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Vasa SwimErg: 3-Week Introductory Program

SwimErg 3 Week Intro swim training plan

3-Week Introductory Swim Training Plan

How to use the Vasa SwimErg effectively to swim stronger, better, faster!

This 3-week introductory program will help you start training effectively with the Vasa SwimErg.  It focuses on building a base of swim-specific power and endurance while improving form and efficiency in Freestyle swimming.

This program was designed so athletes and coaches can get started correctly leveraging the power of training with the Vasa SwimErg.  Over three weeks, you will learn how to use the SwimErg to construct a strong foundation for a progressive swim training plan.

By starting with this 3-week program, you will learn how to do power-based swimming workouts that emphasize proper form & efficiency.   

The program provides 3 workouts per week, each with a specific purpose.  If you are new to using the Vasa SwimErg, allow a day off between these SwimErg workouts. Depending on your ability, fitness level and access to a pool or open water, it would be useful to add 1 or 2 easy swims on the days between Vasa SwimErg workouts.  This will allow you to integrate the lessons learned from SwimErg workouts to swimming better in the water. 

The workout sessions will:

  • introduce you to swim training with power (Watts) displayed on the Vasa SwimErg power meter
  • teach you how to improve Freestyle swim technique
  • familiarize you with structured workouts

How to use this swim training plan

For best results:

  1. Read the notes section before doing each workout
  2. Watch the videos (links included) at least once
  3. Complete the workouts while mindful of the key points made throughout this program.

To help complete the details of each workout in this swim training plan, you may choose to:

(a) print each workout and post it near your Vasa SwimErg;

(b) Hand-write the workout onto a Dry-erase board to keep near your Vasa SwimErg;

(c) Access it on your smartphone;

(d) Memorize it!   

To leverage the power of repetition in learning, we recommend viewing the videos more than once to learn & to visualize the proper technique when training with the Vasa SwimErg.  It will also be useful to review the videos before you swim in the water.


FOCUS:  Become familiar with using the SwimErg.  Make time to watch the videos listed below to help you learn how.  Use a long, taut body line, head-to-toes, when lying supine on the padded bench.  Correct hand placement and stroke path using a high elbow catch and acceleration of the pull is critical for productive SwimErg training.

To get a better result, take some time to watch each of the following videos in the order presented: 

VIDEO #1:  How to position yourself properly on the Vasa SwimErg

VIDEO #2:  Improving your Freestyle swimming  – Part 1, Set up of the stroke

VIDEO #3: Improving your Freestyle swimming  – Part 2, Fingertip Orientation

The focus of Week 1, Workout 1 is correct fingertip orientation & hand/forearm placement to use a high elbow catch & pull.  Once you are on the SwimErg, practice putting your hands & forearms on top of the imaginary box” (as shown in video #2) to achieve a more powerful high elbow catch position.

During & after the workout, take notice of any of the following:

Sore neck? If your neck is sore after the workout, next time relax your neck and face as you swim.  

Sore shoulders? Be sure you are not internally rolling your hands or dropping your elbows at the catch.   

Power imbalance? If one arm fatigues sooner than the other, or if one arm seems consistently more powerful, check the Right/Left arm power on the SwimErg Power Meter to confirm (hold the blue “Shift” button & press “Stroke” button on the Power Meter to switch it into R/L Stroke mode).

If one arm generates significantly higher watts, then focus on ways to deliver more power from the weaker side.  Corrective strength or mobility exercises may be necessary, and it could also be caused by inefficient pulling technique on that side.

Legs swayed side-to-side?  If your legs and feet swayed side-to-side, that’s a sign that your core muscles used for stabilizing and rotation were not being used.   While using the Vasa SwimErg for Freestyle swimming, focus on engaging the core stabilizer muscles and lengthen your body head-to-toe. Your body should feel taut & strong.  Remember to keep the hands & forearms about shoulder-width apart.  Avoid dropping the elbows during the catch & pull.

Here is a useful Vasa blog article on how to set up your stroke.



4 x 2 minutes of single-arm drills

Do 10 deliberate strokes with your Left Arm.  Then switch sides and do 10 deliberate strokes with your Right Arm.
Finish the remainder of the 2 minutes continuous Freestyle with a low recovery stroke path.

Rest for 30 seconds between rounds.

Repeat for 3 more rounds.

Round 1 and 2: focus on hand placement. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width. If your hands are clinking the monorail then you are way too narrow. If your hands are pointed to the pulleys then your hands might be too wide.

Rounds 3 and 4: focus on getting the right fingertip orientation and a high elbow catch, and “push like you are pushing on top of the box”,  as described in the video.

Main set:

Next, do 4 rounds x  25 strokes each side as a catch-up drill.  Focus on the hand placement and high elbow catch throughout

Rest for 30 seconds between rounds.

Next, do 4 x 1 min continuous freestyle with 15-sec rest between and focus on using the skills described earlier.


On day one, we focused on hand placement and the high elbow catch, and today we are going one step further to focus on the power phase.

Watch these two videos first:

VIDEO #4: Improving your Freestyle swimming  – Part 3, Wrist Awareness

VIDEO #5: Improving your Freestyle swimming  – Part 4, Umph at the Front

In addition to this power phase, be sure to accelerate the hand speed after the catch through to the finish of the stroke. There should be a noticeable difference in speed between your recovery phase and your pull phase both on the SwimErg and in the water.

Here is also a good article to read on the subject – How to get a stronger pulling position

Now let’s apply this to your swim.

Things to look out for today: Listen to the sound of the SwimErg’s fan wheel when you are swimming.  Does that sound stay the same throughout the pull? If so, it is a signal that you are not accelerating your hand speed from the high elbow catch to the finish.  If you are accelerating the pull, there will be a noticeable difference in the sound the fan wheel makes.

Here is a useful article to learn how to overcome a ‘mono-speed’ pull: Hand speed acceleration in swimming



4 x 20 single arm strokes (10 left/10 right) focusing on the hand placement and high elbow catch on 30s rest. Review Monday’s videos if you need to.

Main set:

4 x 20 strokes using a catch-up drill (10 strokes each side) on 15-sec rest 

This time, focus on accelerating your hand speed when pulling from the high elbow catch through to the finish of the stroke near your hips.  Use a relaxed, low recovery of the arms back to the start of each stroke.

5 x 1-min continuous Freestyle swimming on 30-sec rest


On day 2, the focus was on the acceleration and the power phase of the pull.  In this workout, focus on the finish & recovery of the stroke. Start by watching the video tutorial below.

VIDEO #6: Improving your Freestyle swimming  – Part 5, Exiting the stroke

Here is a useful article on the finish of the stroke – Reducing drag when finishing the stroke

In this workout, you will put everything together from the previous lessons:  hand placement,  high elbow catch, power pull through to the hips, then easy recovery to set up for the next stroke with proper hand placement.



4 x 20 strokes single arm Freestyle (10 strokes each side) with a focus on hand placement, high elbow catch and acceleration through the power phase.  Take 30-sec rest between rounds.

Main set:

5 x 30 strokes using a catchup drill. Emphasize each part of the stroke in addition to the easy recovery as shown in the video. on 15-sec rest

5 to 10 reps x 1-min easy,  Freestyle swimming on 30-sec rest while using the best form 


Today, the focus will be:

  1. Review and practice each part of the stroke that you learned in Week 1
  2. Learn and practice the double-arm backstroke, low arm recovery and high arm recovery (or normal swimming)

The purpose of the double-arm backstroke is to loosen chest & shoulder muscles, engage the core muscles, and practice a high-elbow catch stroke while on your back. The form used during the double-arm backstroke is very similar to that used during freestyle, especially with the focus on a high elbow catch and pull with acceleration through the stroke.  Here is a short video that demonstrates the double-arm backstroke:  

Check out the video below for a demonstration of the different strokes:


Warmup: 3×30 strokes as single arm stroke (15 each side) focusing on the below during each round, 15-sec rest between each

Round 1: focus on hand placement and high elbow catch

Round 2: Focus on a high elbow and accelerated pull

Round 3: Focus on easy recovery and acceleration through the pull

Main set:

  • 5 x 1min on 15-sec rest with perfect form

  • 4 x 20 strokes, done as low-arm recovery strokes on 10-sec rest

  • 4 x 20 strokes as double arm backstroke on 10-sec rest

  • 5-10 x 1min perfect form swimming on 15-sec rest depending on your time and abilities

  • 4 x 20 strokes as double arm strokes on 10-sec rest


In this workout, the intention is to work on changing the stroke rate (strokes per minute or SPM). The focus must be on maintaining an efficient, proper form while going for a higher SPM. The major change needed to increase SPM comes from accelerating from the catch through the pull. 



5 x 45-sec “catch up” drill on 15-sec rest, with a focus on best form

5 x 20 strokes using a double-arm backstroke on 10-sec rest between sets

Main set:

10-20 x 50-sec  Do the first 20-sec focusing on a relaxed effort with perfect form. Then for the next 15-seconds, pick up the stroke rate by 5 SPMs while still focusing on good form. Then for the last 15-seconds,  increase the SPM a bit more (aim for 5 more SPMs).   Do 10-sec easy recovery between each 50-sec round.


5 x 45-sec catch up drill focusing on good form on 15-sec rest

5 x 20 strokes with double back arm stroke on 10-sec rest

NOTES for WEEK 2 – WORKOUT 3 [Damper Door]

close up damper door on Vasa Swim Erg

The damper door (DD) is a useful feature of the Vasa SwimErg. Opening it more increases the resistance and forces you to slow down your stroke while keeping a higher power. As you become more advanced and stronger you will be able to master the technique and hold better form with higher DD settings.

This workout will include changing the DD to experience the resistance variations while maintaining good form. The first thing you will notice is a tendency to reduce your SPM. This is normal.  Continue using your best form and accelerate your hand speed through the pull. If you have shoulder issues be careful with your DD settings and not to spend too much time in higher DD settings. If your form begins to break down lower the DD.  Here is a link to a very good article about avoiding using a “monospeed” pull in Freestyle: Overcoming Freestyle Monospeed



5x1min perfect form swimming on 10-sec rest

5 x 45-seconds catchup drill focusing on perfect form on 15-sec rest

5 x 20 strokes done with double-arm backstroke on 10-sec rest

Main set:

13 x 45-sec with your best form on 15-sec rest. Use the rest period to increase the DD up 1 notch until you hit level 7,  then decrease DD setting by 1 notch at each 15-sec rest.

Do 1-2 rounds depending on time and ability


5 x 60-sec perfect form swimming on 10-sec rest

5 x 45-sec catchup drill focusing on perfect form on 15-sec rest

5 x 20 strokes as double-arm backstroke on 10-sec rest



In this workout, don’t focus on power (Watts).  Instead, maintain your best form throughout and use a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to monitor intensity. On Week 3, Workout 3, you will do a Critical Power test, which will set the stage for power-based workouts in the future.

Purpose: Technique

Why: Identify strengths and weaknesses in each arm.

Technique Tip:   Consider the fingertips, wrist, and forearm to the elbow crease as one straight “blade” – like a kayak paddle blade.  Keep those parts aligned and relatively straight with a firm wrist and a high elbow.   Accelerate this “forearm blade” from the Catch through the Pull to the Finish of each stroke.

woman showing EVF to translate into Faster Freestyle Swimming
Straight fingertips to elbow, plus good range of motion, help set up a powerful stroke


Warm up:
2-min easy freestyle, normal recovery
60-sec alternating 5 strokes single arm right arm with 5 strokes single arm left arm.
60-sec Double-arm pull, low recovery
60-sec Freestyle, low recovery

Main Set:

Single arm drill/freestyle, normal recovery
10 x 1 minute as (5 strokes right, 5 strokes left then the remainder of each minute as continuous freestyle) with a 10-second rest interval


5 minutes easy. Change pull patterns every 30 seconds


Purpose: The purpose of this workout is general conditioning, mixing up the pull patterns, and using higher power in short, quick surges.

Why: It’s useful to gain proficiency in different pull patterns, acceleration through the pull & use an easy recovery.  

Technique Tip: For the 5-sec bursts, you may find it easier to shorten the finish of the stroke to better focus on the initial burst (power phase)


Warm up:

5-min easy changing to double arm backstroke halfway through if you want

6 x 30-sec builds with 10-sec passive rest

Do the 6 rounds as follows:

#1-2 Freestyle using a normal recovery

#3-4 Freestyle using a low recovery

#5-6 Double-arm Freestyle using a low recovery


Main Set:

3 x 90-sec steady + 15-sec passive rest using freestyle and normal recovery

3 x 90-sec steady + 15-sec passive rest using freestyle low recovery

3 x 90-sec steady + 15-sec passive rest using double-arm low recovery

Pause and get off the SwimErg to do 15-20 reps of reverse double arm swings to loosen up.  

Then get back on the SwimErg and do the following set:

1 x 5 minutes using freestyle and low recovery. Break-up the 5 minutes as follows:

For 25-sec, do a steady “medium-intensity” and focus on using the best technique.  Then for 5 seconds surges, swim with a high-intensity effort. You’ll notice the Watts will increase quite a bit during the 5-sec surges.  Repeat 9 more times to complete the 5 min.

Bonus Challenge:  Double the watts on the 5-sec high-intensity sections compared to the 25-sec medium-intensity sections.

Cool Down:

3-5 minutes easy.  Change pull patterns every 30-seconds

NOTES for WEEK 3 – WORKOUT 3  Critical Power Test

triathlete swimming on dryland swim bench

Purpose: The goal of this workout is to assess your 5-min and 1-min Critical Power from which your “FTP” will be calculated and your intensity zones can be derived for use in “structured training workouts” in the future. 

Tips: It’s ideal to be rested and fresh for this test.  Consider avoiding a long swim or an upper body strength workout within a day of doing the test. 
Be strong and steady throughout each interval. There is a learning curve to tests and with each test, you will improve at doing them. The key is to stay focused throughout and give a steady effort each time so that you are completely fatigued by the end of each. Pacing is important, so avoid going out too quickly.  At the same time, do not conserve energy and then decide to sprint the last section.

As you fatigue (most likely around 2 – 3 minutes, remember to focus on your steady breathing and relax, while also accelerating each pull from catch through to the finish of each stroke.

NOTE: For both the 5-min power and the 1-min power tests, be sure to set the Damper Door (DD) to 2.



2-min easy freestyle

30-sec break and change DD to 2

2-min easy freestyle

30-sec break and change DD to 3

2-min easy freestyle

30-sec break and change DD back to 1

2-min and build your SPM every 30-sec

30-sec break and change DD to 2

Main set:

5-min Time-Trial at Race/Pace effort

(record the Distance covered and the Average Watts)

10-min as active and passive recovery. Use this time to get some water, take a breather, stay loose, and do some easy swimming with some backstroke to open up the shoulders.

1 min Time Trial at Race/Pace “surging effort” (slightly faster)

(record the Distance covered and the Average Watts)


5-min mixing up stroke patterns every 30-secs


Now that you are familiar with training on the Vasa SwimErg and its functions, you are ready to integrate using it with your swim training plan.  We are planning to publish 12-week training plans soon, so stay tuned.  Structured workouts and plans will soon be available on Training Peaks.  

If you have specific training needs & goals and are seeking coaching for integrating the use of your Vasa SwimErg into your overall training program,  consider contacting one of the many experienced coaches who are skilled at designing customized training programs to meet your specific needs.  Contact Vasa Customer Service for more information.