How to Perfect Your Swim Tempo

This combination of drills and workout will help develop the right balance between tempo and distance per stroke (all distances are in meters):  

Warm Up 

400 swim w/fins 
300 kick w/fins 
300 pull no paddles 

8 x 50 descend 1-4; 5-8 @ (an interval that gives about 10-15 seconds rest at the start)


Lead Up 

4 x 75 kick/swim (25 kick / 50 swim) @ (an interval that gives about 15-20 seconds rest) 


Main Set 

Set a “hold pace” before the start of the set—the fastest pace for 40 seconds that you can hold, plus 20 seconds of rest. If you miss a hold pace during the set, sit out the next two 25s to rest, then jump back in. If you miss the hold pace again, do the remainder easy. This is an indication that your body cannot make an adaptation to the training any longer and you do not want to continue to try to make an adaptation to a slower and less efficient swim.

40 x 25 swim @ (interval is determined by fastest time you can hold the 25s plus 20 seconds)


Warm Down 

4 x 50 swim easy @ 15 seconds rest 

If you are not able to swim these workouts with an experienced coach on the deck and you are struggling with stroke rate, a tempo trainer can be a helpful tool, but, like any tool, overuse can turn it into a crutch. Try to develop a feel for your tempo and distance per stroke without the aid of any tools.

Suggested Drills  

Water Polo Drill with Small Paddles and Short Fins:
Swim head up with short fins and small paddles with a focus on going as fast as possible for a 25. Pick a point at the other end of the pool and don’t move your head. Grab the water as hard as possible when the paddle hits the water. Don’t worry about the finish. If you try to finish the stroke with your head up and out of the water with paddles on, the paddles will come off while swimming. It is important to kick fast and maintain an engaged core without moving your head. Think about stability.  

Rooster Tail Drill:
With fins on and swimming one 25 at a time, with 20-30 seconds rest between repeats, overemphasize the finish of the stroke. Flick the water at the finish to create a “rooster tail” in the air. Engage the core, ensure you push the water back, straight behind, and accelerate the hand from the start to the finish of the stroke. Start slow and finish faster.

Tim Floyd, swim coach and former NCAA Div I swimmer, founded Magnolia Masters in 2010 to specifically help triathletes improve in pool competitions and open water swimming. Magnolia Masters is committed to providing the best training and swim technique analysis to help each athlete achieve their best results in the swim. You can find more information about Magnolia Masters here.

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