Review: Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

Finis Tempo TrainerThe Finis Tempo Trainer, the original (and still available  in some outlets) model, was another interesting idea from Finis that, as usual with said company’s electronics, wasn’t particularly well executed.

I first bought one back in 2008 or ’09. It’s most obvious flaw was that you couldn’t replace the battery. So it was random luck when you bought one just how long it would last. If it was sitting in a shelf for six months, your use was shortened commensurately. To illustrate, my second unit lasted only three months. And since I only used it irregularly, this represented a poor investment so I didn’t buy a third. The case was heat sealed, and while I’m a tinkerer (model-maker) who likes to try to fix things that aren’t designed to be fixed, despite the wide range of micro tools and adhesive substances at my disposal, I couldn’t replace the battery more than once and guaranteeing a seal was almost impossible once the case was split.

TempoTrainerProA couple of years ago Finis released an updated model, ridiculously called the “Pro” (TTP). I guess though they couldn’t call it the “here’s how we should have made it first time“. Of  course what adding Pro to the title really meant of course was that Finis increased the price. I was not willingly to spend more money on a new Finis  product that would likely fail.

A couple of years on I hoped that their usual poor initial product quality would have improved, and I hit it lucky on Amazon UK (£25 over the usual price of £31.49), I finally bought the new version.

The Pro has had two major upgrades: The first and most important is the ability to allow the user to replace the battery. The second upgrade is the addition of a third timekeeping mode which can be used to set stroke rate or tempo, meaning it can be used to set strokes per minute, which could be useful for developing open water swimmers.

The battery compartment takes a CR 1620, (not the most common Li-ion coin battery), which is screwed into the unit. The threads are quite narrow. Narrow thread improves water seal but when the material is ABS or a hard plastic, it also means that the threads are easy to misalign, which will result in stripping, which will of course degrade waterproof ability. A widely-spaced deep thread with less rotations might have worked better, and still ensuring that the unit is sealed. As usual I wonder about Finis’ commitment to manufacturing quality. Regardless, you better be very careful closing the battery compartment, and make sure it’s flush with the case to ensure the threads are aligned.

As with the TT, the TTP comes with an utterly useless clip, which may have more utility in other sports. But it’s not that important as you simply put the TTP under your swim cap. The beep is loud enough for the wearer to hear (and not anyone else), with two, three or repeating beeps depending on mode used.

I typically use the Tempo Trainer (TTP) twice a week for the past couple of months. Once when doing a weekly reducing ten repetitions of 400 metres set. And second for my weekly time trial, which this winter is three consecutive kilometres, slowest through to fastest (not deliberately, it just takes me longer every year to hit maximum speed, my third kilometres is always my fastest). Last winter I was doing a three kilometre continuous time trial but I don’t have that in me this year apparently.

My most common use is in Mode One, which goes from 0:02 seconds to 99:99 seconds in hundredths of a second to set a target time for a lap (two lengths).

The Tempo Trainers are regularly used and touted for improving fitness and consequently speed. And yes, they are good for that, is you can stomach listening to that beep all the time and if you can get the setting right each day. (Maybe my speed just varies too much over a week).

All negatives aside the most unexpected benefit of using the TTP, and what has made it a valuable purchase for me, has been to see how the effect of small stroke changes during a swim affect my speed.

The TTP is a relentless target. You can start how ever you like, fast or slow, but the timer will always beep the target you must hit. It promotes consistent pacing, ideal for an open water swimmer.

I have found, entirely separately from shooting video of my stroke a every year, and usually left feeling disconsolate and frustrated, that the TTP actually allowed me to find stroke improvements that weren’t accessible via my own video. One length of poor concentration is enough to slip your target. Two lengths of poor stroke is enough to build an almost insurmountable gap to be chased. The TTP demonstrated, in a way I’d never really felt previously because the feedback was available every single length, that I needed to rotate and reach more on my weak (left) side. The improvement was immediate. It actually still feels like an exaggerated stroke to me, but with the TTP I went 11 seconds faster over my best kilometre time this year (but I still have to take another nine seconds off to hit last year’s time!). I also was able to measure the effectiveness of my “good” stroke versus my 200 to 300 metres unilateral “sprint” stroke and even to improve that.

I didn’t find Mode Three (stroke rate) as useful. My open water stroke rate is pretty consistent from years of swimming at 71 to 72 SPM (strokes per minute) normal pace (up two spm over the past two years). In the pool Mode Three really needs a long (50m) pool. An SCM or SCY pool is a bit too short, once you come out of your flip turn, if you are even a fraction out when you start stroking as adjusting takes away some of the benefit. I did do an eight by one kilometre set one day just testing this, varying each kilometre starting at 68 spm, going through 69, 70 and 71 before dropping back to 70. My open water rate is one or two strokes faster. All of this was only confirmation for me, but for someone with a too-low stroke rate, it may be useful to help develop a higher rate . I haven’t yet used it during an open water swim, as winter swims are too short. I’d prefer to use it for at least five kilometre to determine any possible utility (which I expect to be minimal).

Contrary to the advertising and Finis’ poor manufacturing and quality record, while the TTP is a useful tool for fitness, it’s especially useful for stroke improvement, especially for people like myself who don’t have anyone against whom to swim.

Amazon US link, $33 + shipping. (As with everything, the US is at least 25% cheaper than Europe).

Amazon UK link. £31.49 ($53) inc. shipping.

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