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DVD Transcription

Coaching & Training for Triathlons

Using the VASA Ergometer

By Coach Al Lyman
USAT Coaches Clinic
March 24th, 2007

USAT Coaches Clinic

March 24, 2007

Coach Al Lyman, CSCS

www.Pursuit -Fitness.com

Coach Al Lyman:

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today. I was thinking as I was driving up

here this morning with Tim that this is actually amazing that I’m standing in front of a

group of coaches talking about swimming on any level. Before I get started on my

presentation, allow me to take a couple of minutes and say about my background as a

swimmer. When I was ten years old I had a near drowning experience that was pretty

serious. The even sent some pretty serious fear through my parent’s heart as literally

someone had to come, pull me out of the water, and revive me. From the time I was ten

years old until I was thirty-six I wouldn’t go anywhere near water any deeper than waist
deep. That’s right, until I was 36, and I’m 47 now. It’s amazing I’m standing here. I still

can’t believe it. In 1995 I was watching the Hawaii Ironman with my daughter Erin, who

at the time was 9 years old and is now a junior at Boston University. I was watching

Mark Allen make an incredible comeback in that race as he chased Thomas Hellriegel. I

think I have the “right”….anyway, it was just an amazing race…. and I looked at Erin

and said: I am GOING TO DO the Hawaii Ironman! And, she immediately laughed at

me. She only laughed because she knew that her Dad (me!) was the guy that never went

near the water. The family went to the beach and I went to the pavilion! I mean, I had

some serious “issues” with fear of the water, and of course much of it was subconscious,

and I didn’t fully understand it. What I went through to become who I am today and

having accomplished what I have as a swimmer is an amazing process that I think has

really empowered me as a coach. Amazingly, I did end up qualifying for Hawaii at Lake

Placid and DID end up competing at and finishing the 2000 Hawaii Ironman, and….I’ve

been back to that race twice since. So between January of ninety six when I couldn’t even

go near the water without my heart rate racing to peak levels, to finishing on Alli Drive

four years later has been an amazing ride, an incredible experience for me. Again, that’s

just a little tid-bit on my background. As for how I got here to this point where I am

talking to you today about the Vasa Ergometer….

Clinic Overview:
! Background Info: How Did I Get Here?

! The VASA Ergometer: What Is It?

! Triathlon Swimming for Novice & Experienced:

! Introduction: Basic Concepts & Fundamental Attributes
! What Are The Challenges?
! Where Is The Focus?
! SR vs. SL: Total Immersion vs. Maglischo

! Training on the Vasa:

! Novice & Experienced
! Testing

! Sample Sessions: Novice and Experienced

! Summary: What are the Advantages?

!Q & A

First I want to let you know that this is the first time I have gotten up in front of a group

and talked about the VASA Ergometer. Before I tell you how I came to this point of

talking about the Ergometer, I want you first to know that I don’t work for VASA. I’m

just an endurance sports coach who owns my coaching business. Now I have quite a few

athletes that I coach that have it and use it, but I am not here to sell you an Ergometer, or

to tell you that you should go buy one. I’m just here to tell you a little bit about what it

is, and then how we use it, and we will see a triathlete, Tim Mather, come up and

demonstrate a few things on it as well.

To keep moving forward and give you an overview of what I am going to discuss, I will

start by talking a little bit about triathlon swimming. Triathlon swimming for novice and

experienced, just so we can all have a base that we can all agree upon. Some basic

concepts, concepts fundamental attributes. I want to discuss the challenges for swimmers
in triathlon, as well as WHERE is the swimmer/athlete’s focus, how are they training,

what are they doing to become a better swimmer and then to prepare for their races.

Then I will talk about training on the VASA, what do we do? What have I learned in the

time that I was first exposed to it, starting using it myself and then as time progressed to

the point where I now have a number of athletes using it. What have I learned? How do

we train? We will look at some sample sessions, and discuss some ideas of how we

actually set up workouts on the VASA. I will talk about what I think the advantages are

for it. I believe that this could turn out to be one of the most powerful tools, short of a

heart rate monitor or a treadmill or a bike trainer, for a triathlete that we’ve seen come

along in a really long time, and the athletes that I coach who have one tend to agree with

that concept. This is a really powerful tool. We will have some time afterwards, I hope,

for some question and answer, but if you have any questions at all, any thoughts you

would like to share, please raise your hands. This is a very informal presentation.

Some Background Information:

! How did I get here?

! Summer of 2005 …

! Shoulder Rehab
So, some background on how I got here: First of all in my development as a swimmer,

like many of you, I was exposed to a “traditional” Vasatrainer through the pool that I

swam at, which had a Vasatrainer on deck. I found that original Vasa to be a very

valuable tool, because even though I began the process of becoming a swimmer through

the Total Immersion school of swimming, and of course I attended as many workshops

and camps as I could, and read books and tried to learn about the sport as much as

possible, the fact was that I was beginning to understand the importance of stroke

technique and what I needed to actually do, and I found the Vasatrainer to be a valuable

tool to develop that stroke technique.

If we move ahead now to May 2005, something happened which changed some things for

me immediately. I had a pretty serious bike crash, having been hit by a car. The impact

sent me to the ground where I was knocked out cold and subsequently hospitalized. One

of the injuries that I suffered from that crash was a severe grade-4 AC separation of my

left shoulder. I refused to get surgery despite some recommendations to seriously

consider GETTING surgery, because I really believed my body could heal itself. That

was in May of 2005. In June 2005 I was in Lake Placid conducting a training camp with

athletes that I coach, and of course, I’m trying to train as much as I can, and it was very

difficult to do because of the pain and instability of my shoulder, especially because I was

actively working on the process of rehabilitation. I was speaking to a coach that I know

who happened to be in Lake Placid at the same time and I was telling him that it was

probably about time for me to go buy a Vasatrainer because I really felt that it would be a

valuable tool for me to help rehabilitate my injury. He said “what you really want is a
VASA Ergometer. Have you heard about it? It’s the latest thing that VASA has come out

with? You should take a look at it.” I said to him that “I don’t have any idea what an

Ergometer is, but I will take a look at it.” I really trusted this coach and I valued his input

so I decided to do some research on the Ergometer. Believe it or not I ended up just

throwing caution to the wind and ordering one for myself. A close friend of my who

happens to be a client said “well if your getting one I will get one too.” So in late June or

early July of 2005, we both got one together. This other guy is a pretty accomplished

swimmer, as he swam D1 at Syracuse University. For example, without doing much

training at all, perhaps two to three swim sessions a week of maybe eight to ten thousand

yards, he could swim an hour for an ironman swim without working very hard at all. So I

began to use the Ergometer at very low levels just to try to rehabilitate my shoulder, not

really thinking about it as a way to become a better swimmer or to increase my fitness but

really just to go through some basic swim strokes, and rehabilitate my shoulder by going

through some external rotation strength training for my rotator cuff, things to really

rebuild and return my shoulder to the point where I could really function and return to

swimming. A couple months went by and I began to progress on it and get a little bit

stronger and feel a little bit better. For about three months, I didn’t touch the water at all

or do any swimming. When I finally returned to the pool and swam a few hundred yards

to try and get a feel for the water back, my shoulder felt a little weird but it felt ok. Low

and behold by the middle of the swim workout I was holding the same exact swim speed

or pace at the same relative intensity as I had before I was injured. At to this the fact that

before I was injured, I was using a swimming program that Monica Byrn had created for

me. So I was swimming a fair large amount, perhaps four to six thousand yards, and was
really trying to get better. That included a fairly large amount of higher intensity stuff

too. Those of you who know Monica (she herself is a professional triathlete with

renowned swim “strength”) know she’s a serious athlete and a serious coach. I was

pushing myself pretty hard. When I returned to swimming after having gone through this

injury and focused pretty much only on rehab, and I was swimming the same speed that I

was swimming, I was thinking, “what is going on here?” I didn’t expect that at all. That

began this process of discovering what this Ergometer could do for me as a swimmer. So

that’s really it. It began with rehab and then this realization that this was actually a pretty

powerful training tool.

The VASA Ergometer

Swim Paddles



Electronic Monitor Fan Flywheel

Damper Door (resistance)

So this is the Ergometer here. Of course you can see the fan flywheel. The damper door is

the adjustment for the resistance on the erg. Those of you that are familiar with the

VASA trainer, it is pretty similar in terms of it’s setup, with the fan flywheel being the

major difference. The resistance that it provides really does feel like water resistance –
its actually pretty amazing. Now one thing I would really encourage all of you to do is get

on this and experience it. Feel what it actually feels like to swim on it. So you can get the

sense about what it actually is, and how it feels.

The VASA Monitor

Average Force
(Rt & Lf)

Stroke Length
Power (average watts)

Pace per 100m Maximum Force

Tim will demonstrate a little bit for us as we go along here. The critical piece of

electronics on the VASA erg that is pretty unique to it is the monitor. The monitor is

really what gives you all the feedback in terms of what your actually doing on it, such as

wattage or power, pace per one hundred meters, and then of course maximum power

maximum force, stroke length in centimeters, and then average force for right and left

arm. This data, in particular, was actually very important for me is I began to rehab my

shoulder, as I could actually see how much more power I was putting out with my right

arm versus my left arm. It allowed me to focus more on that weaker side and develop it

progressively. There are a couple of different views that we can see, the displays, and

there is a lot that you can do with this monitor in terms of setting up workouts, to
countdowns you can look at the displays in a variety of different ways. There is a stroke

timer that will beep along and give you an idea about stroke length which is something

we will talk about a little bit later. There is a lot of information that you can gain from

this and there is a lot of information that I talk about with the athletes that I coach that

have it.

Triathlon Swimming:
Basic Concepts & Fundamental Attributes

Efficient freestyle is summarized by these

two basic concepts:

• You want to learn to REDUCE DRAG

This means rigidly maintaining a relaxed and streamlined
position during every phase of the stroke.

• **You want to generate MORE PROPULSION

This means “leveraging ” your arm strokes by rigidly

holding relaxed correct technique in all distances

So, let’s shift to triathlon swimming for just a moment and sort of come back and, I

guess, ground ourselves in what I think are important fundamentals, because it is really

important I think when looking at the value of the erg. Now if we simplify swimming and

look at basic concepts, swimming well is really about reducing drag, (rigidly maintaining

a relaxed and streamlined position during every phase of the stroke), and it is about

creating more propulsion (leveraging those arm strokes by rigidly holding relaxed correct

technique). Those basic concepts were introduced to me by a great swim coach, Haydn

Wooley. I think it’s good to look at what are we trying to accomplish as a swimmer.
Those are the fundamental concepts. Obviously the VASA is about generating more

propulsion, that is really what we are talking about here. It’s not obviously or even

necessarily about trying to become more streamlined. Ironically enough however, as one

gains functional strength and applies correct technique with the Erg, I do think flexibility

in the arms, shoulders, and upper back, will improve!

What are the three fundamental attributes that

every single good swimmer possesses?

#1- Efficient technical SKILLS and HABITS

#2- Very high levels of FLEXIBILITY (arms, shoulders,
back, ankles)

What is SNS?
It is muscular strength that is gained by moving
your body ONLY through the movement
patterns of an efficient swimmer: the “right”

What are the three, or at least what I think of as the three fundamental attributes of every

single good swimmer that we know of? Number one, they all have efficient skills and

habits. Number two they have high levels of flexibility, which is something that most

triathletes tend to downplay but is significant in swimming! For any of you that are

accomplished swimmers, you are well aware of this! Third, they have high levels of

specific neuromuscular strength. When I talk to athletes about strength they intuitively

immediately think, you know….bench press, arm curls, the typical kinds of strength

training exercises that we commonly think of. The reality is that when I think of
swimming strength I’m talking about coordination. I’m talking about timing, and the

ability to hold a high elbow, especially at the front end of the stroke. That is where I think

the VASA really plays a significant role. And it is not just the VASA. I think, before I got

on the erg, I was using stretch cords and other forms of resistance to teach athletes to

bend the elbow and keep the elbow high and through the pull phase of the stroke and all

these things that we are talking about. It’s about muscle memory. It’s about teaching

coordination. It’s about repeating it over and over and over again. So again, to reiterate,

neuromuscular strength is the muscular strength that is gained by moving your body only

through the movement patterns of an efficient swimmer. One of the things that I found

using the VASA during my rehab process was again very, very low levels of resistance

short duration, relatively high frequency, only trying to move my arm in a way that was

absolutely correct. Trying to retrain the muscles. Trying not to put any stress on the

shoulder, and rebuild strength around the shoulder was critical for my rehab. Something

the erg is really, really good for.

Triathlon Swimming:
What Are The Challenges?

For the Novice:

! Learn proper technique – apply it consistently – improve!
! Time! – family, work, training: life commitments, 24 hrs in a day
! Open water: mass starts, chop, currents, chaos/mayhem

For the Experienced:

! Time! – same as above

! Open water: same as above
! Commitment in training hours vs. the potential for
“material ” improvement
! Efficiency
! Race-specific muscular endurance, power, speed

Now that we all agree upon that. So what are the challenges for triathletes. In other

words, what are we actually trying to overcome to prepare for a race, because sometimes

we get hung up on debating this “school” of learning or that “school” of learning or, talk

about these are the steps that you or I need to go through. The reality is that when an

athlete comes to me for coaching and they say, for example, “I’ve signed up for Ironman

Florida and I need you to help me prepare for that race.” What we are looking at is the

reality that they have to swim 2.4 miles in what could be difficult conditions. There could

be a lot of wind. There could be a lot of chop. There could be a strong current. So they

need to have the ability to get through that swim and continue on as though it was just the

warm up to their day. Now that being said, I want to first mention that for the novice the

basic challenges are, that they want to learn proper technique and then apply it

consistently so that they can improve. Obviously the other two major issues which I sort

of eluded to: one is the open water, that is a real challenge in our sport, and the other is
time. One of the things that I found (I told you I entered this sport of triathlon by telling

myself that I was going to finish the Hawaii Ironman, and I was afraid of the water) was

clearly, I needed to go back to the water, to a pool, and swim a lot, e.g. frequently. I had

to constantly get myself closer to the water, and get in it! This wasn’t the easiest thing for

me to do! So I found that for that first year or two that I was involved in the sport of

triathlon that I was going to the pool all the time. I was the guy who was always driving

TO the pool or driving home FROM the pool. I was always changing to get into the

water or to get out of the water. Sometimes I was only in the water for fifteen minutes.

My point is that this whole process of finding enough TIME to drive to and from and do

an actual swimming session is a major challenge for us as triathletes. We are all busy, we

all have jobs, and multiple levels of responsibility. We all know that going to the pool is

probably the most challenging in terms of the time commitment involved. For the

experienced athlete it can be very similar. Time and the open water, while probably a

different level, are the same challenges that exist. The other major challenge for the

experienced athlete, and this again I think applies to the VASA ergometer, is the

commitment of time necessary VERSUS the potential reward or improvement FROM

that time commitment. In other words, take a hypothetical athlete: this other athlete who

was my friend and client that bought an erg at the same time I did. If he swims an hour in

an Ironman and he runs four and a half hours, where do you think he should be spending

his training time? Probably more on the run, relatively speaking. In other words, a 1 hr

IM swim is “better” comparatively speaking, than a 4.5 hr run. If he got to the point

where he improved his run and perhaps his bike, he could go back and spend more time

on his swim to raise his level. What I found as a coach is that you reach a point in time
where you have to contribute significantly more time in order to get relatively minimal

benefit. I think perhaps some of you who are very strong swimmers might have

experienced what it is like to try and go from a 55 minute to a 52 minute swimmer in an

Ironman. Or maybe for those of you who more closely represent the “middle of the pack”

athetes, perhaps a 1:15 to a 1:05. This takes a significant time commitment to go from

one level to the next. The question we always have to ask is, is it worth it? In other

words, is the time we are spending on something worth the potential rewards? Are we

being EFFICIENT with the time we are spending? That’s a huge challenge I think, for an

experienced athlete. How much time am I willing to commit for the potential

improvement in my swimming. I have thought of this in another way as well. I think my

experience having coached lots of age group athletes, that just between you and I as

coaches, most of the age group athletes that I have worked with that I think are solidly in

the middle of the pack in terms of swimming, most of them are going to be there for their

entire careers as triathletes. That’s pretty much where they are going to stay. If a 35 year

old athlete comes to me who is a 1:06 or a 1:05 Ironman swimmer, 5 years from now

they are probably going to still be a 1:05 or a 1:06 swimmer. They might have improved

by a few minutes, or slowed by a few minutes, but the hard reality, my experience as a

coach, is that they will likely remain about the same in terms of their basic ability.

Obviously this is a HUGE generalization, and much of their potential for swimming

improvement is based upon where their bike and run ability is, in other words, where

should they be spending the majority of their training time and effort. So we have to look

at that time commitment and where we want to spend that time.

Triathlon Swimming:
Where is the Focus?

For the Novice:

! Understanding what to do vs. ability to execute...

* See next slide …

! TI school vs. Maglischo school:

What are the considerations?

- Transferring “lie on your side ” and glide …

- The reality of a triathlon open -water swim
- What about the kick?

Where is the focus? Now again two things I want to talk about, and again this is my

perspective. My experience. One of the things I found with working with beginning level

swimmers (and remember I as an adult was a beginning level swimmer so I have been

through this whole process of learning about how to swim) was that even though I could

get a novice level athlete to understand what they were supposed to do in the water, I

very often couldn’t get them to do it or they couldn’t do it, because they lacked either the

flexibility or the strength to do it. I probably should back up for a second and also qualify

my remarks by saying that BEFORE I worry too much about stroke technique, I truly

believe that we want to consider the basic fundamentals of swimming such as horizontal

position in the water, balance in the water, being relaxed, being streamlined, as a given. I

know its not a given for many novice triathletes and swimmers, but so you know I

wouldn’t necessarily focus a lot on the front end of a swim stroke for an athlete who is

challenged in those basic areas. We are focusing on those aspects first and we want to
make sure that we have an understanding of what they are supposed to do. When we go

to the next level and begin to think about stroke technique and how they can create more

propulsion, how they can have less dead spot in their stroke, how they can actually start

to move through the water, THAT’S when I at least begin to talk more about the front

end of the stroke and how they are catching and “grabbing” the water and/or pulling. Like

I said, even though I could get an athlete to understand what they were supposed to do I

couldn’t get them to do it because they simply didn’t have the strength or the flexibility to

do it. I don’t know if you have had those athletes that you have worked with and your

talking to them and trying to get them to understand the concept of a high elbow and how

they need to be “reaching over the barrel,” or how there needs to be the sort of connection

with the water at the front end of the stroke. I found that many simply lacked the strength

or the flexibility to be able to do it. The erg has been hugely valuable for that, for novice

and experienced athletes, but particularly for novice. The other focus or issue that I see in

“schools of swimming” is the Total Immersion school versus the Maglischo School.

Now, Neil (Cook) is sort of nodding his head….I think it was February a year ago we

were both attending the USAT coaches conference in Colorado Springs. Ernest

Maglischo made a presentation at that conference. He is a very well known and highly

respected swim coach who has coached numerous national champions. He spoke at

length about how triathletes train, and talked about the Total Immersion school and the

whole idea that we theoretically “should” have a front quadrant stroke, that and we

should be long and gliding. He said he couldn’t understand why triathletes were thinking

this way. He conveyed the idea that that approach or “school” of swimming and learning

comes from a school of pure swimmers that have strong kicks that allow them to keep
that forward momentum and the inertia moving forward. Those pure “pool” swimmers

are also not swimming the in kind of environments that we, as triathletes, are swimming

in. So there are really two schools of thought there that are different. I tend to agree with

Maglischo, but of course as I mentioned earlier, this assumes that basic body position and

relaxation are essentially in place. I tend to think the reality is that in the open water, you

need to get your arms moving - you need to be putting pressure on the water and moving

forward. For example, a common drill used by many novices is where you are lying on

your side gliding and kicking with fins. This is perhaps an excellent drill to teach body

position, but how does it transfer to the open water? It usually doesn’t and most often we

get shocked when we try to make that transference. The kick is the other obvious factor

as well. Accomplished and/or competitive pool swimmers tend to have very strong kicks

which remove any dead spot in a front quadrant stroke. I apologize because I know I am

making some assumptions that when I’m talking about these aspects of swimming such

as front quadrant, etc., that you are all understanding what I’m talking about. So I

apologize if any of what I am saying is creating more confusion or not making sense. I

do think that those are very important considerations to make for me as a coach and

working with the ergometer, because this tool helps us to focus on creating the strength

and skill that allow us to really improve in the water. Creating propulsion and creating

stroke rate directly applies to the open water and the challenges we face as triathletes.
R eference: H aydn Wooley – Future Dreams

This is kind of a nice slide which a great swim coach from NZ, Hayden Wooly, shared

with me. This gives us an overview of what we are talking about in terms of a high elbow

and what I would consider to be correct front end technique. At the top we have a

dropped elbow which results in a lot of slippage in the water and very little forward

propulsion. In the middle graphic we have sort of a straight arm catch/pull with a little bit

of slipping, and a little bit more forward propulsion, and lastly here we have a high elbow

that creates a lot more forward propulsion. We had a video I wanted to show you, which

we couldn’t get working that actually has Tim (our guest swimmer who will demonstrate

the Erg) the very first time he came to a swim clinic that I did and we did some

underwater video taping. Tim had some good basic fundamental skills, good balance,

good streamlining, he was pretty relaxed, but one of the major errors in his stroke was

that he pulled with a nearly straight arm. As soon as I saw that, I said to myself instantly

that he is going to have shoulder problems if he keeps that up. That kind of pull really
loads the smaller muscles of the shoulder such as the rotator cuff, putting all the stress on

the shoulder. He is NOT tapping into the larger muscles of the back. He is not swimming

efficiently either, because when his arm is right here he is creating a tremendous amount

of drag as well. I said, we need to fix that. We need to get him so his elbow is higher,

which in turn will create a larger paddle, and give him a much greater amount of

propulsion. He is going to be more efficient, and he is going to swim much faster, and he

will avoid stressing the shoulder and risking injury. Tim will tell you (and I will actually

give him a chance to tell you about it here soon), while we talked about this a lot it wasn’t

until he actually got onto the erg and was able to practice that it actually made a mental

connection for him.

This (looking up at a slide of Grant Hackett) is the world record holder in the 1500

meters so this is an ideal that few of us can actually achieve, but I like to use this as a

model to teach people what they should be doing on the VASA. By the way, I do take

complete novices in terms of swimming and while we are in the pool working on balance

and body position, I get them on the erg with no other distractions, that is, no water, no

waves, no breathing issues, and we go through these kinds of swim strokes so that they

can get a sense of what they should be doing. We are also doing this on “dryland” in

front of mirrors, and also using stretch cords, so they get a sense of what they need to do.

I want them to get this idea right off the bat that what we don’t want to happen is for

them to drop the elbow when they initiate the catch. When they do drop that elbow,

stress is placed on the shoulder and they don’t tap into these larger muscles of the back,

we get shoulder pain and risk of injury goes way up, and of course we create a
tremendous amount of drag with that arm going through the water, and the end result is

we aren’t going anywhere. Now when you have a swimmer who is dropping his elbow

like this and has been schooled in Total Immersion so he has spent a lot of time with fins

on his side, not doing much up here at the front end of the stroke that is “correct,” and

you then put that athlete in the open water, you and they are in trouble. You are in big

trouble. They are not creating any propulsion and they are looking for those fins! At some

point we have to transition to a learning environment and to a point where they are

actually correctly initiating the front end of the stroke so we can get them moving

through the water efficiently and effectively - so that they are creating propulsion and

dealing with the conditions that the water presents.

Tim, if you would, please give us a few strokes on the VASA. Before you get started, talk

about the straight arm pull in the clinic that I witnessed, and then tell us about changing

that and your experience on the VASA.


Al: Tim finished his first Ironman this past July. He swam in the pool just a handful of

sessions and open water session, and ended up swimming a 1:05, with pretty much

training only on the VASA. One of the things I should probably say is, as I said in the

beginning, it’s not my goal to try and get you to buy this, but I can tell you it works. All

the athletes that I coach that are using the erg are PRing in their swims and are rarely

going to the pool. Obviously these are athletes that, for the most part, had that

fundamental balance, they understand streamlining, and they are relaxed in the water.

With the different resistance levels that this erg offers and he talked about how he started
with 50 meters and he is at door level one right now which is the lowest level of

resistance. So we are starting at a low level only focusing on specific neuromuscular

movements that build correct strength. When we start learning what is correct and how to

use the erg correctly, we are able to take the water, the breathing, the other swimmers, out

of the picture. What I find as a coach is that if I am working with someone on the deck

and they are in the water about every ten or fifteen strokes they do one that’s “right”

(correct) and I want to stop them right there and say, STOP!, that was correct, right there!

But I often can’t, and then they go on and do the next ten or fifteen or even twenty

strokes incorrectly before doing one “right” again. They might be crossing over the

midline, or some other common error. Something is happening that is throwing off their

stroke. We all know there are several factors going into it and its usually not as simple as

it appears. Using the erg provides an opportunity for an athlete to stay at a low level of

resistance for a short duration of time and build correct strength. We have an opportunity

to learn and practice correct coordination the way that it should be. We can then progress

over time by adding resistance, duration, frequency and so forth. One of the reasons I

asked you to get on it either today or tomorrow at the expo is so that you get to feel what

doing a hundred meters on this actually feels like, in terms of the specific strength it

actually takes. Much more valuable in terms of strength I think as far as swimming goes.

One of the concerns that I had when I got on it is that we know we need to rotate at the

hips. When we talk about swimming we have hip rotation and we have shoulder rotation

which are two major kinds of rotation. Obviously on the erg we are not rotating the hips

the way we would typically do in the water, and I’m sure you might be asking (as I did at
one time), isn’t there a problem with that? Actually, what I have discovered (and again

your experience may be different, this is only MY experience as a coach) is that the Total

Immersion school in which most of my novice athletes have been introduced to

swimming through (and again I DON’T want to hammer on Total Immersion because I

think there is a lot of value to that particular approach and “school” of swimming when it

comes to learning, relaxation, streamlining, and all of those things which are so valuable

and essential for success), but…one of the things that I have found is that swimmers

come to me feeling that they are NOT rotating enough at the hip, and I usually always

find that the opposite is true and that they are rotating TOO much. Some of them are

learning that the belly button should be pointed at the side of the pool. In reality when we

watch elites, they are no where near that level of hip rotation. Again it is a learning

process, and I understand that, but a novice swimmer asks me if they are rotating enough

and they are going like this, and I say, “I don’t think there is a problem with not enough

rotation. I think there is enough hip rotation there.” In fact, I find that there may be TOO

much because, they often lack flexibility in their upper body, and when you go to the side

your arm goes like that (across the midline). So we are trying to fix a lot of issues here.

So I haven’t found the lack of hip rotation to be a problem AT ALL, with most novices I

have worked with. In fact, also…Tim will tell you that we are actually rotating the hip a

little bit on the erg. Pressing that hip right into the pad. Some athletes will actually ad a

half foam roller so they are getting that hip rotation. I think you DO need to think about

that when you’re on the erg. You actually need to engage the hip, think of your core as

leverage for this arm stroke as you rotate your shoulder forward and really engage the

upper back muscles.

Triathlon Swimming:
Where is the Focus?

For the Experienced:

! Practicing “correct ” technique at varying resistance and

intensity (progressive overload) leading to improved:
• Force
• Muscular Endurance
• Efficiency
• Power

! Training to hold a HIGHER stroke rate:

• More inertia
• Less slowing down / speeding up
• Save legs: leads to an efficient 2 -beat kick
• Specificity of training: open water

Training on the Vasa:


Fundamental functional strength & flexibility …

improved swim technique

- Low resistance levels

- Short to medium durations
- High frequency
- Low to moderate volume

GOAL: Methodical - consistent development of “correct ”

coordination and functional strength

Let me try to separate athletes out here a little bit and talk about both novice and

experienced. Obviously there are many who fit in between two extremes and across the

gamut, such as Tim, who really is somewhere closer to “experienced,” but yet has much
room for improvement. In other words, when he came to me he wasn’t a novice. He

could complete a race, he could complete a 2000 yard swim workout. He was probably

swimming somewhere around a 1:50 per 100 pace. In reality, he was a pretty “solid”

triathlete swimmer, but he obviously could be a lot better, and definitely more efficient.

For the novice swimmer I think of the VASA as a tool to increase functional strength that

then allows them to go to the pool and improve their swimming. I should say that I think

of it that way, the reality is that my clients taught me that through our interaction as we

developed some thoughts on how to use this cutting edge tool to improve. There aren’t

that many coaches or athletes out there who are working on this right now. I’ve got a lot

of smart clients that I coach that are a lot smarter than I am and they began to teach me

these things as well.

For a novice athlete, we’ve found that its helpful if you build some functional strength

first using the Erg and then go to the pool and work on skill and strength together. So

again fundamental strength and flexibility together. As a note for those of you who are

beginning coaches working with swimmers, you need to emphasize the importance of

flexibility, and the fact that without decent levels of flexibility, you can’t do the things we

are talking about or even come close to what a Grant Hackett does. Very few people can

do what he does at the front end, because they would dislocate their shoulder every time

they take a stroke! So its about fundamental technical strength that leads to improved

technique. For novices we are looking at very low resistance levels, short medium

durations, relatively high frequency and low to moderate volume. In their training
sessions it’s a huge advantage with the VASA. For me, remember I was the guy

struggling to get closer to the water so I could learn, so every time I go to do 500 or 1000

yards it ended up being two hours of time. At the most I could do it five days a week,

working to fit in everything in my life that I needed to fit in. On the VASA for those

athletes that happen to have one, they can jump on it for 50 meters at a time, sometimes

multiple times in a day, so we have the ability for frequency in this learning process. And

again, we’re using very low resistance levels and we are focusing on perfect technique.

That is, methodical, consistent development of correct coordination and functional


Training on the Vasa :


Enhanced functional strength & flexibility

refined skills

muscular endurance - power - speed - stamina

- Low, medium, and high resistance levels

- Moderate frequency
- Moderate volume
- Large varieties of: stroke rate - power – resistance
- Higher overall intensity: Swimervals
- Integration of total -body functional ST exercises

GOAL: Improved performance at goal race intensity

For the experienced most of the athletes that I coach that have the VASA that were

already accomplished swimmers were taking already a high level of functional strength,

were trying to refine it and make them more efficient and more powerful. Ultimately we

want to improve their muscular endurance, power, speed, and stamina. So we are really
training them for their events. We have this tool that gives us instant feedback about that.

What is our wattage on any given day? Most of us are familiar with a power meter for a

bike, and we all know the value of a power meter. With it, we have empirical and

instantaneous data to show us if we are training at the appropriate intensity, and whether

or not we are improving. Well the VASA is giving us that as well. We clearly know at

“x” heart rate that if I can hold 1:40 pace and 40 watts on one particular day or week and

can do “x” amount better, and of course assuming that our form hasn’t deteriorated, and

that’s a big IF, then we know we have improved. Experienced athletes will use all

different varieties of resistance levels, moderate to high frequency, moderate to high

volumes, large varieties of stroke rates, power, and resistance, higher overall intensity,

and then we’ll integrate total body functional strength training exercises as well. We use

the VASA now in a lot of different ways. We are doing some core conditioning we are

doing some body weight conditioning, we are on and off the machine.

Individualized Baseline Testing for

Intermediate / Advanced Swimmers:

• 1k “Steady State ”
•Done at preferred power/pace & SR.
•Approx. 75% of max, or about half IM intensity
•Avoids compromising technique for more power

• 1k Time Trial
•Maximum effort
•Best power/pace for the duration
•Preferred SR
One of the things I didn’t elude to earlier that Maglischo talked about was this issue of

stroke rate and where should athletes be, because when we have a front quadrant stroke

and we don’t have a strong kick, the issue of stroke rate becomes hugely important. Of

course, you can imagine what my kick is like, after having run for 25 years with all that

scar tissue in my ankle that has turned them into rigid boards that don’t bend! Every time

I get on a kick board I go in the opposite direction than I am supposed to go!! I think that

many triathletes are like that who don’t come from deep swim backgrounds. The idea

with a front quadrant stroke (as when we watch an elite level swimmer do it), there is that

period of time where there isn’t a lot of pressure on the water but they have very

powerful kicks that help continue that forward momentum. When a swimmer comes to

me with a very pronounced front quadrant stroke and they have no “real” or effective

kick, and I say, ok, let’s take the fins off, they don’t go anywhere! They stay in place.

How are we going to transfer that to the open water, or to their races? That’s what they

came to me for. What we do is we’ve got to get their arms moving. We’ve got to get their

stroke rate up, and that is basically the point that Ernie Maglischo made at the Coaching

Conference. He said triathletes need to train at much larger varieties: high resistance, low

resistance, high speed, low speed, and the Vasa Erg has been a great tool for that. We

have seven door resistance levels so we can work at a really high resistance and a low

stroke rate to build force and strength in a correct neuromuscular coordinated pattern. We

can also reduce the resistance to minimal and really get the arms moving to train a higher

SR. It’s all about specific training. Increasing stroke rate. Variety is something we really

emphasize on the erg and I think most triathletes who typically swim in a pool tend to do

the same kinds of sessions at the same stroke rate and the same intensity over and over
again. I believe that hurts them in how they are able to adapt and improve. Of course,

what also happens is what occurs when you throw a triathlete into a typical masters

swimming program and they have minimal levels of functional strength or skill, and the

coach says, ok we are going to do 8x 25 SPRINT on one minute! What does that

swimmer/triathlete do? They try to hang on for dear life, as the arms just start flailing.

There is no high elbow; there is no form, no technique, no nothing. For the rest of the day

their shoulders hurt! What did they end up doing that helped them learn or help them get

better? Nothing really. On the Erg, we are able to control that a little bit better because

all the athletes that I work with on this KNOW that technique is number one in terms of

priorities. Absolute perfect form. And, you can see it. For example, we will do a one

arm drill or whatever we are working on, slowly, progressively, only building correct

technique and strength.

We have also come up with a couple of baseline tests that we have found work well. So,

for reference, now I am transitioning a bit to talking about actually “training” on the

VASA vs. “learning” per se, even though they are nearly one in the same. So, I have

athletes, once they have established a basic level of strength and ability on the Erg, do a

couple of different baseline tests to establish where they are at on their ability. A 1K time

trial seemed like the obvious choice except that you could put an athlete on a device and

say you win if you go faster or harder than the next person and what do they do? They are

looking at a number, and as a result, they’ll usually go so hard that their form suffers, and

they might even get hurt. So clearly that didn’t work for me and it didn’t work for the

athletes that I coach. We wanted a test that would give us a valuable number but that was
done with correct technique. We went first to a steady state test. We do it at preferred or

“self selected” power or pace, and stroke rate. My experience tells me that it usually

comes out to be about half ironman intensity, I think. The major advantage is that it

helps avoid compromising technique, simply to gain more power. For the more

experienced athletes who I am confident in their strength and flexibility, we will do a

maximum effort 1K “time trial.” This test really establishes a baseline to gauge where

their progress is, and of course we are looking at a lot of variables throughout the time

that they are training on it.

Sample Progressions for Novice:

* All of the below include a 30 ” non -active recovery ( nar)

between each set.

* Drills and Functional strength (RC) work are in addition

to the below …

1. 6x 25 @ 15 ” nar, repeat. Total: 300m

2. 8x 25 @ 15 ” nar, repeat . Total: 400m
3. 4x 50 @ 15 ” nar, repeat . Total: 400m
4. 12x 25 @ 10 ” nar, repeat . Total: 600m
5. 5x 50 @ 10 ” nar, repeat . Total: 500m
6. 16x 25 @ 10 ” nar, repeat , Total: 800m
7. 8x 50 @ 15 ” nar, repeat , Total: 800m
8. 4x 75 @ 15 ” nar, repeat , Total: 600m
9. 8x 50 @ 10 ” nar, repeat , Total: 800m
10. 4x 100 @ 30 ” nar, repeat , Total: 800m

So, now we can look at some sample sessions for a variety of ability levels. These

sample sessions for a novice athlete are done at a very low level of resistance, a high

level of frequency, and usually a short duration. So, you are reading correctly, its literally

only 6x 25 at fifteen seconds non-active recovery. These are very short sessions, but the

point is that they know they need to do these WITH PERFECT form. Over time, with
lots of frequency they begin to develop the functional strength they NEED to have, to be

able to transfer it to the pool.

As an aside, on the erg I should say that actually 100 meter pace that you get as a readout

on the monitor correlates with wattage and, it appears from some feedback from others

and in my own experience, is actually very realistic compared to real swimming. Rob,

would you agree, based on your experience, that when swimmers actually swim at a

relative intensity on the erg and get a certain feedback in terms of their speed, that when

they go to the pool it is pretty close?

Rob: Let me qualify that by saying that pace/100M is realistic to pulling, no start and no



Right, and remember also that it is meters, not yards. So, this is a sample of how I might

progress with a novice athlete. Basically we are increasing frequency, duration, and

cutting down on the amount of non active recovery, and over time, ultimately our goal is

to increase volume and intensity, using ONLY perfect form.

Six Sample Sessions:
General Notes:
! Usually up to 3k, rarely above – on average 1.5 -2k
! Target for most: 3 quality sessions per week during build
! Frequently use 400 -500m as prelude to bike/run sessions
! Long indoor bike days: rotate VASA and bike trainer
! Incorporate RC (shoulder) / functional strength exercises
! As bike / run taper > VASA frequency / volume increase
! Mirror / videotape: watch and ensure perfect elbow position
! Incorporate slight HIP roll / rotation timed w/ shoulder rotati on

Technique / Muscular Cues:

! Where is tightness or soreness?

! Triceps / inner elbow / deep shoulders:
- dropping the elbow! !
! Upper Pecs, Lats, Upper Abs:
- proper technique on! !

For experienced athletes, some athletes, like Tim, might do up to about 3K, believe it or

not, which is pretty significant on the Erg. That’s an hour of straight work on it. That

being said, we rarely go above that, and on average we are using sessions of about 1-2K.

In terms of frequency for experienced, for most we are targeting about three quality

sessions per week. When I talk about the advantages of the erg, there is a lot of

opportunity for frequent swim to bike transition, at least in terms of creating the feeling

of upper body fatigue, which many of our athletes don’t have the opportunity to do too

often because it is very inconvenient to jump out of the pool and then onto your bike.

You all know that in racing that is a weird feeling and you know it is something that you

need to get use to, which is essentially doing all of that work with your upper body in a

horizontal position, and then shifting to the bike. For the ironman athletes that I coach

and even for the more competitive middle distance athletes, we are doing lots of frequent

swim to bikes with the Erg. We are proceeding those long ironman focused training rides
with four to five hundred on the VASA. Fifteen minutes seems to be just enough to create

that fatigue and that feeling of what it’s like to come out of the water and then jump on

the bike. For long indoor bike days, we will rotate the VASA and bike training in an

effort to mix it up and keep it fun and interesting. Tim, do you want to jump on and just

show us a couple of the functional strength training exercises that we could do? As I

mention I use the VASA as primarily a strength training device at first. Now the VASA

folks could talk to you a lot about that, and of course their website is loaded with

exercises that you can do on the erg and that you can do on the VASA trainer. One of the

things that I did a lot of at first was external rotation exercises for the shoulder. Most of

us don’t need a lot of internal rotation exercises because internal rotators tend to be pretty

strong already. This is what was really helpful for me was the rebuilding of the teres

minor and infraspinatus (rotator cuff) muscles that are responsible for keeping the

humeral head in place. This is an example of this exercise using it sort of like a cable

device. It is just something that is really valuable and we can use it in that respect. Using

handles rather than the paddles in this position, for these types of exercises, works pretty

well. There is a lot of functional strength training exercises you can do on this device and

actually swimming on it is in and of itself, obviously a very good functional strength


For the athletes that I coach who live far away from me, I ask them to video tape

themselves and send it to me. That’s my biggest concern is that I am not watching them

swimming on it. So they are telling me they are doing great but perhaps their form isn’t

as good as they SAY it is. Just like Patrick said earlier, he’s wondering, are they building
poor form or good form. Tim will show you that as he starts to warm up a little bit, he

gets a little bit of hip rotation as he initiates hip rotation timed with the shoulder rotation.

We are using technique and muscular cues too. This isn’t anything that you all don’t

know already. We are looking for any tightness and soreness in the inner elbow, triceps

and deep shoulders. It may be an indication if the swimmer is dropping the elbow or

using poor form. If we have soreness here then it is an indication that we are looking at

correct form.

Audience Question:

I noticed that Tim is holding his head up and that’s not proper technique. Does it affect

you in the water?


Well you know it is an interesting topic that we were talking about actually a couple days

ago. It doesn’t reinforce what we want in the water, which is to be looking down keeping

our head in line with our spine, but interestingly enough in the open water environment

you ARE going to be sighting, and you ARE going to have to look up. Not only that but

if you’re in the aero bars your going to have to look up as well too. Tim actually thinks its

good training. In other words, as long as you are aware that you do NOT want to swim

that way when you are in the water, at least on a routine bases, it actually helps to build



I have a mirror in front of mine, so it’s natural for me to be looking up. And at first, like

you said, most people get a little messed up. But it does actually work the neck muscles

and upper back muscles for an aero position. It sounds like I’m building neuromuscular
memory but in the water, I’ve never had a problem going back in the water and looking

down, swimming down.


What I’ve found Neil, is that I’ve looked at a lot of athletes relatively speaking and we all

know that for every action there is a reaction of some kind and I’ve tried to interpret what

the movements on the VASA really mean. Rob may be able to elude to this as well but

what I do as a coach when I’m trying to convey something to the athletes is we focus on

keeping it real, which is just like in the water we are going to bend the elbow, we are

going to keep the elbow high, we are going to lead with the hand, the fingers are pointed

down and we are going to pull straight back. We are not going to cross over at the

midline. We all know that crossing over at the midline, whether it happens to be a

flexibility issue or other issue, that’s what tends to cause the feet to scissor and there may

be other issues that are going on as well. Tim has really good solid hip rotation that leads

his stroke. As a coach, all I am thinking about is, is there full extension (is this

happening) so that the hand is here so that we’ve got this paddle, and are we building

strength through the back here, that’s going to create power for him as a swimmer, and is

he coming straight back and finishing. As long as those things are happening and I don’t

see anything really funky here then I don’t worry about any other aspects of the

movement. I know, because of the nature of the machine, that there is going to be some

movement of some kind, e.g. an action and a reaction. Now clearly, I have seen novices

or folks that I don’t think are as accomplished as Tim is, where they are coming back and

they drop the elbow and the hand is here, and as a result they are clearly crossing at the

midline, so we know that automatically we are not putting pressure where we want it to
be and that is going to cause a lot of funky things to happen to his swim, that are going to

create drag and keep him from going straight which is what we want to have him do.

W/up: 300-500m very easy, door at 1, SR=30, watts=30 -40.

MS: 5x 200m holding your TT test watts/pace. Alt door settings
this way: 2 - 1 - 3 - 2 – 1.
* Swim a VERY EASY door 1 recovery for 50m between each rep

* Hold the same watts through the entire 'set', but vary resistanc e. On the
door 1 settings, SR should be high, e.g. in the 40 -45 range), focusing on
perfect form …

CD: 200m very easy

W/up: 200m nice and easy, door at 1

Drills: 12x 1 min, alternating one -arm-only drill with steady swim.
Take 10" non active rest between each 1' effort.

MS: 10x 100m w/ door at 2 like this:

75 at EE intensity, and then 25 at UT/TP, then....

CD: change from paddles to handles for RECOVERY stroke

(e.g. flip over so that your legs are up near the top of Erg and do
8x 30" of "recovery swimming" w/ 10" of non active recovery,
then return to a normal position (keep handles in place) for 3 -5'
of easy cooldown swimming.....then stretch!

There is a variety of drills you can do on the Erg. I sometimes like to use the one-arm

drill for athletes for a variety of reasons. Ironically enough, we usually think of this drill

as a form or strength drill, but it also can be thought of as a flexibility drill for the non

active “straight” arm. For those of you who know athletes that are limited in their

flexibility, I can recommend that you have them do lots of kicking on their back in a

streamlined position. I will have them do two to three to four hundred yards of it at a

time, and as part of even longer sets. That’s great “active” stretching for the shoulders

and back. So, in order to develop some flexibility here if I think an athlete is limited in

their flexibility, I have them do the one-arm drill where that static arm is just staying

straight out and absolutely fully extended. So, it’s like active flexibility training for the
upper back and obviously it allows him to focus on only one arm at a time. So every

single stroke he takes is perfect in terms of executing the stroke correctly…

Audience Question:

This is a question about the under the water recovery you use on the Vasa, vs. a “normal”

over the water recovery: How much of that muscle memory is translated into the water

where your not, you know, normally doing it like that?


I can tell you my personal experience and the experience of the athletes that I coach,

because just like you, the lack of an over-the-water recovery was a question I had at first

also. I think we all understand that part of the over the water recovery comes from

rotation of the hip. We put ourselves in a position where we can recover this way. So if

we are not rotating a lot here at the hips, we don’t want to recover over the water too

much, because it places too much stress on the shoulder.

What it comes down to is that fact that if we assume that there is horizontal position in

the water, and that the athlete is relaxed and that they understand the concepts of

streamlining within the limits of their flexibility, then what’s holding them back from

improving? I think its strength. Not pure strength but neuromuscular strength. That is

what this tool does and it is also incredibly convenient and it allows for greater frequency

and duration and volume and all of those things that really build learning, that build in the

right neural engrams. Sure, when he’s on the erg, it doesn’t appear that what he’s doing

when he swims on it is at all what he looks like when he’s actually in the water, but the

key thing is that what he’s doing is this building strength here, in the catch/pull phase
under the water, and again, as you will see in the sessions I’ll show you, we are doing it

and training and learning using lots of variety, e.g. high resistance, low resistance, high

stroke rate, low stroke rate, and during the course of a session he’s getting a taste of

everything which is helping him improve. And, guess what: In an open water

environment, this is huge. For example, how many have you done a race where you had

athletes swimming up on top of you, had to round a bouy where you had to lift your head

out of the water to sight or navigate, and what happens when you stop stroking? You

know what happens, you stop moving! This tool helps us in that way.

I think I’ve got four five or six sample sessions of many that, by the way, my athletes

have come up with just as many of these as I have, because when there is common

ground and lots of mutual respect and desire, people want to really share. They are really

excited about this tool. I wouldn’t be anywhere where I am as a coach with the VASA

with out those folks that I coach who work WITH ME to figure it out.

This is a typical session five by two hundred is a main set holding your test wattage, or

pace. In this case we are mixing up the variety with resistance two one three two one in

terms of the door settings.

Audience question:

Do the athletes that you work with that are training on this as opposed to pool time do

they lose anything by not kicking?

It’s an interesting question, and one I will talk about that from a couple different

perspectives. So you know, we DO do some workouts where we do some flutter kicking

and for athletes who feel like it is a huge limiter for them we have them go to the pool

more frequently and do extended kicking sessions. In fact, with some advice and help

from another coach, I went through this period of time as a swimmer where I discovered I

couldn’t kick and I thought well if I am going to swim well I need to become a better

kicker, there is just no way around it. Part of my problem or issue was that before I ever

got near the pool to try and learn how to swim, I had probably run 25 or 26 marathons

and ultras. So I had all those issues with my lower body in terms of a LACK of ankle

flexibility. In an effort to overcome that I actually went through a period of time where I

was doing 3, 4, and even 5 thousand yard workouts that were largely kicking only. I also

used one of those stretching racks that, you know, the zoomer guy sells, and I spent a

significant amount of time stretching my feet. You could ask my daughter and she’ll tell

you she used to sit on my feet and try to stretch my feet out and I was determined to

become a better kicker. I was kicking in the pool in every way under the sun. Similarly,

what I find with a lot of triathletes that go to masters programs is they do a lot of kicking,

usually on a board.

Conversely, what I find as an athlete is that when I get to a race, I’ve got a wetsuit on

(with the exception of IM Hawaii or a race like St. Croix) and I find I don’t kick much at

all. In fact, I don’t want to kick very much at all. In fact, I really want my legs and feet

“go along for the ride” so to speak. When there are a lot of issues going on down here

around the legs and feet, whether it be scissoring or something like that, it usually means
there is something going on up here in the front part of the stroke that’s not ideally

correct. So again, every athlete is different and every person is unique. What I found

personally, was that all those hundreds or thousands of yards of kicking that I did didn’t

really help me a whole lot, to be honest. I became a little bit better as a kicker and

swimmer, but it wasn’t until I figured out that I have to get my arms moving that I

realized, that’s where I needed to be as far as my swimming was concerned. I wasn’t

going to change my ankle flexibility a LOT, e.g. I wasn’t going to become Lenny

Kratzelberg, that’s for sure! I couldn’t lay flat on the floor and put my feet flat on the

ground like he can. You know elite level swimmers have that level of flexibility and

many life long swimmers do, but I just don’t, and many triathletes that I know don’t have

it either. My point is, if you drive 45 minutes to your pool, you change, you jump in the

pool, and you do a master swim workout where 35 percent of that workout is kicking and

most of that kicking is on a board, and then you drive home you just spent 3 hours and a

pretty good percentage of your time not doing anything that’s going to help you in your

race!! Face the facts, its not really going to help you! At the very least, its not an

efficient use of your time. Now of course, is there value in kicking in a workout? Yes

there is, because just to be clear, I don’t want to go TOTALLY to one side, to the

extreme, because if you kick hard and you develop some lactate as a result, and your

body has to process it, that IS valuable in your development as a competitive triathlete.

Its not a complete waste of time to do some kicking, but…it is just that, for me as a

coach, I’ve got an athlete who has a full time job and two kids and he’s got a race coming

up in the near future. How are we going to get him ready for his race? Do we want him

spending three hours and a pretty good percentage of his time doing something that isn’t
going to help him in his race? I don’t think so. With the Erg, its about JUMP ON, and in

five minutes you can get started on 1500meters of full-on, focused strength training for

swimming, that absolutely transfers to performance in the water. All of the athletes that I

coach that have this are PRing in their swims, and rarely going to the pool anymore. Sure,

most of them are pretty accomplished swimmers for the most part though, they do have a

pretty high level of ability, but still, that’s a major accomplishment I think!

W/up with 200 very easy, then get into the main set:
#3 (Note: start conservatively - decrease times for each 300, 200, and
100, e.g. start slightly easier than you feel you can hold, and then
finish at or around threshold intensity. Door at 2.)

MS: 1 x 300 (45" non active recovery).

2 x 200 (30 ” non active recovery).
3 x 100 (do an easy 50 between each for
CD: 100-300 easy - your choice,

W/up 200 -300m nice and easy, door at 1

MS#1: 2x 500m at your 'steady state' pace, door at 2.

MS#2: 4x 100m at UT (10sr, non active), while you adjust door

setting: #1: door at 4, #2: door at 3, #3: door at 2, #4: door at 1

Note – goal for this set: hold at least your 1k TT pace, and even up t o about
10-15w above test. These should be good and hard, yet controlled, e fforts!

MS#3: 4x 25m on 40sec. Goal: sprint pace! Highest watts without

stroke deterioration!

CD: 100 easy door 1, and then stretch!

Let’s review a few more sessions. Again, this is just an example of some variety in how

we might want to approach it. In reality, they are quite similar to regular swim sessions in

a lot of ways as we are trying to descend sets, and we are trying to mix in variety. Here’s

4x 100 at a pretty high intensity, and this is 2x 500 at a steady state, or “aerobic”

intensity/ pace. Then moving to a set where the intensity increases and we are going to

use ten seconds of non-active recovery to change the door setting. The first one is at door

four which is a very high resistance and a very high intensity. Then we go to door three,
then door two, then door one, with the same intensity, so at that last rep we are really

cranking stroke rate significantly. I want to emphasize every single person is a unique

individual and so not everyone needs to increase their stroke rate. Some people already

stroke too much too fast. So I try to look at ever person as an experiment of one and look

at what their particular limiter is and how this tool or any training tool we use can help

them improve their individual performance. That’s kind of what we are looking at. And

then as a last set, 4x 25 on forty seconds, which is a pretty high intensity sprint


W/up 200 door 1 as 50 free, 25 fly, 25 breast, 25 fly, 25 breast,

#5 50 free.
MS: 500-400-300-200-100m.

*Note: Start at door 1 for the first 500, and then increase to door 2 o n the
400. As the workout evolves, increase intensity gradually, as w ell as
resistance on the 300 and 200. For the 100, make this a TT type effort,
door at 2. Shoot for your best 100, with one focus, and that is PERFECT
form. Do NOT sacrifice form in order to go faster!

CD: After the 100, do 200 very easy, and then stretch....

W/up: 200-300m. Relaxed, perfect form, door at 1.

MS #1: 12x 100m on enough time to change the door setting.
*Odd reps: TP and choice SR. Even: UT with high SR (40 -50?).

1-2: door 2 / door 1

3-4: door 3 / door 1
5-6: door 4 / door 1
7-8: door 5 / door 1
9-10: door 4 / door 1
11-12: door 3 / door 1

MS #2: 300m at steady UT

*done at door 2, focus= long, elbow over hand pulls from a perfe ct
catch. Goal: perfect technique when fatigued.
CD: 100m easy!, door at 1

Here’s an example of how we might use something that looks like a typical swim

workout, where you might see free, fly, breast in a warm up, then a five four three two

one descending “aerobic” set. That is, steady state descending set with 30 seconds or so

of non-active recovery and again, increasing intensity so the way you would train in a

pool descending in terms of speed as intensity increases slightly. We are trying to build in
this idea that we want to start at a conservative intensity and build throughout the course

of the swim like we would do in any thing that we are doing. Here’s some more of the

same, with a very large variety.

Integrating “Total Body” Conditioning:

W/up 300m all door 1 as 100 free, 25 fly, 25 breast, 25 fly,

25 breast, 100 free
1. 25 power wheel roll outs, 1 -2 mins bicycle kicks with
10lb med ball overhead in a lat pull down motion, 1 -2 mins
flutter and/or scissor kicks
2. 500m door 2 - targeting >40 SR and >70w
3. repeat 1
4. 500m door 3 - targeting >35 SR and >80w
5. repeat 1
6. repeat 2
7. repeat 1
8. repeat 4

CD: 100-300m, door 1, very easy w/ with perfect form!

This is an example of a total body conditioning workout. Are any of you familiar with

that little POWER wheel? There are commonly two different sizes which we see, the

little power wheel and the larger power wheel. I’m kind of a big advocate of those. I like

using them for concentrated strength and core work. This is a workout that an athlete that

I coach shared with me that he suggests and that he likes to use. It starts with a warm up

with a large amount of variety, and then goes into a set of 25 power wheel roll outs, one

to two minutes bicycle kicks with a ten pound med ball. One to two minutes of flutter.

Scissor kicks, and jumping on the VASA, targeting, for him, a stroke rate of forty and a

power output of seventy watts. Then he repeats this first set and comes back and does this

five hundred, but now he’s lowered his stroke rate a bit but has increased his wattage.
Now we are going to go back and repeat this first set. This is a really really challenging

workout! What I think this really eludes to which I think is important as a coach and as an

athlete, is this is about getting and improving our pure FITNESS. Sometimes I think

people forget (as they focus a lot on the numbers in terms of physiological data or

whatever) that improving is largely about simply becoming more fit, plain and simple.

Strong, resilient, fatigue resistance is an important factor in your or any endurance

athlete’s success. For example, let’s say I have a gymnast come to me with the right body

type to be a triathlete and that person jumps in a race and bingo, happens to win their age

group by fifteen minutes. A gymnast has a very high level of flexibility, and very high

levels of functional strength. Conversely, someone might come to me and tell me some

information about their LT as being this or that, but that athletes is without that level of

PURE FITNESS that the gymnast has. They aren’t going to have the same potential for

success, simply because of that overall lack of fitness. Again, that’s just a hypothetical

example, but I believe it is worth considering. So, this workout is great for fitness

building, and a great way to spend an hour in your basement in the middle of winter,

building strength.
Race Prep ME Session for Experienced

W/up 100m all door 1, choice stroke and drills

MS: at door 2.

Start at 1k – build to 3k, 2 weeks out from goal event

* Intensity: Begin at best average “steady ” test watts
* Surge to sprint pace every 200 to simulate jumping a pack

CD: 100-300m, door 1, very easy w/ with perfect form!

This is an example of a muscular endurance session for an experienced athlete, say two or

three weeks before a key half iron race. We are going to start at 1K and progress over the

course of a couple of weeks up until about two weeks out from the goal race where they

are doing perhaps 3K. We might even, for athletes that are competitive at sprint or

Olympic distance, where jumping a pack is an important part of their success, we will

have them simulate that on the erg as well.

What are the advantages?
• Time savings - convenience
• Skill / Technique Learning
• Frequency
• Quality vs. Quantity
• Measurable / repeatable (cycling power meter comp)
• Variable resistance
• Maintenance of fitness when ill or injured
• Variety (stroke rate)
• Progressive overload
• Integration of other strokes
• Opportunity to do frequent swim/bike and
swim/run combo sessions. (500m)

Ok, so while I have alluded to much of this already, let’s discuss some of the advantages?

I think time savings and convenience is far and away the most important thing. As I said

earlier, a huge assumption on my part and I apologize for that, but I think that most of the

age group athletes that I coach are swimming about as well as they are going to swim, all

things being equal. So, as coaches we have to help them decide, where do we want to see

them spend their precious time the most? Most of them are either bike or run limited in

some way. Do I want them spending four to seven hours a week driving to the pool for

three hours of swimming where they spend a pretty good percentage kicking? Or, would

they be better off having them increasing their running or cycling frequency, and of

course we are balancing all of this in the mist of the fact that they have might have two

children, they have a full time job, they maybe run their own business, or whatever it is,

we all know what that’s about.

How you have your athletes spend their time is the MOST important thing that we do as

coaches, to help them maximizing training time and effort for maximum results.

Next, obviously there is skill and technique in learning. I mentioned that I’ll take a

novice and put them on this and say, well, we are not “there” yet but this is what you

need to do with the front end of your stroke. And we will do it with stretch cords too, it

doesn’t have to be on the VASA, but the Erg is great for that. Frequency, now we can

jump on this thing ten times a week, fifteen times a week. You know for type “As” like

Tim who want to constantly be working to improve. There is also the aspect of quality

versus quantity, and again that goes back to how we are spending our time in those 3-4k

masters workouts. What are we doing in those workouts that are directly contributing to

your success for your race? That’s our goal.

Remember when we take all this other fluff out of it, you or your athletes are going to be

standing, for example, on the gulf coast in the water, getting ready to swim two and a half

miles in perhaps a twenty knot wind, with perhaps a foot and a half of chop, with two

thousand of your closest friends! That’s our goal - that’s our focus. Its measurable, it’s

repeatable, and we have variable resistance, which is hugely important, as I believe that

variety is key for learning and training effectiveness. One thing I haven’t eluded to at all,

which Rob mentioned to me way back, was that some coaches have found tremendous

value if they have a swim team, if a swimmer is ill or sick and can’t get in the water for

one reason or another. Those coaches will have their athletes jump right on the VASA

and get a quality workout in at least in terms of muscle memory and functional strength
as well. Another benefit is progressive overload, which is a term that I think we are all

familiar with as coaches, but we tend not to think about as much as I think we should.

This idea that it’s about incremental progressive overload is something we can do pretty

well on the erg.

Funny, very often the best thing an athlete will ever say to me is when they say, holly

crap, man….eight weeks has gone by and all the sudden, I feel more fit and stronger, and

this is what we are seeing as results hopefully, and it sort of snuck up on them and they

weren’t aware of it. That progressive overload is there but they are not always conscious

of it. That’s what we can do on the VASA. Also, obviously integrating other strokes and

the opportunity to do frequent swim to bike and swim to run sessions as well. The more

frequent we go from this (swimming on the erg) to the bike and this to the run, the easier

it’s going to be in terms of just being comfortable when we get to our events.

* Thank YOU for attending!

* Thank you Rob and Karen at VASA!

Contact Info - Questions?

CoachAl@Pursuit -Fitness.com
Ok, so that’s it! Thank you! And, thanks to Rob and Karen.

Doest anyone have any questions or thoughts?

Audience Question:

You talk a lot about stroke rate, what stroke rate do you see for most of your athletes…

1.2, 1.3, do you time them? I understand it’s different for different athletes on a whole,

what do you see most of your triathletes swimming at?


When we are talking about the erg I think the stroke length or stroke rate is strokes per

minute so on the erg most of them fall in the thirty five to forty range. What I think is a

good idea is to let people (and I do this with Cadence and Gearing as well) use self

selected stroke rate and find out where they like to be and are at. You then learn what’s

comfortable for them, and that helps me learn where they may NEED to be as they

progress in their training. I think in the pool there has been a lot of emphasis on stroke

LENGTH which at some point, there is diminishing returns to that, because I do know

athletes that only take fifteen or so strokes to go twenty five yards, but their not going

very fast. There is that balance point that I believe we need to strike. Again, it comes

back to being triathletes! We are not pool swimmers and we are not competitive master

swimmers. We compete and train in an open water environment where it is physical and

where conditions are hard! It is not easy being in that environment. One of the our IM

races in this area is Ironman Lake Placid. Personally, I think it is idiocy that we put two

thousand people in that tiny little Mirror Lake. In my opinion, it’s just not big enough for
two thousand people. It’s really physical out there. Having been to Kona three times, I

can tell you that that is a really tough swim with competitive athletes that are trying to get

ahead of the guy next to him, so those are difficult conditions and sometimes we just

need to get our arms moving.

Audience Question:

I have another Question, is this your VASA?


No, its one that was brought here for this presentation, but I do have one at home!

Audience Question:

How do you use it as a business tool? Is it at your house; is it at a pool where they get to

rent it?


No, each one of the athletes that I coach, I think, nine in all right now, have one of these

that they have all purchased straight from VASA, not from me. I don’t sell them, and I

don’t rent them.

Audience Question:

Do you ever get panic attacks? Coming from your background of being afraid of the



Sure, I did. Yeah. I think I’ve come to grips with it, you know, I think I can handle it. I

had to go through some huge issues to overcome that. I think it’s the thing that has

empowered me more than anything as a coach because I have “been places”

psychologically, that most people have never been in terms of dealing with that
environment. It is also incredibly empowering because I live on a lake now, and I

actually can go down to the water and I go jump in the water and I’m the guy that

everyone around the lake recognizes as swimming around the lake. They all think I am

doing something pretty cool because I am out there swimming, but they don’t realize how

powerful it is for me to be able to do that. This whole thing you hear about, you know,

facing your fears. It’s all true, for me…… I am living proof of that, and I’m here today

because of that. My first race, I started that Journey in Jan of 1996 and my first race was

a race in May called the Capitol City Triathlon, where the swim was in the Farmington

River in Connecticut. It was a sprint distance race in late May and the water was like fifty

five degrees in that Farmington river and there were probably about 120 people, and my

family is standing on the shore, and 120 doesn’t seem like a lot to me now but at the time

it sure seemed like a lot. So the gun goes off, were out and going and of course I’m in the

back and I panicked, flat out panicked, just trying to keep myself afloat and the guys

come over on their surf boards or kayaks, and they were asking me, do you need help?

Do you need to hop up? And, I’m like, NO – NO!, and I always tell people, if I had taken

their offer and jumped on that surf board, I would be selling insurance right now, not

talking to you, I can guarantee it!! But, I finished that swim. There were maybe only five

or ten people behind me. Now, the cool thing was that I could run around 16 minutes for

5K at that time, so once I was out of the water, I was like YEAH!, I’m ready!!! I couldn’t

wait to get after it. Yes, there’s no doubt that I think I do deal with those issues all the

time. Man, for my first Kona, it was a tough swim without my wetsuit because my

wetsuit was my friend. ! As it is for many of us, it empowered me in new ways. Again

it’s a challenge and what I’ve found and I think many of you have found it to probably, is
that there are probably stories in this room that you could all share with me too. Perhaps

there’s some issue that YOU had to overcome to get where you are today. Everybody’s

got a story. The first time I was in Kona I was blown away by all of the people that I saw

and met that had a story - the people that were there, whether they be amputee athletes or

athletes that had overcome the death of a loved one. Everyone’s got a story. Everybody’s

got an obstacle they have overcome. That’s what makes this sport really cool, because

you get surrounded by hugely positive people who just take negative events and turn

them into positive ones and it empowers them and it empowers everybody around them.

That’s what it’s about I think.

Audience Question:

I have two quick questions about using the machine. Can you get essentially

instantaneous feedback? So if you are teaching someone high elbow pulling and they can

see Max Force can you see that with a high elbow pull, that’s X units of Max Force and

with a sloppy pull, that’s X units of Max Force?


Good question. Unfortunately, they can get about the same amount of watts with poor

form as they can get with good form. So, I think with the monitor’s readout, the

information you’re getting is not necessarily a good indication that your form is correct,

if that answers your question. At the same time, as the user gains experience and is pretty

sure of good form, I think we will see a higher number, and one of the reasons is that

when we are swimming, the way we want to swim, we are sort of not putting a lot of

pressure on the water up here, we’re just setting up this point in time where we put

pressure on the water here. As that graphic I had eluded to, when you drop you elbow the
effective amount of pulling area or force is relatively short but with a high elbow we

engage much sooner. So in effect, the stroke is longer and you’re finishing out the back,

which is, by the way, something Maglscho wouldn’t necessarily recommend you do. But

clearly if you engage sooner and more powerfully and finish out the back you will have a

higher power number unequivocally, but what I’m trying to get them to do is feel what it

actually feels like to do it correctly, first.