Using the Tempo Trainer to Increase your Stroke Rate

Maintaining a high stroke rate is an important part of any open water swim. During my Catalina crossing in August 2010 I raised my stroke rate from 68-72 strokes per minute to 75-77 as the swim progressed. Since then I have received a Tempo Trainer and started to use it for the purpose of further increasing my average stroke rate.

This summer I worked to increase my tempo the old fashioned way: by moving my arms as fast as I could and hoping that it was faster than before. It was nearly impossible to get a real idea of my stroke rate in a pool, since the longest count I can get in a 50 meter pool was 30 seconds and that is still a bit inaccurate. It was easier to get counts in open water, but that was dependent on whether my swim group had a kayak escort or not, and ultimately it is tough to continue to push the pace for long periods of time without mentally spacing out a bit (and thus slowing down).

Enter the Tempo Trainer. Using this chart as a reference, I have begun to use the tempo trainer during my daily pool workout so that I can ease into increasing my average. (Tip: to figure stroke rates that are not converted on the chart, use the formula 60/Setting=Stroke Rate). I have even set aside one practice a week to devote to tempo training; I call it Tempo Tuesday!  There are a few ways that I have been using the tempo trainer.


1)             Pull Sets – Since pull repeats tend to be longer than swim repeats, they present a good opportunity to work on holding a high tempo. However, you will need to back off a bit from your goal stroke rate to accommodate the effect that pull equipment has on tempo and to prevent injury.

2)             Descending Stroke Rates - For example, in a set of 10x100s with a current average tempo of 70/spm (setting of .86) and a goal of 74/spm (Setting of .81) you could do 1 @ .88, 1@ .87, 1@.86, 1@.85, 1@.84, 1@.83, 1@.82, and 3 @ .81.

3)             Swim Tether Repeats – Grab yourself a Stationary Cords Hip Belt, attach it to the block, and get working on your tempo without having to be interrupted by turns.  Try swimming 5-10 Minute repeats at descending stroke rates.

Ultimately it takes a lot of practice to increase your stroke rate without losing your efficiency, so repetition is key.  When you consider that the open water swimming elites are holding stroke rates in the upper 80s, it’s definitely something worth trying!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana