Swimming with Tempo Beepers Finally Comes of Age

For many years tempo training beepers have been used by many elite programs but due to the high cost have failed to gain much ground with most age group swim programs. This is not for lack of a need but mostly due to lack of understanding by the coaches, high cost per swimmer (needing 1 device under the cap of each swimmer), lost time in setting and passing out the beepers during main swim sets, and the fact that most swimmers below college level get confused and mess up the settings. But now free phone apps and swimming headsets can change all of that. Quality headsets such as the ONEFocus by ONEswim.com provide coaches the ability to talk to all of the swimmers in their group at the same time. Swimmers can hear you exhale with clarity. They hear you when they flip turn, or dive from the blocks. Each coach can have a different channel for their group in the same pool. Coaches can correct every stroke for every swimmer with endless possibilities for technique and effort correction non-stop.

But the use of tempo training with headsets is perhaps one of the best ways to justify the cost of headsets. At a cost of about $100 per swimmer, it can be difficult for some teams to justify. But with Tempo Trainers costing $60 each, this adds to offsetting the costs of switching a training your team with swimmer headsets. The point is that there are free apps such as The Metronome by Soundbrenner that can be used on your phone. With a swim headset system on all your swimmers, this means you can hold your phone up to your coach microphone and a tempo beeper at any moment during your set. Unlike a beeper that fits under the swim cap and is constant, using your phone and headsets means you can take that tempo away or add it as you see fit. When a beeper is placed under the swim cap, you only have 1 tempo for that particular swim length. To turn it off so swimmers can focus on a different tempo or a different stroke, or drill, they have to stop and remove the beeper. If you want to switch between 2 tempos, all swimmers have to stop, remove the beeper, change the tempo, and start over.

When phone apps are combined with swim headsets, you get some of the same benefits as ‘under the cap’ beepers. This can include helping swimmers fix breathing problems such as delaying their stroke when they breath. You can focus on ways to train race pace such as 1.2 second stroke rates. You can correct stroke timing such an training the proper glide rate for breast stroke. However, there are some things that you can do with a headset and phone app that you can’t do with normal tempo beepers:

  1. Interval intensity training. While it is common to train with ‘fast’ and ‘easy’ alternations during any swim set, it is difficult to gauge what is ‘easy’ and what is ‘fast’ or ‘all out.’ Instead of ‘easy’, Dave Salo argued that swimmers should swim ‘2nd gear’ to maintain a reasonable heartrate during ‘recovery’ phases of a set. But that is a hard concept to train swimmers in the middle of a hard set. With a phone app and headsets, you can switch tempos for all swimmers at the same time. You can set a ‘2nd gear’ tempo for a recovery phase and then without ‘missing a beat’ you can switch to a race pace tempo.
  2. When you feed the tempo through a headset, all the swimmers will be on the exact same tempo and should be in sync with each other. This allows you to quickly see who is falling off the pace or ignoring the tempo.
  3. You get ‘Effort on Demand’ in the middle of a session without the time delay of adding a beeper under the cap. Now you can add ‘all out’ or ‘race pace’ tempo during a constant swim or after a quick 15 sec rest interval.
  4. You can build tempo to simulate the increased effort required for a 200 yard race. You can increase the tempo every 50 yards or every 75 or 100 to condition your swimmers to dig deeper as they get to the end of a 200 race.
  5. Sometimes the hardest thing to train is for swimmers to have the cardio conditioning to hold their time and their breathing tempo over a long period of time. You can add the tempo from the start of a long swim or require it during the end of a long swim.
  6. You can also train swimmers to hold a consistent tempo over time to ensure their stroke rate doesn’t waiver during their breath as they tire.
  7. Many swimmers get so accustomed to breathing every 2 strokes that they end up with serious imbalances that are hard to correct. Long term swimming with a tempo trainer while they breath every 3 strokes can slowly rebuild their strokes.