I feel so strongly about its unique niche that I wrote a series of blog posts about and here are the first two installments:
- When the Pool is not an option - Part 1- Scheduling, Travel, and Pool Availability Issues
- When the Pool is not an option - Part 2 - Injury and Motivation
- When the Pool is not an option - Part 3 - Technique and Performance
April 25 update - I took about two weeks off of the Erg and away from the gym during the weeks before and after the Boston Marathon. Starting this week, erg workouts restarted with 2x a week training. Starting in late May, our pool will be open so I'll swim there more since I'll be there anyway with the kids. Even so, I am not letting the Erg workouts go. The fact of the matter is, the Ergometer workouts are the most "dense" swim workout you can get. Without walls in the way, with the low recovery that allows one to take more strokes in a given period of time, it's still the most efficient and effective swim workout to develop power and endurance. I'll add to this log and do some blog posts, but more intermittently now as this is an established part of my routine!
April 4, 2013 - Week 12, Time Trial repeat
- I got a little behind on my log here - but I wrapped this first 12 week period with a repeat 400 and 100 m TT, adding 4 watts average to my 400, but then slipping some on my 100. I think marathon prep and fatigue was a factor and I think I just went completely full-out on the 400.
- This was a mix of swim speeds and accelerations with 15 second builds and 1-minute sustained efforts, again working from that 400TT wattage. I did not get Workout 2 in, that was somewhat intentional. The mid-week long run wiped me out and from this point until Boston, I am erring on the side of rest. I'll get Week 12 in on the Erg then probably take race week off from it. Three weeks after Boston my triathlon season starts!
- This was 12 x 100 with a 25s rest between alternating between just under and just over average 400TT wattage. It started off easy enough but I had to focus and put increasing effort in to sustain it. One of the nice perks of a professional, experience, coach-written workout like this is that (1) they have that sense of what is doable and how much/far to push and (2) as the athlete, if I see it written, I have no reason to believe that I can't do it. So I just do. If I'd written the workout and it got tough, as it did, I would be questioning my own judgement on the power goals rather than focusing on just getting after it!!
- The main set was 3 x 500m starting at 70-75% 400TT wattage and decreasing with each 500. But me being me, I did all three holding the 70-75% wattage. Not bad considering this came about an hour after I finished a 38 mile bike ride.
March 18, 2013 - Week 10, Workout 1 (2334 m)
- I skipped workout 2 last week which was a pre-pool workout. Between the time change and a general feeling of total life overwhelm, it just did not happen. I rested up over the weekend and am glad I did so. Anyway, I'm back on track. This was a "broken 1500" of 100s, 200s, and 50s working at specified wattages relative to 400m TT power. I had no problem holding the wattage so I guess that is good! I recorded my heart rate data just for fun.
- I had some recent swim video taken by my coach and have a list of things to work on. I REALLY appreciate the input from everyone, I really want to see what I can learn!!
- Left hand tends to come too far to center and cross; Right hand tends to be wider than power position
- Focus on better catch and bending elbow before power phase - work on catch drill (I just read in Triathlete mag about how you have to have faith in this high elbow because a straight arm pull feels stronger but isn't...or something like that)
- Rather than a constant hand speed in stroke, accelerate in the catch phase - this is not easy to do. frankly, it takes effort!!
- Connect hip and pull, think of snapping (may help with acceleration), connect kick too - I'm starting to connect hip and pull on the erg in the right way now. I'm much more aware of it.
- Body balance drills (prone floating), kicking on belly, side glide NO pulling, just kick!
- Press chest to bottom, keep neck more in alignment, do not look forward and see if head position can help.
- My arm enters very flat, there should be a slight arc in the entry - think of the arm entering in the order of fingertips, wrist, elbow, at the speed one would say those words.
- Play around with body position and kick and get that back end UP!
- Kick stays small, big toes brush up against one another, kick initiated from glute/lower back
Fortunately, I like having things to think about when I swim! This is a good start!
March 13, 2013 - Week 9, Workout 3 (2080 m)
- Alternating intervals at just under and just over 400m TT wattage for a total of 20 minutes. Getting better at connecting core to catch! Captured heart rate data just for fun.
- did 25 x 50y on 55 seconds, getting most laps in around 42/3 seconds without any trouble. This is a test for the mind as much as the body so it took some focus.
- This workout involved 1 minute intervals increasing power from 65/70% of 400m TT wattage to 85-90%. Sounds easy....but the trick here was to do it while keeping stroke rate the same. NOT easy! For me that was a range of 47 to 65w and I zeroed in on a stroke rate of about 35-37 (double that to get 70-74 with my Tempo Trainer at the pool). I quickly learned I had to accelerate and get a "full" pull to make that happen. I could only hold the 60-65w max for about the last 18-20 seconds. I like this hard stuff, I know it's good for me. This is not something that could be replicated in the pool.
- I think this was intended to be done before a pool swim but it did not work out that way. Last week was a mess with sick kids and company. This was a technique-focused shorter workout and I used the programmable interval option on the Erg to do the 16 x 50m with 10s rest. That was handy. One thing Coach Eric mentioned was this concept of letting the elbow "float up" to assist in the catch. I like that visual and I'm looking forward to testing it out Tuesday in the pool.
It ended up being an 11,300 yard swim week with two pool swims and three erg swims. Not too shabby!
I thought the sweat from one of my prior Erg workouts was photo-worthy:
March 6, 2013 - Week 8, Workout 3 (2150m)
- The secondary warmup for this included short groups of repeats increasing either stroke rate or wattage. I thought for me it was more important to practice increasing power while holding SR. Forgetting it was in the "warmup" section, I cranking hard by the end of each. The main set included 18 minutes of work at 400m TT power in 1:00, 0:45, and 0:30 increments. It took some effort and focus to keep it up. I could tell my upper back and lats were a little sore from the workout the day before, but I welcome that. It tells me the right things are being worked and all the while my shoulders feel perfect - better than in ages. I ended up using the chronograph of my little Timex watch on one of my kids old blocks to keep track of the intervals and rests. That was a little easier than doing the math since the Erg clock doesn't stop till the flywheel does, which is usually a few seconds after I've stopped. (Workout 2 still to come - changed the order)
- This workout was about changing gears between 400m TT power (72 w for me) and 70% of that (50.4 w) - This is one of those where I started off the first set thinking it was going to be ridiculously easy but after 7 x 3 minute sets I was tired!
- 10/12/12 = 6:15 / 3:02
1/11/13 = 6:07 / 2:56
3/1/13 = 5:59 / 2:53 My first EVER sub 6-400y swim. I continue to chip away at it so it's pretty exciting!!
February 25, 2013 - Week 7, Workout 1 (2500m)
- 10 x 90s at 400TT wattage and 8 x 30x at 100TT wattage. Hooowee. This was one of those that looked so benign on paper but was tough. I focused on driving the opposite hip into the bench on the pull and discovered I had been doing it completely backward. I thought about just one arm and hip at at time and the other took care of itself. I am not the most coordinated sometimes. It's good I never wanted to be a professional dancer!!
- I'm chipping away at it!
- 400m - Total time - 6:48.3; Pace - 1:42/100m (@ Week 2 was 7:10.2 - 5.1% reduction)
Average power - 72 watts (@ Week 2 was 62 - 16% increase)
- 100m - Total time - 1:33.64; Pace - 1:34/100m (@ Week 2 was 1:40.4 - 6.8% reduction)
Average power - 97 watts (@ Week 2 was 78 - 24% increase!!)
Had a revealing conversation about the body acting as a "torsional spring" that I think I had been missing. I'm headed to the pool tomorrow and will try out this new image of myself as a spring and engaging the core through the opposite hip from the catch phase. Coach Eric and I also talked about the kick - thinking of big toes "playing tag" without a big time delay, staying supple and loose, and using the upper glute/lower back to activate this small flutter.
- 10 x 100 on 2:00 at the pool - 1:28's!! That's a first. I've only recently started dipping below 1:30 so to hold this pace consistently like this is very very encouraging!! Between the Erg and pool, I've put in almost 8000 yards in three days. My lats and upper back are feeling it, but I like that!! That's the wake-up call my swimming self needed.
- Today was about holding 5-10 watts higher than the 400mTT for 60 and 75 min intervals. NO problem!! I can tell I'm getting stronger. Coach Eric has us doing simple arm swings within the workout and my shoulders crack like crazy for the first few then are much happier. Such a simple thing, but very useful! The heart rate monitor worked great today. This was one of those workouts that looked easy, but I ended up working HARD. It's pretty easy to see where the 8 intervals were!!!
February 17, 2013 - Week 5, Workout 3 (2448m)
- 10 min @ 42 SPM (strokes per minute)
8 min @ 45 SPM
6 min @ 50 SPM
4 min @ 55 SPM
2 min @ 60 SPM
trying to figure out how to wear hear rate monitor without it digging into chest -- transmitter to left side on back seems to maybe work OK?
normal stroke rate at pool is 68; asked Coach Eric if that corresponds to 34 and why my stroke rate is so much higher on the Erg? Is that because there is no real "glide" on there?
February 12, 2013 - Week 5, Workout 1 (2000m)
- This involved intervals building to our 400TT and 100TT Watts. No problem! I think/hope I'm getting stronger
- Kicked some 50y BUTT! The end of a 1200y set today called for two fast 50s (yards) on 30s rest. I did each in 39 seconds. That is the first time I ever got two of those, for sure, at that pace.
I headed out for the first very much thinking about the hard pulls I did Saturday morning and looking for that same feeling of power and pull. I guess I found it!! Searching back though Training Peaks, I had one instance of thinking "maybe" I got a 39 last May and again January 30, but today it was two legit 39's in a row. I'm chipping away at it!
February 7, 2013 - Week 4, Workout 2 - Erg Warmup (1014 m) + Pool swim (2600 y) - total 3700y. Cool!
February 5, 2013 - Pool swim - included 2 x 200y "fast" done at 2:57 and 2:56 :-)
February 4, 2013 - Week 4, Workout 1 - 2173 meters
February 2, 2013 - Week 3, Workout 3
- Yay! I'm caught up. 1750 yards. Intervals building to my 400 and 100 average TT watts. I was invited to do a guest blog post at Vasa and it's entitled, Vasa Ergometer Training Saves Time, Money... and a Mother's Sanity. Vasa has a cost calculator worksheet and I did it based on replacing my three pool swims with Erg workouts. There are so many intangible benefits to the Erg that I can't put a pricetag on - swimming faster and stronger for example!
- This was suggested as a "pre-pool" warmup, so I did just that -1230m of drills and technique work and quite a bit of double arm backstroke. Then off to the pool I went where I got some validation that this stroke "make-over" is working. I saw my friend and speedy master's swimmer, David. Our paths only cross every few months at the pool and when I see him, he tries valiantly to help me with my stroke. Today, for the first time ever, he simply said, "Your stroke looks good!" He said he wondered who the "the good swimmer was" when he walked into the pool and did not realize at first that it was me. I'll take that as great validation!! It made my day!
I've made steady progress with Coach Jim who started pretty from scratch with me 3-1/2 years ago. The Erg has given me a fresh feel for me -- to help him to help me to take things to the next level.
- 1731m, DD#2. I had this crazy idea to get this workout in right before I picked up kid #2 from school, thinking it didn't look too hard and I wouldn't sweat much. HA! Sweat fest, per usual, and by the end I was down to...let's just say...a level of attire that would create minimal sweaty laundry (advantage of the in-home workout).
- Potential breakthrough! Part of my main set today involved doing intervals with the tempo trainer set to cadences below, at, and above my "normal" stroke rate. Normally when I am below my normal stroke rate I lose time; I am slower. Today was the first time I did not. I think I am starting to "get" how to apply pressure to the water. Yesterday's Erg workout - trying to hold a certain power level - was helpful and I clung to that feeling and idea during today's swim. I'm excited, motivated, and having fun with all of this. That goes a long way.
- My first ever "double swim" workout -- did 2000 at the pool this morning and then in an effort to try to (1) not miss an Erg workout and (2) try to "catch up" I did the Erg tonight. It was a shorty -- the goal was to try to hold our average wattage from the 400 TT in 100m intervals. I held it for three, then it started to drop. I did 6x100 plus warmup and cooldown for 1000m.
- As I pointed out to Coach Eric, a nice benefit to the Erg is the ability to groan audibly :-) Whole workout done on DD#2 now.
- 400m - Total time - 7:10.2; Avg Watts - 62; SPM - 52; Pace - 1:48/100m
- 100m - Total time - 1:40.4; Avg Watts - 78; SPM - 59; Pace - 1:40/100m
- I hit 9876 yards in the last six days between the pool (2x) and Erg (3x). Had I known, I'd surely have added 124 more today to hit 10,000! That's definitely a distance PR, only possible with the Erg. I could not get to the pool this much.
January 25, 2013 - Week 2, Workout 1
- I hit the pool 1/22 and 1/24 and got back on the Erg today. These workouts fly by and to my surprise, I got to 1700m by the end on Damper Door #2. This workout was a nice mix of pull patterns and one section of alternating technique work with very short power bursts. They were supposed to be 5 seconds but it was hard to stop, it felt like boxing. Very therapeutic.
- I love this thing. Love it. If a person wanted to say...hop on the erg in their sports bra, shorts, and compression socks (aftermath of morning long run) in the privacy of their own home, they could absolutely do that. Nice to just get on and GO!
before I put the towel down...
oh yeah, love a pretty heart rate chart!
January 21, 2013 - Week 1, Workout 3
- Was away for the weekend (power outage refugee) and got a short (500m) out-of-town swim in yesterday. Today I did the third workout - 33 minutes (including rests), 1400m total. This main set was focused on accelerating and returning to steady pace. I programmed the intervals into my Garmin (went through them 3x) and wore my heart rate monitor, hoping to capture data, but the watch and Garmin decided not to play nicely today. COOL thing is I did it all on Damper Door #2 (controls air flow/resistance; this is a move up from my previous of 1) on the Erg, no problem-o!! Things feel good!!
- Workout 2. As predicted, we got a decent snowstorm that closed the pool and left us without power. I still got a great swim-bike brick in using the Erg and bike trainer, which require no power other than my own! It was a progressive intensity workout, from 60% effort up to 80% effort. My spm ranged from about 45 to 55 and average watts ranged from 50 to 65. I went through the 5-minute main set three times, with the warmup and cooldown it was meant to be about 25 minutes but I extended the cooldown to hit 1600m. I can already feel that I am getting stronger on there!
- I received some helpful feedback on the video from the last session:
- When laying on the bench and doing any of the swim strokes, make your body as long and firm from head to toes as you possibly can. Avoid crossing your legs one foot over the other. Think Streamline position after pushing off the wall on a flip turn. Think of how you would want your body to be in the water – for efficiency and for rigidity if another athlete was swimming over your back. You would want to be rigid to swim out of that. Noticed I am even fishtailing on the erg some, just like the pool. Good time to fix that!
- Adjust the paddles so the heel of your hand is right over the rounded hump on the straight edge of the paddles - I noticed I was hooking my thumb over the top of the paddle and corrected that today. It made a big difference!
- As much as possible, maintain a “blade” - finger tips to elbow crease all in one straight plane. Avoid bending at the wrist (which you actually do pretty well). Again, these issues become prevalent under fatigue - working on this on the Erg and the pool, found myself doing the same thing with paddles at the pool.
- Regarding the mat under the Erg. If you straighten the mat and put the monorail smack in the middle of the mat, this will allow the side edges of the mat to be lines your finger tips can “trace” as you pull. This works well if the edges end up at a little wider than shoulder width. Some people put blue painters tape on the mat or floor to create the same effect (just make the tape lines straight;) They create a natural stroke path and prevent doing an “S” pull. The monorail gives that perspective. I did this today, used the mat as a guide and I believe it helped me to correct the "winging" of my left arm. Great tip!
- Vasa Ergometer Training Begins. Workout 1. - see blog entry
- I'm very excited!! I received 'week one' workouts from Coach Eric Neilsen - a total of three of them. They are very structured and each workout has a defined purpose and reason, warm up, main set, and cool down. There are drills (one arm, catch-up), different recovery patterns (normal, low), different strokes, and varying levels of intensity and of course intervals. I'm excited to start -- tomorrow. I swam this morning and worked back (and legs) at the gym yesterday and my upper back and lats have some soreness today.
I've found myself hopping on the Erg here and there throughout the day just to get the blood pumping periodically since I work at home and sit in front of the computer a lot. I never did that with the bike trainer or treadmill, but something about the Erg, it's just easy to get on, grab the power paddles, and go for a swim!
- Today was time trial day at the pool - a 400 followed by a 200. I'm pleased to report some solid PRs!! I did them in 6:07 and 2:56. My previous best was on October 12, 2012 when I did them in 6:15 and 3:02, just 10 days prior to Worlds when I was peaking.
To PR now, post-holiday, is extremely exciting. I felt solid and in control of my form and found another gear to sprint the final 25 of each. It's long been a goal of mine to break 3:00 for the 200 and today, finally, I did. It felt awesome to look up at the clock and know I did it.
The most significant change in my training is the addition of the Erg. Even though I'm only using it a few days a week right now as a supplement to the pool, it is giving me that "thing" that I needed -- that sensation of pulling against force (as opposed to water that slips away) and the ability to really focus on form and high elbow catch. I've watched a lot of the Vasa videos on YouTube some of those concepts have really stuck with me - the power of the "Y", umph at the front, etc.
- I swam 2400y today including a relaxed 1500 continuous (25:59). I had an AH HA moment warming up. I usually drill with fins on, but I went without today, and noticed my legs were kicking/gently splashing on the surface of the water, not dragging down low like usual! It was easiest to keep this horizontal body position when I was doing one-arm swimming with the other arm in front. I lost a bit of it when I went into my long set, but for that brief time my body position felt right. There's hope.
- Did 6 x 200 on the Erg. Left a puddle and my lats are tired! The Erg is an incredible time saver, I love how easy it is to just pop on there with little fanfare.
I swam Friday at the pool, I'm not recording every pool swim here, just some key ones. I'm hitting the pool AND working back and legs at the gym tomorrow so that will finish me off!
- Back to the pool today! I noticed I am doing the same "wrist cock" with paddles that I was doing on the Erg so I did some one-arm swimming with the paddles and watched my own arm to try to correct it. I realize that what I perceived as "early vertical forearm" was "early vertical hand." Got to nip that in the bud. I thought about my reach and not winging the left arm too.
- Oh wow do I have work to do on getting to that early vertical forearm, keeping my wrists straight, no winging my left arm out. It's nice to be able to catch it on video so easily. I did manage 1000m today, in increments of 100-150m. I noticed my SPM (strokes per minute) tended toward 45 which is a higher turnover than I do in the pool. I wore my heart rate monitor (that is my Garmin propped up on the stool underneath) and got my HR up to the 150's a few times which is upper aerobic zone for run and bike. The heart rate data is here.
December 28, 2012 - pool swim
- With the holiday, today was my only pool swim of the week but I had some exciting "AH-HA" moments stemming from even just the bit of unstructured Erg work I've done so far. First off, in the pool I found myself seeking and finding that forearm "pressure". What I realized is that in the pool, the amount of pressure you can get is limited by your speed. Paddles help to increase that pressure, but ultimately you are limited by your speed. It's a chicken-and-egg thing in the pool - you can't get more power-building resistance without going faster, and can't get faster without building more power from the water.
The Erg removes that limitation and enables you to work with adjustable tension and adapt. I've always felt like I could find and push back against the proverbial wall in running and cycling, but I could not do the same in swimming. My cardio system gave out before my muscular system. With the Erg, that is no longer the case.
The other realization I had was from Rob's comment to accelerate after my forearm "blade" reaches vertical in the High Elbow Catch position. I get it!! There is no reason to waste energy accelerating before that because it only serves to drive the arm down, raising the upper body, and sinking the back end. I already have issues with my back end dropping, so I really need to focus on this. Energy needs to be channeled into the part of the stroke that creates forward propulsion.
I'm pretty excited. And coincidentally yesterday I moved up to 45 lbs on dumbbell flat bench press. Feeling strong!
- Set on easiest damper/resistance setting. Constantly thinking of high elbows, straight forearm/hand, accelerating through catch (umph at front). Quite tough, got up between sets and had about 45-60s rest between.
- I haven't officially started training on this yet, but I thought I'd try 10 x 50m on a fairly comfortable one minute interval just to see how it compared to the same set in the pool. However, I forgot I normally do this as 50 yards, not meters, and it's no doubt faster when you can push off a wall half way through. End result, this was a TOUGH set and I only had about 5s rest between 50s. WOW!
- Did 500m on the Erg before a bike trainer workout. I had the damper closed all the way (least resistance) and starting out I thought it was way too easy. The joke was on me. I stopped about 5 times just to get through the 500. I could feel it in my lats and tris for sure as I focused on the rigid forearm and acceleration after the high elbow catch. Next time I think I will wear my heart rate monitor because it will tell the story! I'm excited knowing I can start building swim power!!
- Keep finger tips to elbow a straight line as much as possible from extension to catch to finish of stroke. This means keeping a rigid wrist – don’t let it bend there. Feel the pressure on the heel of your hands and imagine pulling with the forearm at a point about 4 inches below elbows;
- When you catch, with high elbow position, accelerate your arm speed and close the armpit. Too often, athletes use the same hand / arm speed throughout the entire stroke. It should be extend, set the finger tips to elbow as one straight “blade”, get to high elbow catch position without putting much pressure on the paddle, then explode or accelerate backward from that point. You should see average watts jump if you do this.
- Christmas Comes Early: Vasa Ergometer - includes first video