Swimming on land

In these times of difficulty with covid-19, everyone will have to find new approaches to everyday life. For athletes of all ages and levels, determination and motivation will be tested as the usual daily grind will have to be done differently. Especially those athletes that are in aquatic environments, and local pools being closed, it is important to look at how one can train on land to still see improvements in the water further down the line when pools are accessible again.

This question of dryland training and how it translates to performance in the water, and if there is a way to measure it, was one that I started thinking about last year after been working with force measurements in the water.

Does force, or power development, on land correlate to force development when swimming?

Long story short I set out to get some answers together with some likeminded curious people: coach Jack Fabian, Rob Sleamaker of Vasa Inc, and Ari Auvinen of Trainesense. This past December we did a pilot study looking at how the force and power generated on a Vasa SwimErg correlates to the force developed in the water.

Using a Vasa SwimErg as a way of dryland training for swimming is as close to the swimming movements as one can come. It is a great tool to mimic the movements, but we wanted to see if the power a swimmer could generate in their “strokes” on land would translate to the force the swimmer could generate in the water.

We did several trials to get the tests on land and in the water as similar as possible, for example swimming was done with a pull buoy to eliminate the effects of kicking that is not present during the dryland measurements on the Vasa SwimErg.

In the water, we measured the force of each stroke using SmartPaddles, a smart little device from Trainesense that measures force development in three ways: propulsive, vertical and sideways force. To compare the relative change in force on land and in the water, the test was set up as a step test with increasing stroke rates (6×90 sec at increasing strokes per minute). Stroke rate was maintained and monitored by using a Finis Tempotrainer in the water, and with the Trainer Road program while on the Vasa SwimErg. However, a Tempotrainer can be used on the Vasa as well.

This was an initial study and more tests are needed, but it was clear that the force, or power, that these swimmers could generate on the Vasa was correlated with the force they could generate in the water.

  • Swimmers that could generate more force on land, could also generate more force in the water, and swam the fastest. Higher force development correlates to higher swim velocity.
  • A similar magnitude of drop in force (SmartPaddle) and drop in power (Vasa SwimErg) could be seen once the swimmer fatigued and could not maintain the set stroke rate.

So, what kind of work can you do on the Vasa SwimErg (and regular swim bench as well) during this time of pool closures, to see improvements in the water later?

  • Maintain power or force at your race pace stroke rate, and even slightly higher stroke rates. Work on intervals at a set stroke rate, or intervals with increasing stroke rate, and try to maintain the same level of power output even when fatigue sets in.
    • For example: 8-10 times 2-3 minutes at race pace stroke rate, with 30 second rest between, or shorter time intervals at higher stroke rate (than race pace) with 15-20 second rest. As fatigue starts to set in focus on trying to maintain the stroke rate and as high force/power output as possible.
  • Maintain stroke length at increasing stroke rates up to your race pace stroke rate. Increased stroke rate tends to lead to decreased stroke length, and a shorter stroke length means shorter time per stroke and therefore a drop in impulse per stroke (strength of stroke).
    • For example: longer intervals at increasing stroke rate, up to race pace stroke rate, with a focus on keeping stroke length even when stroke rate increases (finish the pull/push all the way to the back.

Obviously, there is a component of resistance and efficiency in the water that one should consider. However, if a decrease in force would only be due to an increase in resistance in the water, then the same drop in force should not be seen on land. This test indeed showed a similar magnitude of drop in force and power both on land and in the water, which means that there is a fatigue component that could be improved with dryland training on the Vasa SwimErg. These improvements on land could then be carried over into the movements in the water. So keep on swimming – even if it is on land!

If you are curious about the study please reach out with questions. The full presentation of the findings, as presented at World Aquatic Development Conference in Lund January 2020, can be found here