Many websites, swim coaches and programs recommend that beginner swimmers train with a tempo trainer (i.e. a “wetranome”) to help them find the ideal stroke rate. This little device goes underneath your swim cap and beeps every time you “should” take a stroke.
In theory, this is supposed to help swimmers get their stroke rate/cadence up. With a faster stroke rate, you become a faster swimmer without gliding or dead zones in your stroke. However, that little beep might be doing the opposite: ruining your efficiency and swimming economy.
Don’t get me wrong: I agree that many swimmers glide too much and the best way to reduce the glide is to increase the stroke rate. BUT, by trying to sync your stroke to a beep is not the way to do it.
By focusing on the beep, swimmers take short cuts to match it so that they can get their arm through the water as quickly as possible. This is what I see when swimmers focus just on cadence:
- They do not rotate as much (i.e. swimming flat).
- They pull with the shoulders instead of the lats.
- They drop their elbow in their haste.
- They cross over to get their hand back into the water.
- They will hold their breath because they are so focused on cadence.
- When they do breathe, they lift their head.
So while they hit that magic strokes per minute, they have lost all efficiency and are wasting energy.
What can you do instead? Focus on all the ancillary mechanisms that naturally increase your stroke rate.
Doing the following drills will not directly increase your stroke rate. However, they will strengthen the areas of your swim that lead to a higher cadence AND a more efficient stroke.
- Firstly, work on the mobility of the upper back through resistance band stretches that allow you to move your arms better and faster in the water. Shoulder and back impingement causes a weak stroke rate and pull.
- Secondly, work on rotation so that you can engage more muscles and thus cut through the water. Check out the video here BONUS that it helps with sinking legs. This, in turn, will allow for higher turnover since you will have less drag.
- Thirdly, focus on a strong, high elbow catch through drills like catch up drill and underwater recovery. This will increase your power per stroke, and if you can pull stronger, you can full faster.
- Lastly, single arm swimming, when done correctly, will strengthen your pull. And since you are only using one arm you will naturally increase your cadence to keep moving forward.
- BONUS: Use paddles which paradoxically slow down your cadence but at the same time increase power and strength. Once removed you will be able to pull at a higher cadence. Just be careful if you have shoulder problems.
So if you use the wetranome, double check that you are not sacrificing form and efficiency for the sake of hitting an arbitrary number. If you have not yet, test before, focus on the above drills and then test again. Chances are you will not only hitting higher turnover rates but also faster.
Coach Chris and Kev