#SwimReboot Step 2: Turning on the lights

Posted Chris Articles, Training, Vasa Swim

Whatever your endeavor, your first 5k, a marathon PR, racing an Ironman, or in my case, rebooting my swim, it is critical to know where you are currently. 

You cannot move forward unless you accept the reality of where you are and where you need to focus.  

Especially in a form specific sport like swimming, it is critical to know what you need to work on and build a plan from there. If the first step in rebooting your swim is to test and access. The second is to take the data and use it!

If you read last week’s blog, I started my #swimreboot project with several tests to assess what my form and fitness looked like both on the Vasa and in the pool.

Now that the results are in and the baseline has been set. Coach Eric and I can look at this data and target my areas of weakness: muscular endurance, full stroke extension, and setting up my catch.  

Right now, I fatigue quickly. Over the course of the TT and my other intervals from various workouts, my power drops off at higher intensities–between 90-100% of mt 5 min power and after 20 s of my 1 min max.

This is partially due to experience and subsequently strength (or lack there of), understandable since I have not swum in several months.

It is also due to engaging smaller muscles like my tricep too much instead of larger muscles like my pecs and lats. Smaller muscles fatigue more easily. Thus my power drops off more steeply and more quickly.

Sound familiar? Wonder why your arms and shoulders feel like Jello when you get out of even a short swim, this is most likely the reason why.

To fix this, I first need to get on the Vasa and Swim Erg to build strength as well as do more work with the damper door, which adds resistance. (See the workout at the end of the article for a great muscle building workout in under 20 minutes.)

I also need to adjust my form to help use the larger muscle groups rather than the smaller ones.

Look at my video and power analysis. You can see that my power faded over time, while my strokes per minute remained the same. Looking at the video, you can tell that as the test progressed, my stroke shortened and I “exited the water” further and further forward. This lead to lower power and slower pace.

I therefore need to focus on finishing my stroke. (This is also why focusing on cadence and using a tempo trainer is not the solution to your swim problems!)  

Videotaping my workouts or specific videos from the side will help with this. In addition, looking at the power record will show if the ratio of strokes per minute and power remains constant throughout the workout. To see this visually, take a look at the 5 min scatter graph below:

Cadence is on the x axis with power on the y axis; highlighted in blue are data points from my 5 min trial. If I were to draw a line through those points, it would be fairly flat. This means that as my cadence increased, power did not. There should be more of a positive slope when the damper door remains constant.

Tip: you can do this in the pool too comparing pace to cadence.

I also need to focus on setting up my stroke better with a proper catch. In the video, you can see that I am leading with my elbow instead of with a straight arm then setting up my high elbow catch.

In the pool, this shows up entering the water with fingers pointing down at an angle instead of straight out. And then as the catch ends and the pull begins, engaging the elbow and having the fingers point down. Not surprisingly, all of these issues also showed up in my water.

These flaws are fairly common in beginner swimmers. So how do you fix them?

  1. Be consistent in your swimming to build strength.
  2. In the pool, use paddles like the Finis Freestylers which prevent you from leading with your elbow. If you try, they fall off.
  3. Single arm drills both on the Vasa and in the water to focus on full arm extension and engage the tricep at the end of your stroke.
  4. Double arm front and backstroke on the Vasa and in the pool will help. Check out the video on how to do this here:

As I said, a lot of swimmers have the above limiters, BUT they may not be your limiters. So be careful.  

It is important to know what you need to fix. If you are time crunched, you do not want to waste time on non-focused drills. For instance, if you do not need to work high elbow catch but need to work on rotation, focus more on a 6/3/6 drill, and use catch up to warm up. 

Or, if your ankles are inflexible but your pull is strong, do more vertical kicking than paddle work.

The quickest way to get better is to work with a coach to get video analysis and specific, individual workouts and drills.  Instead of stumbling around in the dark, turn on the lights and get a clear vision on the way forward.

Next step: Building consistency. Stay tuned for next week!

The Weekly Workout Bonus

This week’s work is called the Damper Door Elevator. After a 5 min warm up, do 1 min repeats with 20-30 s rest increasing the DD from 1 to 7 then back down to 1.

Each rep is done at 80% of your 5 min CP.  This is hard to adapt to the pool because it is easy for your form to deteriorate when trying to increase power in the pool. If your form is already poor, you are losing the purpose of the workout.

On the Vasa you can correct these flaws as you swim, and is easier to focus on your form. I would recommend this only for experienced swimmers:

100-200m warmup


100m no toys, 20-30s rest

100m with paddles, 20-30s rest

100m with paddles and a parachute

100m with paddles

100m with no toys

1 min complete rest then repeat 2-5 times.

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

Maximize your power and stamina while improving your technique outside the pool.

  • Take your swimming up a notch
  • Increase your power, speed, and stamina
  • Improve your swim technique
  • Measure performance gains

Try it for yourself for 3 months, risk-free—your improvement will be dramatic.