Week one of #SwimReboot: Busting off the Rust

Posted Chris Articles, Training, Vasa Swim

(from Coach Chris Hague)

This is from the #SwimReboot series starting with Part One here.

Have you ever taken a long break from running or biking or swimming or even training activity completely, and then come back to it? Those first workouts are definitely rude awakenings. You just feel rusty and crusty.

Before, the workout you feel anxious and nervous. Then during the workout, you feel discombobulated, weak, and even frustrated.

Why am I not going faster?  I am so slow…I should be going faster!  Why am I so out of breath?  This used to be easy!  This is pointless. I will never get back to where I was. Why did I take so much time off?

Afterwards, you feel sore, worn down, and, potentially, even more frustrated.

I felt a mixture of all of these emotions this past week, the first week back in project #swimreboot. It was definitely a humbling experience.

As I stated in my previous post, the basic format of the weeks for this initial phase is two workouts on the Vasa Swim Erg and one workout in the pool. Since it was the first week back, Coach Eric went easy on me to help my body adjust and get me back in the mindset of being a swimmer.

The first workout was fairly simple:

Warmup: 5 min warmup, then

Main set: 10×1 min on 15 sec rest just getting the feel of the Vasa again

Cool down: 5 min

When I first saw only 10 rounds, I was a little shocked and disappointed. I felt I should be doing more. How was I supposed to get faster on only 20 min! But, after a few reps, I was very glad it was capped at 20 min. I felt good on the first few reps, but by number 10, my lats were burning, my arms were sore, and my power and strokes per minute had trailed off significantly.

It will take time Eric reassured me. Enjoy the process and allow the speed to come back naturally. If you force it, you will build bad habits which is why we need to start slowly and build you up with a strong foundation which is why short intervals are going to be critical: you can focus on your form the whole way without as much fatigue.

Pro tip: if you are just starting back into the pool, keep your intervals short!

With the rust busted off, the second workout was much better but that didn’t make it any easier. It was a TT power test to set up my power levels for training.

Because of the variability of pace and the use of the damper door and resistance (more on that to come later on), it can be hard on the Vasa to use speed as a metric. So instead, it is more effective to use power, which is easier to hold and focus on and applicable across resistances.

Here’s the test format:

Good warm up 8 – 10 minutes.

5 minute test with DD #2

Rest 8-10 minutes with both passive and active recovery.

1 minute Test.

Cool down as needed

Here is a condensed video of the 5 min TT showing the start, then a slow motion sequence of my stroke, then finally the last section. See if you can spot the flaws. Underneath is the whole power TT profile with the 5 min test in the middle and the one minute test on the tail end.  

If you look at both the video and at the zoomed in power profile of the interval, you can see that while my power (pink line) dropped off my strokes per minute (SPM-orange line) stayed relatively the same if not ticked up a tad. This is most likely from me fatiguing and not finishing my stroke through. If you look at the side view of the video it shows that I am “exiting the water” earlier as the TT progresses. Many swimmers do this in the pool as well so to see it on the bench confirms it.

If you are familiar with bike tests, it is very similar and there is a steep learning curve. Looking at both the video and my power profile you can see I faded pretty quickly.

Note to self/Pro Tip #2: Pace Yourself Next Time

With these numbers Eric and I are going to be working around percentages based off of these. Not only do we want my power to increase but also my SPM. If you look at the video, look specifically at the bench. Towards the end, I go back and forth more on the bench showing a “dead zone in my stroke” compared to the start of the test where there is some movement of the bench but for the most part I remain forward.

The same thing can occur in the water if your SPM is low: you glide instead of constantly moving forward. If this was an open water swim, gliding too much can actually cause you to move backwards.   

You will also see DD pop up in my workouts. This standards for “Damper Door,” the vent at the bottom of the Vasa that you can see in some of my posts and videos, and similar to a rowing ergometer can control resistance. The higher the DD setting (1-7) the more resistance there is.

In essence, it is like turning up a river’s current. 1 feels like a swimming out on a large lake or calm ocean while 7 is like swimming upstream against rapids. These different settings are going to help build both strength, power, and SPM under a variety of resistances without having to go out and find a stream.

One key focus of this week, and the weeks coming up as I adapt to swimming again, is carrying the muscle memory and lessons learned from the Vasa sessions over into the water. To do this, Eric is using a variety of tools like the snorkel and the pull buoy to simulate the feel of the Vasa in the pool. Then slowly removing these toys while keeping my good form the same.

The pool set was as follows:

Warm-up: 400 m with snorkel.  Then 8 x 75 as 50 swim steady/25 kick build @:1:45 interval

Main set: 3 rounds of 4 x 100 aerobic on interval allowing for 10-15 sec rest (2:00 intervals)

1 x 50 back to loosen up @ :20 sec rest

Cool down

Note: This was a really good workout for those who are just getting back in and want to set a baseline time for themselves over the next few workouts

The first thing I noticed was how quickly I fatigued. I was beat after the first 400! And I had not even done the whole warm-up.  At this point, I am just not used to swimming.  But I kept pushing and got through the swim. Despite the fatigue, I left the pool with a feeling of what I needed to work on.

Beyond general swim endurance, I noticed that my elbow was dropping just like it did on the Vasa throughout the 100’s and with it an increase in times. I also noticed I was tensing up. I was focusing so hard on doing everything right that I would tense my muscles. This is not only a waste of energy, it also negatively affects your form.

I was extending less and not rotating as much. My head was also bobbing back and forth, which is common for beginner swimmers. I will not solve these problems overnight.  But being aware of them is a good place to start. Just as I try to apply what I learn on the Vasa to the pool. I also need to take what I learned in the pool and apply it to next week’s Vasa workouts.

While I might have felt frustrated or a bit downhearted with how “slow” I was going relative to where I was, these feelings did not stay long. I was excited to be back in the water.  And the potential for improvement overshadowed and pushed out any doubts in my mind. Comparing myself to who I was or other people is pointless because I am a new and changed athlete. This is a great opportunity to rebuild my swim stroke without the mistakes that I made before so that I can actually be even faster than I was.

I am in good hands with Coach Eric and knowing that, I can focus on the journey. Each workout, regardless of how short, is an opportunity to improve. So instead of getting freaked out about how much I have left or more I need to do, all I have to do is make each set count as much as possible.

This is going to be an awesome journey….

To track the journey yourself, be sure to follow us on Instagram. I will be posting my workouts, providing daily tips and tricks, and insights that you will definitely want to see.

If you are on Instagram yourself and doing a similar journey, use the hashtag #swimreboot and let us know how your own journey is progressing.

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