A quick Amazon book search turns up over 200 titles on the topic of cycling with power, “running with power” turns up just a few. Type in “swimming with power,” and your second search result brings up Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets. Ever since the proliferation of semi-affordable cycling power meters—and recently running power meters—triathletes have been told that power is the answer to effective and efficient training. But what about the stuff that comes before T1?
“From a technique standpoint, ‘swimming with power’ involves using the major muscles in the shoulders, chest, back, and core to generate high forces over the duration of the stroke—along with fast hand speeds,” says Ryan Atkison, sport biomechanist for the Canadian Sport Institute in Ontario. Atkison has been using swimming with power tools with his athletes—including some younger swimmers who have gone on to set junior world records and stand on senior-level international podiums.
Atkison uses in-water swim power training to connect the dead spots of the stroke, when hand speed slows down or when the palm changes direction. “These dead spots occur from the entry to the catch, from pull to the early push—when the hand passes under the shoulder—from the early push to the late push—when the elbow prepares to exit the water—and when turning or lifting the head to take a breath,” he says.
Atkison uses an in-water device to measure swimming with power (see below), but cautions it’s not for everybody: “Swimming is a very technical and complex sport, and it is difficult for inexperienced swimmers to coordinate their movements to vary their speed and power,” he says. “A swimmer wishing to perform power training needs to have enough technical profficiency to make this type of training effective.”
Dryland swim power training has been around for some time, and it offers a more specific—yet less-dimensional—option. Jack Fabian, former collegiate swim coach and former head coach of the women’s U.S. open-water national swim team uses it to help simulate open-water swims and work on pacing. He uses an ergometer (see below) with an online training platform. “This could be a benefit to triathletes, who, for example might need to hold between 75-85% of their FTP during a 70.3 swim,” he says. “They can practice this precisely for sustained swims of 20-60 minutes on the VASA erg using ANT+ (wireless communication) and a program such as Trainer Road or Rouvy.”
He says dryland training is fine for beginner or intermediate triathletes, but that a coach should be present to monitor technique—mirroring Atkison’s concern for strength with proper form.
“I think right now swim power training is a bit of a hidden secret for those that know how to use it,” Fabian says. “I think the surprise will come when more athletes realize how this can benefit their training.
Power Up! Two Swimming with Power Tools
These two swimming with power options are at the forefront of a new swimming metric. Expect more swimming with power tools to follow.
Vasa Swimerg (with power meter)
Starting at $1,750 for SpaceSaver model (+$100 for ANT+)
This traditional dryland swim bench improves strength and endurance—as well as technique with the help of a coach. It can also connect to online training services to create workouts.
Starting at ~$900USD plus a $10 day pass or $22 monthly subscription Smartpaddle.
The SmartPaddle is new technology that measures power and hand position in the water using small finger paddles that connect via Bluetooth to an app and cloud-based analysis service. The SmartPaddle records force, hand speed, and hand direction/placement— plus much more—for up to 40 minutes.