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Acceleration Endurance – The Key to Faster Open-Water Swimming

Author: Tim Crowley

Acceleration endurance is critical to improving open-water swim performance. This is an essential skill to develop as an “adult-onset” swimmer. Athletes who did not grow up as age group swimmers often find the ability to accelerate through the swim stroke a difficult skill to master. There is an excellent article on mono speed by Eric Nielsen and Dan Daly. (I highly recommend you read this article).

Once you understand the concept of “a monospeed stroke” and how to accelerate from catch to finish of each stroke, you can develop acceleration endurance and take your swim performance to the next level.

Coach Dan Daly explains what a monospeed stroke is and demonstrates how to fix it.
Coach Dan Daly explains what a monospeed stroke is and demonstrates how to fix it.

Acceleration endurance (AE) can be defined as the ability to maintain stroke rate and length while accelerating the pull from catch through the finish. Once the skill is established, the athlete must build the physical capacity or power endurance to maintain this acceleration throughout the swim set or race distance.

Initially, you’ll notice that you will fatigue rapidly once you begin accelerating your stroke. Be patient using short intervals with moderate recoveries to build the strength and power endurance to gradually go longer without slipping back into a mono-speed pattern.

Famous triathlon coach Brett Sutton describes Acceleration Endurance as: “Place, Press, Push… makes my swimming go whoosh!”

Methods you can use to improve your acceleration endurance

1. Intent – Enter each workout with the intent of increasing the speed or acceleration throughout your stroke. This may mean shortening workouts or shortening interval distances to maintain proper swim form. And the workouts that you are only patterning

2. Impulse – much like cycling and running, swimming should be impulse-based.  Meaning you should accelerate your stroke from catch to finish and then relax so that each stroke has a definitive impulse/acceleration in the relaxation phase as a hand comes out of the water returning to the next catch. This brief relaxation will allow for a more relaxed stroke and help improve your endurance.

3. Frequency vs. volume – When developing AE, emphasize the frequency of swims versus volume. Distance volume (meters or yards) may be lower when doing quality work with plenty of recovery time.  That is fine. As you develop AE, you will be faster. Be patient. Combining swim with Vasa SwimErg or Vasa Trainer workouts will help accelerate your AE learning curve.

4. Vasa SwimErg – this may be the best tool for developing acceleration endurance.

You can use many of your senses to develop acceleration endurance

a. Feel – When pulling on the ergometer, you can feel the increased resistance as you accelerate. Initially, this will be very tiring, but with practice and patience, you will develop acceleration endurance and the ability to hold it for extended periods.

b. Sound – As you accelerate through the stroke, you’ll hear a loud “whooshing” sound which means that you are accelerating through the backend of the stroke.

c. Sight – You can watch the monitor to make sure that your stroke rate is holding steady, and if the power or watts are increasing along with the whooshing sound of the flywheel, then you know that you are accelerating correctly.

5. Vasa Trainer – The Vasa Trainer is an equally effective tool for developing acceleration endurance. It is important to avoid creating too much resistance that will slow down the acceleration at the back end of the stroke. 

The monorail does not need to be at a very steep angle. Additionally, if you use resistance cords on the trainer, keep them reasonably light to create resistance but not so much that you slow down the acceleration. Double-arm or single-arm pull can be used to build AE. Keep the number of repetitions low (8 – 20 pulls) to maintain quality. Start with rest intervals of around 60 – 90 seconds, and over time this can be decreased as your acceleration endurance improves.

6. The drawback of stretch cords – Although they can be an effective way to build swim-specific strength, stretch cords do not allow for proper acceleration because the resistance increases dramatically as the cords elongate, which slows hand speed. This does not allow for proper acceleration through to the finish of the stroke.

Workouts to improve acceleration endurance

Below are specific sets that you can incorporate into your workouts to improve acceleration endurance. The key is not volume but the ability to maintain a powerful stroke for each interval and the entire set. This can be tiring, so be patient.

Here is a warm-up routine that can be done using the Vasa SwimErg or with stretch cords (vasa warm-up video)

Pool Sets

1. 12 – 20 x 25 / rest interval 30 seconds

2. 10 – 20×50/ rest interval 20 seconds

3. 10 – 15×100 / rest interval 40 seconds (gradually decrease rest interval over several weeks by 5 seconds until you are comfortably at 10 seconds rest but maintaining quality throughout the entire set)

4. 6×100 as ( 25 right arm/ 25 left arm/ 50 swim) this is best done with a snorkel to allow for good body position and rotation.

Vasa SwimErg

1. 10 – 15 × 20 sec./ rest interval 40 seconds easy

2. 20 × 30 seconds/ 30 seconds easy or rest

3. 10 – 15 × 1 min./30 seconds easy or rest

4. 8 – 12 × 90 seconds/  30 seconds easy or rest

5. 10 × 10 one-arm pulls from the side of SwimErg with each arm, at a DD 3 or 4 while engaging the lats and core

(NOTE: many of these workouts and others can be found on the Vasa Trainer library in the Trainer Day app)

Vasa Trainer

1. 8 – 12 sets of 10 double arm pull/rest 30 seconds

2. 8 – 12 x 5 right arm pulls/5 left arm pulls/ rest 30 seconds 

3. 8 – 10 x 30 seconds double arm pulls/ 30 seconds rest

4. 10 x 5 double arm pulls/ 5 right arm pulls/ 5 left arm pulls. Rest for one minute.

Develop acceleration endurance to become a faster and more powerful swimmer without adding additional swim volume. Not only will this make you faster, but it will also allow you to excel in rough water swims. Take the time to develop this vital capacity by incorporating the above workouts and swim sets in and out of the pool. Engage all your senses and be mentally present in your swim sessions to unleash your swim potential.

About Tim Crowley

Tim Crowley is a well-respected coach and we are privileged to have him as a vital part of the Vasa community.  He has contributed useful dryland for swimmers’ workout and technique videos, which you can find in our Video Library.

Tim Crowley discusses Dryland Training for Swimmers

Tim Crowley
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy
Author: High-Performance Aging & The Powerful Triathlete