Almost 16 weeks ago, the Tri Swim Coach team and I launched project #swimreboot. The main purpose of the project was to provide you tips on how time-strapped athletes can improve your swim without spending hours and hours in the pool.
We wanted to show you how to create an effective program that will make you faster with the time that you have.
I started the project as a relative beginner, having taken many months off. And who, like many of you, was strapped for time and a little frustrated with where my swimming was. That first week I:
- Could only swim 200m at a time without needing a break.
- Could hold 2:00/100m consistently.
- On the Vasa SwimErg, had a 5 min Critical Power of 62 and a 1 min max power of 75.
As of this morning, I:
- Made it through an hour long practice without issues.
- Held 1:30/100m pace.
- On the Vasa SwimErg, had a 85 5 min critical power and a 110 1 min max power.
How did these gains happen? Looking back over these 16 weeks, I attribute these improvements to the 3 main themes of consistency, mindfulness, and specificity.
Consistency was and is the biggest issue for me and for many beginners. For one, getting to the pool can be tough and having my schedule sync with the pool’s schedule can be tougher. To overcome this, Coach Eric and I first focused on what I could do and built from there. Instead of making large commitments, we started slowly.
We did only what we knew that we could do, which was once a week in the water and three times on the Vasa SwimErg. That might not sound like a lot, but I knew I could keep that schedule. After a few weeks and once I made that routine a habit, we went to two times a week in the water and 3 to 4 times on the SwimErg.
There were issues of course. On two occasions, I had to leave for a week for work. Then the pool shut down for two weeks for repairs. To overcome this and to keep consistency, we had to reshuffle those weeks and would sometimes swap in a longer SwimErg set to replace the pool. Nevertheless, we kept the training consistent, and in doing so, I felt that I constantly kept and improved my form.
What I lacked in volume though, we made up in the mindfulness of my practice and making each stroke count.
Both on the SwimErg and in the water, I made sure that my mind was engaged. Rather than letting my mind wander to my to do list at work or my next training session, I focused on staying focused. By maintaining my mindfulness, I was able to adjust my form in the moment if it broke down.
On the Erg, this meant focusing on:
- Tracing my hand on lines on the floor so that I did not cross over the center axis but pulled straight back.
- Watching my high elbow pull in the mirror.
- Monitoring my pace, strokes per minute, and power in real time and adjusting them as I needed to.
Then, while in the pool, I made sure:
- Ask for feedback on deck when someone was there.
- Used cues (fingers to the corner (meaning the corner of the lane) to keep my entry wide.
- Focused on engaging my core and lats to pull rather than rely on my triceps and shoulders.
- Picked one aspect of my stroke (high elbow catch, pull, recovery, entry, etc) and made it the focal point for the next rep.
Finally, all the work that we did was specific to my needs. As you can see from my starting numbers, I started the program with limited endurance and low power.
My form had issues too like a premature finish (I did not pull through to my hip) and little rotation. Therefore, we doubled down on these limiters and built my workouts around them. Instead of doing drills for the sake of doing drills, we did workouts built around what I needed to work on.
To help with the endurance, we gradually built up my volume and time of each set. For power, we used the Damper Door on the SwimErg and paddles in the pool, both of which also helped me focus on accelerating as I pulled and then pulling all the way through the hips.
We also included stretch cords and core to increase my strength. In the pool, we did the 6/3/6 drills ad nauseum to get my rotation and coordination down. By having such specific workouts, not a practice or set was wasted.
As time crunched as I was, these three factors–consistency, mindfulness, and specificity–made the difference between giving up early on and making small but consistent progress throughout the project. In addition to these though, there are three “game changers” that I feel gave me that extra edge.
And these will definitely stay with me in the lead up to the summer race season and beyond.
The first is to avoid the mono-speed.
Many swimmers’ stroke–and mine was definitely so in the first week– is the same speed throughout the catch, pull, and recovery phases. Instead, the hand should accelerate through the water and then recovery easily over the top of the water. I found that when my form broke down or I fatigued, I could refocus on this quick pull and in doing so keep my pace up without wasting energy.
The second game changer was the supplemental work like the core and stretch cord exercises.
While strength/pre-activation routines are typically the first thing to get cut when pressed for time, Coach Eric really emphasized keeping them in. Rather than cutting them when time was tight, we would do them as part of the warm up and then cut down the swim part of the warm up. To see what the pre-activation routine/warm-up looked like click here.
I found that after a couple of weeks of doing this, my muscular imbalances seemed to correct, my arms fatigued less, and I was able to hold my form for longer sets. Moreover, I remained injury free for the whole 16 weeks! My swimmer’s shoulder from my college days never resurfaced.
The last major game changer for me was the focus on the process.
Whenever I got frustrated with how slow and out of shape I felt (especially when the middle school kid lapped me for what seemed the millionth time), Coach Eric would bring me back to the process and the journey that I was on.
Thoughts of what “could be” or “should be” are just noise and a waste of energy. Instead, dive deeper into the ways things are and making those better. Training is one giant experiment, so enjoy it. This mindset change seeped into other aspects of my life too. Whether it was data collection in the lab, working on a lab report, grading students’ work, or writing these blogs, there is always room for improvement. So figure out what needs fixing and work at it.
My swim definitely has been rebooted. It’s an understatement to say that these past 16 weeks have been transformational. But like any journey, when one project ends, another begins.
P.S.I wanted to give a huge thanks to Coach Eric Neilson who helped me with workouts, programing, freestyle swimming form, and more than a few mental low points. I also want to thank, Rob Sleamaker, CEO of Vasa, who was an essential part of this project. He connected me with Coach Eric and was always there to help with feedback and ideas. I am so blessed to know these two great coaches and mentors.
P.P.S. If you are interested on picking up a Vasa ERG to enhance your swim training, we created an info page here: Vasa Swim ERG