The Asymmetric Tempo Trainer Pyramid (ATP) is a set designed by Total Immersion coach & Founder, Terry Laughlin.  The set is unique in that it helps the swimmer find their own best combinations of tempo and SPL for any given distance by helping the swimmer explore a range of tempos.  But even more intriguing is that the set is designed so that swim technique is frequently improved from start to finish of the set without conscious effort, and faster speeds result!

How does that happen? Let’s discuss the set and find out.

First Tempo Slows, then Gradually speeds back Up

In a tempo trainer pyramid we start at a chosen tempo and with each repeat, slow the tempo by a fixed number of “clicks” or hundredths of a second. (each click is 1/100th of a second or .01 seconds) while counting your strokes for each repeat.  As the tempo gradually slows, more time is available between each beep.  The timing of the stroke changes so that you must use the extra time “wisely”.   As the space between beeps increases, try to lengthen the stroke effortlessly, and hold the lead arm patient as the rear arm begins its a smooth recovery.  Again, count strokes and record them if you can’t remember each length after the fact.

Depending on the rate of slowing, the stroke count will typically begin to drop.  (If it doesn’t don’t despair…more on that later)

As the set reverses and the tempo begins to quicken, we choose a smaller increment so that the neuromuscular changes in stroke rate are tiny…nearly imperceptible from one repeat to the next.  During this 2nd half of the pyramid, we take more repeats to get down to the original tempo (hence the name, asymmetric tempo pyramid).   Try to maintain the feeling of a long fluid stroke as the tempo slowly gets faster.

Depending on skill and rate of increase in tempo, the stroke count will typically hold steady at the lowest number obtained for a few repeats, and the swimmer may gradually add a stroke or two (or three) back on.  Often…and this is the magical part…the stroke count back at the original tempo will be lower than the original stroke count.   Why?    Because we first slowed the tempo and explored a longer stroke, the brain makes subtle changes in its instructions to the muscles, often these are changes that are difficult to articulate…it’s a feeling that occurs during the ascending phase of the pyramid.

During the descending phase, these signals from the brain are still intact, and the tiny increments in speed are not so great as to disrupt the new patterning, and the longer smoother stroke persists without conscious effort to change or modify the stroke.

When should you use an Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid? 

The ATP can be used often, either as a tuneup at the beginning of a practice session, or it can stand as a practice session of it’s own.   In the beginning of your exploration of stroke length, you may want to do an ATP at the start of each practice and see if you can make improvements in your SPL changes or find consistency in dropping strokes. It is a great tuneup set to help find length in your stroke when you are tired or have been out of the water for awhile, or are exploring some new focal points as well.

Try to use it at least once a week for a training block and see what kinds of patterns emerge in your SPL changes.  Feel free to modify the variables including starting tempo, ascending increment, descending increment and repeat length.

Let’s look at a few Sample Sets



Sample Set #1:

ATP 10 x 25 @ 1.20 +.04/-0.2

ATP = “Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid”

10×25 = Ten repeats of 25 yards/meters.  Rest between each repeat long enough to change the tempo and feel recovered

@1.20   This is the starting tempo for Repeat #1.  (Depending on the increments of slowing and speeding up tempo it may also be the ending tempo

+.04/-.02  These are the increments for slowing (first 4 repeats slow by .04  or four clicks of the right button) and for speeding up (repeats 5-10 speed up by .02 or two clicks of the left button)

Ascending Portion

Repeat #1 1.20 seconds/stroke
Repeat #2 1.24 seconds/stroke
Repeat #3 1.28 seconds/stroke
Repeat #4 1.32 seconds/stroke


Descending Portion

Repeat #5 1.30 seconds/stroke
Repeat #6 1.28 seconds/stroke
Repeat #7 1.26 seconds/stroke
Repeat #8 1.24 seconds/stroke
Repeat #9 1.22 seconds/stroke
Repeat #10 1.20 seconds/stroke


Sample Set #2:

ATP 10 x 25 @ 1.30 +.1/-0.05

This is one of the more common patterns we use in weekend workshops and in self directed training.   The changes from sample set #1 are a slower starting tempo, and bigger increments.  With a bigger drop there is a better likelihood of seeing a gradual drop in strokes per length, which indicates that the swimmer is creating less drag and improving streamlining.

The slower starting tempo is better for newer swimmers.   It’s fine to start at 1.4 or even 1.5 if needed…just look for a starting tempo that feels close to your current tempo or possibly a little bit rushed…because you get to slow it down soon and find your comfort zone.

Some swimmers have a very high tempo despite not swimming very fast, and this exercise is extremely valuable for those types (windmillers).  These folks, however, may feel more comfortable starting at a faster tempo that is close to their current.  Learning to lengthen the stroke by deliberately slowing is extremely valuable to learn.


Sample Set #3

ATP 10 x 2×50  @ 1.15 +.02/-.03

This is a slightly more advanced set.  The repeat distance is longer and we are doing 2 repeats of 50s at each tempo.  The starting tempo is 1.15, and the first four pairs will be done by adding .02 seconds/stroke. ie repeat #1 is 1.15, #2 is 1.17, #3 is 1.19 & #4 is 1.21.

Then on the way back down, we’ll subtract .03 seconds per repeat pair! So #5 is 1.18, #6 is at 1.15, #7 is at 1.12, #8 is at 1.09 #9 is at 1.06 and #10 is at 1.03

This type of pattern I first learned from Coach Dave Cameron.  the end result is that your finishing tempos are faster than the starting tempos.  This pattern is a fantastic way to take some focal points into faster tempos & speeds.   However pay close attention to the stroke count as the tempo speeds up. It’s OK to add strokes, but beware if you start adding strokes wildly…more than 2-3 stroke increase in more than one repeat in a row suggests you’ve reached a neuromuscular threshold and exceeded it.  In other words your ability to maintain good form with long strokes at progressively faster tempos has been exceeded.
ATP sets are fun and with experience you can manipulate each variable to explore new places in your stroke to improve. Frequently you’ll surprise yourself by finding new levels of skill and tapping into them using the sneaky trick of first slowing tempo and then speeding it up.

What has your experience been with ATP Sets?  Do you have a favorite one?


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