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Winter Swim Training Tips For Better Race Season Results

Part 1: It’s Time To Plan Your Play and Dream Big!

With the racing season wrapped up, it’s time to review your performance peaks and valleys and chart your winter swim training plan for even better results next year. In this two-part VasaBlog series, Team Vasa explores how to best utilize your off-season training months and ensure your goals are met come next race season.  

Keith Watson Coach winter swim training
Keith Watson coaching Steve Ebeling at Ironman Boulder 2014.  Steve did a lot of Vasa dryland training,

It’s that time of year when swimmers and triathletes take a moment to reflect on successes and failures, set new goals, and “plan their play.” Some affectionately refer to this crucial time of year as, “Dreaming Season.”

Triathlon coach & long-time athlete, Keith Watson, who is the former Chief Operating Officer at Training Peaks (and now the COO here at Vasa), says that he and his team started using the term “Dreamin’ Season” a decade ago. They noticed that right after the Ironman World Championships in Kona had wrapped up, Training Peaks saw a flurry of activity. “Post Kona, triathletes get goal-driven and aspirational,” said Watson. “That Ironman race, in particular, inspires people to find a coach, make a training plan, or recruit a friend who can help them do something virtuous and big. People start setting goals, and it’s contagious.”

Winter Swim Training Requires Rest

Coach Watson says the most important thing triathletes can do after a big end of season race is to take a break, even if they don’t want one.  He says it’s important for athletes to rest their minds and their bodies, and to spend time with family and friends.

“Most triathletes are Type-A personality endurance athletes,” he said. “After a big end-of-season race, they feel fit and want to keep going. No one wants to take a break, but you need to. You can’t get into shape unless you get out of shape. Rest gives you a chance to recalibrate and gain clarity, so you can make meaningful decisions about future goals. Then, we can break down the athlete’s big event and ask how we did,” said Watson. “We look objectively at the goals we set for last season, and if we hit those or not. We ask why, what could have gone better, what went well, where did we get lucky, where do we want to take it next year.”

Conrad Goeringer, an Ironman-certified coach and author of The Working Triathlete, agrees. He says that come Fall, he wants triathletes to rest before they set a path for the next year. He believes the rest is critical physically and psychologically.

“We want to equip an athlete’s body to achieve their goals,” said Goeringer, “so we look at where someone can improve and work on those areas over the winter. But we also need to train an athlete’s mind. Psychology and mindset are everything. You have to ingrain habits, and habits of thinking, so training just becomes a habit.”

Goeringer says that after a restful reset, it’s easier for athletes to make improvements.

“For a lot of athletes there is low hanging fruit they may be too busy to see or reach for during the season,” says Goeringer. “Rest can make those gains accessible.”

Keith Watson Athlete winter swim training
Keith Watson coached athlete Dave Eurich for Ironman Santa Rosa in 2019.  They plan to leverage the Vasa SwimErg in Dave’s 2020 swim training plan.

Focus On Weaknesses In Your Winter Swim Training

Goeringer likes to work an athlete’s weaknesses in the fall and winter when the focus is on increasing strength and fitness, and not winning races.

“Instead of taking a strictly balanced approach to swim, bike, and run in the fall and winter months, I push people to focus on their weakest pursuit and to add an extra session or two each week to increase fitness in that discipline,” said Goeringer. “Once we resume full training, that extra fitness tends to linger.”

Fall And Winter Swim Training Blocks For Catch & Pull

For many of Goeringer’s triathletes, swimming is the biggest challenge, so he prescribes fall and winter swim training blocks.

“Many triathletes learn to swim as adults,” said Goeringer. “In the winter, I have them become students of the swim. If I normally schedule two to three swim sessions each week, we bump that up to four or five sessions.”

He puts athletes in the water with a pull buoy, snorkel and ankle strap. He also has his athletes train on a Vasa SwimErg.

“Nearly everyone can improve their catch and pull,” said Goeringer. “The Vasa SwimErg was created to help athletes learn how to get the most out of the front end of their stroke, to catch as early as their flexibility allows, to do a full arm pull with acceleration, all with good alignment. With Vasa, I can get athletes to focus exclusively on the catch and pull. We correct pull trajectory and build power through the stroke, using single-arm freestyle and other drills, while learning to be efficient.”

Read more about visualizing a better Freestyle

Consistency and Action Builds Confidence

Swim-specific strength, endurance and improvements in their technique often helps athletes gain confidence and manage fear & anxiety about open water swimming.

“The swim is scary for a lot of beginner triathletes,” said Goeringer. “They’re in the water, they can’t see, and people are thrashing around everywhere. There’s a reason an open water mass start is called the washing machine.”

To get comfortable in those conditions, an athlete has to be confident in their ability and their strength as a swimmer.  Consistent winter swim training on a Vasa SwimErg helps athletes build that strength while also providing more efficient swimming workouts at home or in the gym.

“For most athletes, it’s hard to get to open water in the winter, but you can swim on a Vasa all year long, building endurance and confidence,” agreed Watson. “Unlike the pool, on a Vasa Ergometer, there are no flip turn microbreaks, so it accurately simulates open water swimming.”

Since there’s no need to travel to the pool, change clothing & shower afterward, training on a Vasa saves a lot of time.  That makes winter swim training more efficient and manageable, which can make all the difference in an athlete’s ability to maintain consistency and make improvements.

 “Most people have their Vasa in their garage or bike training room,” said Goeringer. “They can hop on it, and in 10-15 min they can execute a very good workout.”

Imitating Open Water In Your Winter Swim Training

Vasa training also most accurately imitates open water swimming. Triathletes typically race in open water and more often while wearing a wetsuit.

“When you’re in a wetsuit,” said Watson, “you don’t need to focus on best body position. The swim is about being strong and efficient in open water, not about Michael Phelps-style perfect technique. So training on a Vasa is ideal. Not only is it targeted, it’s super-efficient and it opens up options for athletes to do swim-bike bricks or swim-bike-run bricks. They can also track their progress and success through the power numbers Vasa Swim Trainer’s display. Do a 4000-meter workout on the Vasa Ergometer, then get in the pool a day or two later, and you’ll feel like you’re ripping holes through the water in a good way.”

Read Part 2 Of This Important Training Series: Off-Season Swim Training Tips For Better Race Season Results


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