Gear, Podcast, Swimming, Training

Develop swim technique and power with the Vasa Trainer and Rob Sleamaker | EP#46

 August 3, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Develop swim technique and power with the Vasa Trainer and Rob Sleamaker | EP#46

Rob Sleamaker is founder of Vasa, a company that pioneered the market for swim training benches and changed dryland swim training forever.

Vasa Trainers have been used by the US Olympic swimming squads for all Olympics since 1996, and are now starting to make headway into triathletes’ training regimes as well.

In this Episode you’ll learn about:

  • How Vasa’s SwimErg allows you to train in precise power zones just like in cycling and how this allows you to improve your fitness at a rapid rate
  • Why it may be easier to improve your technique and learn exact movement patterns for swimming in the dry comfort of a Vasa Trainer
  • How time-crunched and pool-restricted triathletes all over the world are using the Vasa Trainers to not only get them through the swim part of the race, but get them through fast.


About Rob and Vasa​

03:42 –

  • Vasa is a company that makes sport specific exercise equipment that helps people become stronger, better, and faster, particularly in swimming.​
  • We also have a line of ergometers for paddling sports like kayaking and stand-up paddling, etc.
  • The Vasa Trainer is more of a strength training equipment. It’s been around since 1990. It works by pulling your body weight. For swimming, you do the specific swim stroke movement. Using this equipment you can also do over 100 different exercises.
  • We also make the Swim Ergometer which is like a rowing machine for swimming. In this equipment, you will be pulling a drive cord on the right and left side which makes a resistance flywheel go around. It also has a very precise measurement of power and other metrics.
  • With the Vasa Trainer and the Vasa SwimErg, people can simply get better at swimming, or use them to recover from injury, or when they can’t get to a pool or open water because of weather, accessibility or being time-crunched.
  • An analogy is that many triathletes use treadmills or an indoor bike trainer. With the Vasa Trainer and SwimErg, people can do swim training indoors.

What are the similarities and differences between the Vasa Trainer and SwimErg?

07:44 –

  • If you think of the stroke from entry into the water and pulling all the way through the stroke, this part is the same on both machines.​
  • On the Trainer, when you pull all the way through, your body has come up the incline of the monorail. Then you need to lower yourself back down to do the next stroke.
  • The SwimErg is different because the right and left arm is independent and when you pull on the drive cord it makes the fan wheel go around. So your body doesn’t go up and down the incline.

Is Vasa just for people who are really short on time or are there benefits in combining this with regular pool swimming or having this as a dedicated session in your training program?

09:48 –

  • It depends on the person’s ability, availability in terms of time or to a pool, and sometimes just preference.​
  • An example are age-group triathletes who are really time crunched and it’s difficult for them to do consistent swimming. So this is a tool that they can use at home or at a fitness club that allows them to get a very high-quality swim specific workout in a short period of time. This serves as a substitute for them for getting a workout in a pool or open-water.
  • Another example are elite level swimmers. A lot of them train with our equipment because they want to be able to have greater ability to deliver power in the right range of motion and with the correct technique.
  • A lot of swim programs and swim coaches here in the US have multiple Vasa Trainers and SwimErgs as part of their overall dryland training. Sometimes there are situations wherein a swimmer is injured and they can’t go into the water but they can still stay fit for swimming by using our Vasa products.
  • Swim coaches and triathlon coaches get their athletes on our equipment to teach them the correct stroke path. Then they tell their athletes to go into the water and do what they were taught on the Vasa. Because when you are on land, it’s really easy to see if someone is using the correct technique.

Does the technical training aspect on the Vasa and the SwimErg translate well into the pool?

13:33 –

  • Absolutely. The framework of our machines really reinforces using a proper stroke path. When people get back into the water they say, “Wow! I am so much powerful and efficient now.”​

What is the distribution of technical benefits versus power and fitness benefits that athletes can get from the Vasa and the SwimErg on average?

14:51 –

  • In general, a lot of adult-learned swimmers don’t understand the concept of being able to access the large muscles in the back – the lats.​
  • And also, they don’t understand the need to coordinate the strong muscles of the torso – your abs and your lower back. If you can coordinate those with stabilizing yourself in the water so you can get more energy into the pulling arm, that’s going to help propulsion.
  • Now you’re gaining some more power from those big torso muscles and delivering that power into the pulling arm. This is a really tough thing for people to understand.
  • The other aspect that happens a lot is adult-learned swimmers doing freestyle – triathletes especially – they do what we call a mono-speed or a single speed when they pull. They don’t have their pulling arm accelerate in the water as it should, but it moves at a constant rate.
  • Because of the power meter and because of the ability to look at the right and left side power, the swimmer will be able to understand how to use the lats to accelerate the pull, so the power numbers will increase with 10-20 watts on average.
  • This is what every athlete should aspire to do. Raise their ability to sustain a higher power output for the duration of the interval or time trial.

Why is it difficult to push yourself in the water to get high-intensity compared to the bike and the run?

21:57 –

  • There’s a couple of things that create that situation in the water, especially if they are adult-learned swimmers and they’re not used to using an efficient technique to go really fast.
  • One of the factors is as people get more fatigued, the technique starts to fall apart more. This begets less efficiency and they’re working harder to get to the same distance.
  • One of the things that keeps being reported by people using the SwimErg is they were able to see both in terms of what their physical technique is doing but also the power numbers. When fatigue starts to hit, what’s going on with their form? And you’ll see that the less skilled swimmers when they reach a fatigued state on the SwimErg, that they will start to drop their elbow a little bit, etc. But because they can see what’s happening, it’s an instant biofeedback and they can make those corrections.
  • But in the water, it’s very difficult to see what’s happening to your form once fatigue sets in.

What are some examples of improvements in athletes that you have seen by using the Vasa and SwimErg?

25:22 –

  • We hear reports on a regular basis that athletes drop their pace by 10-15 seconds per 100 meters. So when that adds up in a race, that’s a lot.
  • The thing that I’ve been noticing that means a lot to me as the creator of the product and the owner of the company is that people start a race on the swim feeling good and confident because they know they have been getting consistent quality training using the Vasa and SwimErg. And this is really important because this sets the tone of your race. And so many of them enjoy and finish the race feeling good.

What is a basic staple workout that you can do on the Vasa or on the SwimErg?

28:59 –

  • You can easily translate any swim workout or swim sets that are on your program on to the Vasa Trainer or SwimErg. Think of it like intervals.​
  • It’s similar to cycling too. You can do an interval workout, or you can do a low-intensity distance workout, or a long-distance workout, or a race pace time trial.
  • The one thing that is different in swimming in the water and swimming on a SwimErg is that on the SwimErg it’s like swimming in the water with a pull buoy where you’re not kicking. This means that the power meter times for any given distance are going to be pretty similar to your time in the water if you were only pulling. There’s no kicking, no push off the wall. So the pace per 100m on the SwimErg is going to be very similar to your pace per 100m when you’re pulling in the water.

How can you get a Vasa Trainer or a SwimErg or get to train on one?

31:44 -​

  • If someone wants to purchase, the best thing is to go to our website.
  • Then you can find out if there’s a dealer in your country or you can buy directly from our company here in the USA. We ship worldwide.
  • The SwimErg is currently selling for just under USD 2,000, the Trainer sells for USD 950 plus the freight or shipping.

Rapid-fire questions

37:18 –

Favorite book, blog, resource related to triathlon or swimming:​

Favorite piece of gear or equipment excluding Vasa products:

  • Front mount snorkel​

What you wish you had known or done differently at some point in your career:

  • I wish I had understood more of the value of high-quality fats and protein in nutrition back when I was coaching during the 90s xanax.​

Connect with Rob

Related episodes

Links and resources

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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