Tag Archives: Finis

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.

Big bag o' paddles

Review: Swimming paddles (Yet another update)

My pool bag now includes the silly total of five four five six five different types of paddles!

(Update 2013: I added another paddle and removed one, so I’m refreshing this review).

(Update March 2014: Added another paddle, subsequently removed yet another paddle. See below for comparison of PT Paddle and Complete Fitness Coaching Palm Paddle)

Big bag o’ paddles – I really need to update this photo to the current lineup.

Warning: overdoing paddle work is a mistake easily made. I was already doing a lot of metres when I increased my paddle work, and I had shoulders able to take that increase, but overdoing paddle work, especially power paddles, can lead to real shoulder injury. Start very, very, very easy, with no more than 200 metres total, if you are not already using paddles.

Medium tech paddles

1. I started years ago with Speedo Tech Paddles, medium size. Tech or technique paddles are designed mainly for aiding water-feel. They are to aid catch, early vertical forearm (EVF), strength and pull. A bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. They are good as first paddles. Useful for getting adding extra metres pulling to build up shoulder strength. Instead of putting the whole hand in the straps, once you adapt to using them, just use the middle finger loop to detect imbalances in stroke and catch. The rubber straps didn’t last well didn’t last and had to be replaced by bits of rubber tubing. I never use these any more and they are long gone.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

Power Paddle
Power Paddle

2. My next and main paddles for a few years were Speedo Power Paddles. In 2009, Eilís has us doing a lot of paddle work in Channel training. Early on I was still using the tech paddles and hating them and paddle work in general. After one session with Rob Bohane, where I was killed, I decided to change my approach. So every day for the next month, I used the Power Paddles for warm-up  After that I had no more problems. These are brutal on your shoulders if you are not used to them, injuries will result if you overdo them. You can also lose your feel for the water with these. Note: All the straps on this are only one piece of surgical tubing. When I use these I only use them with the middle finger loop. However I just left the rest of the tubing attached.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

Speedo StrokeMakers are reported to be excellent and widely used by experienced swimmers in the US but aren’t available in Europe. SwimOutlet link.

Forearm paddle

3. Forearm Paddles. My forearm paddles were a cheap €1.50 generic version and consequently aren’t terribly comfortable but perfectly adequate. These ones on Amazon US are identical in shape and may be the only time in my life I’ve seen something more expensive in the US.  Finis forearm bolsters should be more comfortable, as are all some of their  non-electronic products. The purpose of these is to work EVF and maximise catch and forearm pull. I often do 400m with these, combined with 400m fist drill or anti-paddles, as part of my warm up.

Amazon US link for Finis Paddles. Amazon UK link.

Speedo Finger paddle

4. Speedo Finger Paddles. I got these on the recommendation of Channel swimmers and coaches Jen Schumacher and Nuala Muir-Cochrane. They allow you to focus on your catch and your pull and vertical forearm. I have also found they are good for lengthening your stroke and overall keeping good focus throughout most phases of the stroke. They are also great for backstroke catch and technique. Lower strap removed as these are purely for technique. These are still great paddles that I regularly use and remain my favourites.

Amazon US link. Amazon UK link.

Finis PT Cruisers

5. Finis PT paddles, PT stands for “perfect technique”. These are also known as Anti-Paddles. Unlike all previous paddles which in some way enhance the arm or hand, these remove the hand completely from your stroke. Therefore they operate the same as fist drill .  Your stroke becomes all about felling the water and Early Vertical Forearm, EVF, i.e. the pull from your forearms. They are also very effective in engaging your core and driving your balance. The first couple of lengths swimming with these is like swimming with a live weasel in each hand. I’ve seen a lighter hollow version somewhere, but these are heavy and solid, which is what drives you to  engage your core to counter-balance them. And unlike fist drill, there’s no cheating with these. Your first few lengths after using them will give you a great feeling of power throughout your catch and pull. After about a year of year the external plastic casing on one cracked but they don’t seem to have deteriorated any further for the past two years.

Amazon US link.

Wearing PT Paddle
Wearing PT Paddle seen from above. Almost matches my hand outline

Two years on and I’ve grown to really dislike the PT Paddle. The plastic case split more, and the internal foam structures absorbed far more water than I’d realised until I took them home for this update. Each PT paddle (with water) weighs about 350 grams, 3/4 of a pound.  maybe 25% of that weight is absorbed water. Unlike most other paddles, all three “loops” in the tubing are needed to go on thumb and fingers to hold the paddle on while swimming, partially because of the weight, partially because of the design.

The weight is increasingly uncomfortable due to water absorption and the durability is typical of so many Finis products, who seem incapable of grasping late-20th Century Qualify Manufacturing tools. I would love to know that their DPPMs (defect parts per million) are on their various products. I had a look on Finis’ website (just trying to find things on their utterly crap flash website can give you a headache), and can’t find the PT Paddle anymore. I suspect it’s another product that’s been removed due to, well, being so badly made.

Finis Agility Paddles - Note that my thumb is straight not bent
Finis Agility Paddles – Note that my thumb is straight not bent

6. Finis Agility paddles. After being introduced in 2102, I first got a chance to use these in early 2013 and immediately bought a pair and have been using them very regularly since. These are now my favourite paddle and I regularly use them in conjunction with the finger paddles. Finis Agility paddles have no strap and fit on each hand using a simple thumb hole. In order to keep them on your hands during the stroke you must keep a good catch and pull through on every stroke. (Since using these I have also reduced my use of power paddles). Everyone who has tried this has felt the immediate technique feedback. These may be the best paddles on the market. And if you want just one paddle, I’d recommend these. They can also be used for all strokes.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

7. Complete Fitness Coaching Palm Paddle.

Palm Paddle.resized

Coach Martin Hill contacted me a few months ago to ask if I wanted to try out his new Palm Paddle, versus the PT Paddle.

I’ve had the PT Paddles for a couple of years and as I updated above, increasingly came to dislike them. All fist drill type products aren’t particularly fun to swim with, eliminating, as is their purpose, the propulsive effect of the hand to develop catch, EVF and forearm pull.

The Palm Paddle in the antithesis of the PT Paddle. A hollow single-part blown-plastic paddle, with a single tube loop for the centre finger. It weighs one-tenth of the PT paddle. It is also significantly narrower, only about two-thirds of the width.

I have small to medium-sized hands (no sniggering there) and the PT paddle completely fills the hand, whereas the Palm Paddle sits more in the centre with the hand protruding to either side, and the curve of the paddle is less than the PT. This means it doesn’t slip as easily, i.e. it does catch the water a little more than the PT.

Apart from the weight, I like that it only requires a single finger, as this is how most paddles are better used. Also the light weight provides stroke feedback that the PT paddle doesn’t, which is that it can slip sideways on your hand, particularly at the end of the pull (for me) if the pitch of the hand is wrong. That said, I found a slight uncomfortable tensing of my hand because of the width toward the end of a 400 metre drill because I was cupping my hand.

Palm Paddle vs PT Paddle.resized

I compared my normal stroke without paddles, to wearing Palm Paddles, to wearing PT Paddle in swim speed terms (while maintaining a moderate pace). Palm Paddles added about 10 seconds per 50m, whereas the PT added double that. Since fist drills are not about speed but about learning to maximise the catch, that means the PT paddle is more effective at eliminating any propulsion from the hand. However I also think it adds too much body rotation as because of the weight and they are not pleasant to wear and regularly slip.

While the PT paddles are better at eliminating the hand to focus on EVF, the fact the Palm Paddles are more comfortable to swim with, while still performing the same task, means you will use them more regularly than the PT Paddles. I’ve now removed the PT Paddles from my pool gear bag.

So on the face of it, having five four five six five pairs of paddles seems like overkill. But each performs a specific useful technique and training task.

Spring is swum

Real spring arrived most tentatively and late in Ireland this year, following the coldest early spring in 50 years. The water has been cold at its usual lowest point in late February, but recovery from the bottom took longer to occur than usual and many of the coldest days swimming have occurred after the normal coldest point of the year.

My swim times have stayed short, shorter than in a few years, swimmers have widely been commenting about the combination of cold water and cold air making weekend open water swims difficult and brief, not complaints often heard amongst Ireland’s experienced cold water swimmers.

But finally, only two weeks, the northerly air flow shifted away and temperatures moved about low single digits.

SandycovePanorama.resized

This prompted my first visit of the year to Sandycove. How did it get so late? Only a week previously the water temperature in Tramore Bay had still been only seven degrees, but the Sandycove visit provided a lovely ten degrees. Having been ill with a chest infection for a few weeks, I’d approached the swim with slight trepidation (the only time I’ve ever thought I might have a problem with a lap) but on measuring the warm water that concern disappeared and Owen, Dave Mulcahy and I each cruised around for a pleasant sunny lap, Owen being faster was first around and utilizing his new Finis GPS for a map of a standard high-tide island lap. Some chat was had afterwards, with Mike Harris and Ned Denison out for a visit also. Ned indicated that he wouldn’t be integrating my suggested Copper Coast swim into this year’s Cork Distance Camp, “as it doesn’t suit“, whatever that means. I’ll just have to get some of the swimmers over myself!

Saturday just gone was also a mild sunny day, with light fresh northerly breeze not being too cold and therefore ideal for jellyfish-hunting. This is what I call my early spring loops of Kilfarassey’s Burke’s Island. I abandon Kilfarassey’s playground except for beach walking during the winter months as its southerly aspect is too exposed for the depth of winter and I can look forward to returning to it with increasing anticipation as spring progresses. With a light offshore and a sunny sky, the island, whose nearest point is only about ten minutes away, looked inviting. The tide was low, just off a spring and the guard-line of reefs that separate the island from the mainland were showing.

Burke's Island
Burke’s Island, low tide, offshore

I was concerned that Waterford’s deeper and more exposed water, almost always colder and slower to respond than Cork’s, despite being only about 60 miles apart, would still be only seven to eight degrees, but it was also ten degrees in the sun-warmed beach-edge water of Kilfarrassey, I doubt the Guillamene’s deeper water would have so improved.

It’s a shallow entry, and as I waded in there was a horse being ridden out in the shallows, the rider looking askance at me. The island and a string of reefs protect the beach, but once past the half-way point of the island the water depth starts to drop and I swum counter-clockwise around the outermost reefs, stirring up all the sea-birds who are far out from the mainland and therefore unused to much human traffic excepting the occasional kayakers or local fisherman. As I passed the island the temperature gradually dropped, and I guess the water around the island was about nine degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The channels at the back of the reefs & island – my playground

Apart from the main island, there are actually lots of reefs and rocks and I swam into the main channel at the back of the island through many of these, my secret playground. The tide had now bottomed and heavy kelp was visible above the water. The first sea-anemones I’ve seen this year were visible on a couple of the deeper rocks and the water was crystal clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd what would a day to Kilfarassey be without a swim through my favourite arch, which I’ve termed the keyhole, about 25 metres long and always fun even on a calm day, though narrowest at low tide.

Kilfarassey is the location where I see (and suffer) jellyfish the most, it’s exposed and deep enough with enough calm pockets, reefs, currents and caves to hold many of them in place, but there were no jellyfish this day. The first jellyfish scouting expedition returned without a single one encountered, but it won’t be long now before our annual battles begin.

The swim was only forty minutes. But forty minutes of cold, clear heaven. Forty minutes where for the first time in weeks I felt I was where I was supposed to be, the first place where I’d felt truly and utterly free for some time, when I remembered that I started this blog over three years ago by exhorting you all to seek freedom. I write about the safe way to swim, the educated way to swim and I write about the mechanics. But it is this sense of freedom that is so essential for my own psyche and so fundamental to my own reasons for swimming. In the water, outside the island, over half a mile from the mainland, that I am ineffably myself and in that place of so little control that I feel so much confidence.

Second (updated) goggle review

I’ve previously reviewed Aquasphere Kaiman and Kayennes for open water swimming and that I hadn’t previously been successful with using low profile goggs. I had settled into my Aquasphere use over years.

After I wrote that article Paul Ellercamp of oceanswims.com in Australia sent me a pair of his favourite goggles, low-profile competition/racing View Visio aka Fully Sicks. Paul said they lasted him very well (the biggest problem with the Aquaspheres was their shortened lifespan) and that they fit perfectly out of the box with no adjustment. And he was correct. Despite my oddly-shaped noggin and huge nose, they also fit me perfectly immediately. They had excellent visibility and unlike some mirrored goggles, weren’t too dark. I love these goggs. Damn you Paul Ellercamp, for getting me used to great goggles! :-)

Visio View Fully Sick mirrored goggs

I swam in them in pool and open water from November until last month when the heavy usage was starting to take its toll with the mirror finish wearing off. I went looking for a replacement pair but discovered that View only sell in the US or Australia and with rather expensive shipping costs, which would have made replacements almost the cost of the new Speedo Fastskin goggles, i.e. the most expensive goggles on the market, so I had to discard the idea.

The advantage was that I now had a good idea that competition goggles would fit me fine, and were in fact quite good for open water if you were comfortable with them, and that I knew which type to choose.

Thanks to two vouchers for writing an article for an online swim shop and a gift voucher, I selected a few pairs that seems closest.

All these goggles come with adjustable nose bridge pieces. Most were tested over the course of a few weeks, in both pool and sea.

Maru Pro mirrors

I started with a pair of Maru Pro competition googles. Maru are especially popular as suppliers of swimming equipment and basic goggles and caps to pools for kids in Ireland and the UK. They are obviously trying to break into a wider swimming market. They were also the cheapest of the lot.

Unfortunately while the fit was okay, they were far too dark. It was like swimming just before dark. The red plastic confused my peripheral vision, I couldn’t tell if some was passing me in the lane and even my arm was barely visible. The gold trim and straps may appeal to some kids people. I am not one of them.

After staring at all the range available in a Cork sports shop (which shall no longer named), most of which were useless, I picked up a pair of Finis Thunder goggles, black with smoke lenses (almost clear). I would have chosen a pair of Mirrored ones, but the only pair were accidentally on the shelf after being returned for a broke strap.

Finis Thunder, Black with Smoke lenses

I loved these. They were very similar to the Fully Sicks. But the end of the strap snapped  off the second day. That pair that were returned to the sport shop obviously weren’t an aberration.

But they were comfortable with fantastic visibility, so I got a pair of the mirrored Jade ones online using my voucher. It got odd. The mirrored pair of the same goggles just wouldn’t seal. I took them to the pool where they leaked immediately. I did get them to fit over a couple of days by changing the nose piece … twice. So on one pair I use a medium bridge, and on the other an Extra Large.  Though once I had them fitted, the visibility on the mirrored pair was fine, clear and not too dark. When I added a third pair, I needed another different size nose bridge, large. They look great but this is typical of my experience with Finis products. Their design is unparalleled, but they are regularly let down by reliability (SwiMP3 which died, PT paddles which split, & now odd goggles). In this case at least, spare straps aren’t a big deal.

Since the first Thunders had been so good, I ordered one pair of Finis Lightning googles, which were only available in blue when I was purchasing.

Finis Lightning Blue

I think the Lightnings are meant to be slightly above the Thunders (duh). These were fantastic. Similar to the Thunders, the translucent white silicon gasket of the seal was softer. These were super comfortable and perfectly fitting immediately, with the same great visibility of the Thunders.

I still had a pair to test. You’d probably never do this, buying a bunch of goggles at the same time to try them out, without having a gift voucher of some kind. I’ve certainly never done it before, but I found some great advantages from doing it. And it made me wonder, if then I was going through the fifteen or so goggles I tried in 12 months when I was starting, if everything I’d chosen had been just leisure swimming goggles. They’re all long gone so I don’t remember.

Speedo Vanquishers

The last pair was the famous Speedo Vanquishers. Renowned in competitive swimming, I bowed to finally try them (I kind of dislike Speedo’s synonymous-with-swimming branding, so had restricted myself to Speedo Endurance swim briefs, the best chlorine togs, bar none, that I’d tried).

They were worthy of the reputation. These were also great, comfortable, the blue frame and lens were a little dark for the pool but the fit of the nose bridge was better than any of the others, due to that slight concave shape on the bottom.

So out of all, only the Maru Pros failed. The rest were all good or great. I went through this so I could get at least two pairs tested for Manhattan, with which I would be most comfortable.

In the usual pre-swim panic, I’ll probably have brought most to New York. My first choice will be the Finis Lightnings if the day is brighter and possibly the Speedo Vanquishers as the probable choice for a duller day.

Update: I’ve been using each pair of Thunder and Lightning googles now for over a year in open water, the blue Lightning on dull days and the mirrored Thunders on sunny days, and both are excellent recommended with the Lightning placed ahead as the Thunder does occasional separate at the nose-bridge when putting them on (but never in the water).