The Great Vasa Experiment Part 2

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The Great Vasa Experiment Part 2(continued from Home Swim Training)

This is my third week into my “Great Vasa Experiment” and while I do not have official TT results yet (they will come next week), I do have some unofficial improvements and very helpful tips to report.

Overall, I am amazed at the improvements I have made in such a short time. My times in the pool have decreased by 5s across the board from my 100 sprints (1:18 to 1:13) to my warm up pace.

My SWOLF score (time it takes to swim a 50+how many strokes), a good metric for efficiency, is also down a respectable 8 points. To put this in perspective, it took me 3 months to achieve these gains without the Swim Erg.

On the Vasa Swim Erg, my average power is up 10 watts to 80 watts, and my pace is down a decent 10s per 100m. My schedule of 3 regular swims and 3 Vasa workouts seems to be paying off. As some of you noted, this was an aggressive training program; if you are just starting off with the Vasa, then doing two sessions of 30-45 minutes would be more than enough to see improvements.

What caused such improvements? The cause, I think, is mostly due to the paradoxical and ironic fact that through my Vasa Swim Erg sessions I am getting a better feel for the water. But you are not even getting into the water you might ask! By “feel for the water” what I mean is that I am learning what it feels like to swim with with the engagements of the proper muscle groups and with perfect form.

Physically, as seen in the numbers, I am becoming a much stronger swimmer. On the Swim Erg, my major swim muscles, including my lats, pecs, and shoulders, are getting a very intense, swim-specific workout three times a week similar to what I would get through doing dry land weight lifting exercise like the lat pull down and row.

Like these lifting exercise that mimic swimming, my muscles are being conditioned, but unlike the gym exercise, I am actually “swimming” and thus it translates directly to the water. When I swim on the Swim Erg, which provides more resistance than what you would get in a pool, I feel these muscle groups engaging when I have perfect form. I also feel myself fatiguing when my form breaks down and I am not using these critical muscles.

I am also becoming very aware of my elbow and wrist position. When my elbow drops or when my wrist breaks during a Swim Erg workout, I both feel the change and see my power drop at the same time. By including single arm drills and by using the forearm cuffs, I know exactly what it feels like now to swim with perfect form.

When I hop into the water, therefore, if I do not have perfect from, I feel it; I feel when my elbow is dropping; when my wrist is breaking; when my hand is crossing to close to the center axis or does not pull straight back; when my head is not in a neutral position; when my core is not engaged. I now know what it feels like to have a powerful stroke.

Beyond form and strength though, the Swim Erg has given me a psychological edge. Since I can wear my heart rate monitor while on the machine, I can track my effort. Believe it or not, my heart rate was barely breaking 160, which in swimming or biking would be my zone 2, despite feeling like I was pushing myself.

To raise my heart rate to above 175, I really had to focus and exert myself. After breaking this proverbial “ceiling,” I realized I could push myself a good deal more in the pool. I had a whole set of gears that I had not tapped into. While I might have been exerting myself in the pool before, my energy was being wasted on fighting the water and not propelling me forward.

Twice during the past three weeks, I have been very glad to have the Vasa. Since it is summer, my pool has had an influx of kids and with kids comes “accidents” that lead to pool closures for cleaning. Thankfully, though I was able to go home and swim on the Swim Erg instead until the pool reopened the following day without skipping a workout.

Two of my favorite and standard workouts have been the power burst workout which entails 2 rounds of 10x50m sprints with 50m easy in between. One of the benefits of the Vasa Swim Erg is that you can adjust the resistance and thus make your feel like you are swimming into a strong current or using a power rack. The workout took me straight back to college swim practice where we would strap the belt on do sprints off the wall.

For endurance, I “enjoy” the 5x200m repeats and by “enjoy” I mean it left me heaving for air by the last 10m. I also like doing “mini” triathlons by doing a workout on the Vasa Swim Erg then immediately getting on the bike or by warming up on the Vasa before getting on the bike. Being able to both mentally and physically switch between an intense swim to intensity on the bike, I am sure will prove to be invaluable come race season.

What can you learn from this? Overall, the take aways that I have moving forward is that you can accelerate your feel for the water not only by swimming more but also by performing resistance exercises with perfect swim form; the closer these exercises are to swimming the better.

Moreover, once you tap into that perfect form and powerful stroke, you expand your swim engine to take your swimming to the next level.

For more on the ERG and to pick up one of your own, click here to go to the VASA website.