower. Considerably slower for her I think. I do not quite remember what it was, but you will experiment with it. Once you start using them you will get a sense of what it is like.

Some of the other things that we will do with breaststrokers, what we will have them do is, we will work what we call the scoop-and-shoot. We will take the focus off the legs and take the arm. Every time they hear a beep, I want to feel [see] them lunging forward with those arms and diving that head between their arms through the lunge forward, so everyone has a beep. What we will do sometimes is put them on kickboards, and just put a tempo on there and say: okay, I want you to kick 200 breaststroke. And every 50, I want you to pop it out [the Tempo Trainer] and go to a faster tempo. So just pop it out, they dial it down, they put it back in, and they go back to kicking again. So every 50 we are getting a little faster tempo kick out of them. And again, these are just some ideas that you can do. There are so many different things that you can do if you are creative; find ways to keep these people going and motivate them.

[Component Training]
Component training: this is just taking the pieces apart, and working on one specific thing at a time and having the Tempo Trainers help you to do that. What we will do sometimes we will swim freestyle, and again at a very-slow tempo, but the beep… the first time through we will think about the beep will be the hand hitting the water. The second 25, that same tempo, we are going to change the focus now to the beep being the elbow at its highest point. Next one is going to be when you hear the beep you want to think about the hip driving-down to move the hand forward. Same tempo, all you are doing is changing the focus from one part of the stroke to another.

[Audience member]: So when it beeps, ok say it is on the elbow, when it beeps, the elbow must be in that position.
[O’Brien]: Yes, that is what I want. I want them to have their elbow at the highest part of the recovery when it beeps. So the first time they are going: beep, beep. And the next time they are going: beep, beep. And it is just enough of something to get them to change their focus; to focus on the same thing a different way.
[Audience]: And you are using the same rate.
[O’Brien]: Same rate, yeah. And then what we can do is dial-it-down for the next couple of laps, a little faster rate, and do the same thing. Go through… so all they are doing, again: they are doing the same thing, but just at a different spot in their stroke.

We saw Doug do this a little bit: the 3-count kick-and-balance, where you get-up on your side, let it beep for 3 counts, slide to the other side, let it beep for 3 counts. And it just sets it for them. All they need is something to keep their mind from wandering from different things like: did they pay the house bill, you know? did they leave the kid in the car? things like that. Take their mind off of those kinds of things. Focus on the important things. And then stroke tempo, okay? Just changing up the stroke tempo.

With backstroke we talked about this too: the fastest way to change the turnover of your backstrokers is to get them to switch their hips. The faster they can switch their hips, that is going to control their arms. And I found with backstrokers a lot too is that when they get the focus to the hips—if they can get their arm to the highest part of the recovery with the elbow locked, and turn the hand over and use the hip to put the hand in the water so the hand is hip-driven—if their elbow is straight, they have a much better chance of getting in [at] eleven and one o’clock here; than if they are late with the hips and the hand goes here, then they feel the water and then the hips go. So the hip… we tell them to rotate early, rotate often with backstroke. The earlier you rotate your hips, the better your stroke is going to be. And the faster your tempo.

We can do the same thing: a 3-count kick-and-balance on their sides. Balance, hold this position, stack their shoulders and hips in line with the chin, hold it for a 3-count: let it beep three times (beep, beep, beep), switch to the other side. It just gives them something to focus on. And as we saw with what we did with Sara, just really focusing on the quickness of the feet under the water, okay. You are faster underwater than you are on top of the water.

And I was noticing too that… you know, I was looking at all the contests they had up on the bulletin board there [the Counsilman Creative Coaching contest] for set ideas and stroke ideas, someone had a great one up there for tempo training. They said, you know: set it for a very-moderate, very-easy tempo. Have your swimmers go a 1,000-2,000 yard swim. And every third or fourth 100, whatever you designate, what they want to do is they want to go at twice that tempo. So instead of going… and it has to be really slow in order for that to happen, so it would have to be like 1.5 to .7; 1.5…. And so you do not do it a lot, but maybe every fourth or fifth 100, you say… what you do is you go 5 stroke cycles at double that, 5 easy, 5 stroke cycles at double that. Be creative. I don’t know if they won any money for that, but I liked it.

Okay, breaststroke. Tethered kicking we saw, the scoop-and-shoot. The ride-the-glide. If you have a tendency with breaststrokers who do not want to glide—they want to get right into the next stroke and they do not allow themselves to finish their kick—set it at a tempo where they have to get out there, and they have to stay there for two beeps: beep, beep. And by then they should have time to finish their kick, because they always use that as the marker for setting the next stroke. You have got to feel yourself finish the kick before you slide into the next stroke; you do not want to get ahead of your kick. So give them something to do that forces them to stay out in front of their stroke, the same sort of thing you could do the stroke tempo.

Butterfly: set it so one beep is hips-up and one beep is kick-down. Hips up, hips down: beep, beep, beep—anything that gets them to think and focus on what they are doing. Kick-arm cycle: the two kicks to the arm cycle. Kick the hand in, kick the hand out, kick the hand in, kick the hand out. And then we say: use the hips, save the legs, use the hips, save the legs.

Dolphin kicking is for quickness: same as we did with Sara in the water, you do it with your butterflyers, just work on those quick feet underneath the water. Standard dolphin-kicking-on-their-back as an endurance set. Have them go 400 and have them change the tempo every 100, stop just long enough to increase the tempo so they kick faster. Another great one for this too is: vertical kicking—if you have deep water. A set of… make them vertical kick for a minute or two minutes, and every time have them do: a minute on, 30 seconds off. Every time they go a minute-on, jack the tempo down so it is a little harder for them to do.

[Creative Ideas]
Some of this we talked about earlier. Set practice tempos off race videos. I remember when I was swimming my fastest—when I was like in my 30s—I wanted to see what the great swimmers were doing, so I would wait for the Swimming World to come out that would have all the splits from Nationals. I wasn’t looking at the guys, I was looking at the women: the women were a little closer to my speed, you know, the 1:55-1:58 200 flyers. I wanted to see how they swam. So I would have to base that off of what I saw in magazines that other great swimmers were doing. Now with video being so readily available, I can take it off my race from the last week, you know? This is the stroke tempo I was at; this is the pace I was at, this is the stroke tempo I was at. I see my stroke tempo is slowing down, my race pace is slowing down. So it just gives me information that I can use on a much closer basis to train better. I told you I was competitive didn’t I?—in the other one [his earlier talk].

Start Reactions for Explosive Starts: and I did this with a high school team that I was coaching. What we did was we would set it for a very slow tempo, and I would have them… it was giving them some control in my parameters. I have them close their eyes, and I would set it about every 5 seconds—really, really slow. I have them close their eyes and relax, and when they heard the beep, they would clap their hands as fast as they could—so it kind of worked on reaction. Then I would have them go down for the next one, get down in the start position on the deck. And on the beep they would do an explosive jump, to work on their leg strength going straight up. Then on a third one, they get up on the blocks to get set, and on the beep, they go on a dive. So they go: clap, jump, dive. And they would swim to the other side, then walk around and we would do it again. We just let them do that, you know.

And it gets them to, again, these kids, I could get them to do starts, no problem. They wanted to do dive 25s, but I would not get the same focus. They would dive in and they would try to go as fast as they could, but I wouldn’t get three different focuses out of one thing.

Vertical kicking we talked about. If you have deep water and they were talking about this in the [David] Salo talk, about how important kicking is—especially now if you are a distance swimmer. You cannot… it is very hard to get-away… to be a top, competitive distance swimmer with a 2-beat kick these days; you have got to drive the legs. And he was talking about Rebecca Adlington, and how, you know, she doesn’t have to do a lot of kick sets, because she kicks her 6-beat kick for two hours straight. Every swim she does, she is just driving those legs. You have got to be able to kick your feet. [He may be referring to the talk Bill Furniss gave; and not the one Dave Salo gave.]

Vertical kicking is great. You can go vertical kicks and an easy swim and do a 25 sprint – things like that.

I think that is about all I have. Any questions you have I would be happy to answer.

[Question]: When you are watching the whole video, do you take the video time or do you just figure out…
[Answer]: You can do it that way, or like I said if you have a stroke rate watch you can figure out what the stroke rate is for 3 arm cycles, go to the chart: there it is.

[Question]: Do you find that they work together with some stroke more than others? Like breaststroke?
[Answer]: No, I think you just have to be creative in the things that you want to do. Like with breaststroke, because so many of… at least my breaststrokers do not want to wait through their stroke, they want to get ahead of themselves a little bit. Force them to wait here, force them to think about the kick. Change what the aspect is just to focus that. But freestyle, mostly freestyle, but we do the other strokes too.

[Question]: You were saying if you get too many of them in the pool at the same time, it can be a little distracting. Have you found so of a… any kind of a magic number?
[Answer]: No, not really. That really was more of an excuse on my part to not have 10 people in the water doing it at the same time. These four worked fine together; four in a lane worked fine together. It is just a question of…
[Q]: So if you had 3 lanes in a row doing the same thing, and it would still be fine?
[A]: Oh yeah, I think so, yeah. I think it would be fine.

[Question]: Does anyone in your pool have one of these?
[Answer]: No. I have about 20 of them and I will just pull them out. And I will usually go out to workout with like my video camera in my pocket and a couple of those in my pocket. And if I need to dial someone down again to focus on something I will have them do that. But then we will do things like this, where I will take a group of maybe 12 of them—3 lanes—and say here, here is what I want you guys to do today. I think you will find this is fun. And have them do that, and then [I’ll] go work with somebody else.

[Question]: That camera you said you were using, you’re just plugging it into a laptop on the pool deck?
[Answer]: No: I just have a little TV screen. It has a cord and I just plug it in, instead of having a laptop—but a laptop would be just as easy. And like I said, you get like… you can get them that have a rechargeable battery that when you plug it into your computer it recharges the battery at the same time. And again, you get like 2 hours of time off of it. And it works great; it is just so easy to have on deck. I think 3 of my coaches have them now

Okay? Thank you so much.

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