Vasa Swim Erg Review | Vasa Trainer
This is a review of the Vasa Swim Erg which is probably the only high-tech, indoor swim trainer available. It’s lockdown friendly to keep your triathlon-swim training ticking along but is it any good? It’s certainly expensive, very expensive.
I bought this second-hand off eBay for just under $2000. It’s similar to a Concept II rowing machine adapted for swimming. The Vasa displays and broadcasts power and several other metrics over ANT+.
The Erg is available with or without an ANT+ power meter and Vasa’s cheaper alternative is the Vasa Trainer Pro which is a moving, inclined gym bench with built-in swim cords but no metrics. The cheapest alternative option would be a gym bench and swim cords for less than $100.
Please note that the manual for the Vasa Swim Erg is dated 2012 so this is an OLD product and its age can perhaps be an excuse for the criticisms I’m going to make.
Vasa Swim Erg Review
Price - 35%
Apparent Accuracy - 80%
Build Quality & Design - 60%
Features, Including Display - 60%
Openness & Compatability - 50%
Vasa Swim Erg | Verdict
I expected the Vasa to be big, I didn’t expect it to need more space than a Concept II and for me, that meant I had to disassemble it after use. It’s cumbersome to move and the erg unit is not properly balanced when disassembled and simply falls over, worse still it falls onto the monitor. When you store the bench with the pole vertical, you have to take great care when resting the pole against a wall as it slides down and gashes the wall. I really could have designed a better physical unit myself, the design is poor for home use. That said if it’s permanently set up in a gym then Vasa’s Swim Erg is a rugged beast that should stand the test of time.
When swimming, the display is too far away to touch and hard to see especially when it occasionally drops to face slightly downwards. I much preferred being able to display the workout data on one of my devices on the floor below my face. Changing the Vasa display is possible but requires you to stop, let go of the paddles and get off the bench.
When you first use the Vasa it is immediately obvious that you cannot perform a proper arm recovery and entry with body rotation. This constraint on my technique took me a while to get used to. Furthermore, I’m quite skinny and pressing my rib cage on the bench is uncomfortable, although pressure can be relieved by changing your fore/aft position on the bench. The closer your chin is to the end of the bench, the more difficult any kind of rotation becomes. The further away your chin is from the end of the bench, the more I experienced lower back pains. Somewhere in between allows some shoulder rotation at the expense of some chest pain.
I liked the Vasa in three respects. First ‘training with power’ is something I’m used to and so that was intuitive and easy. Secondly was my technique. Even though a proper technique is not possible, it is certainly possible to work on multiple aspects of your technique as you don’t have to worry about speed in the water, breathing and simply staying afloat. I specifically benefitted from understanding the feel of the pull phase throughout the full cycle, appreciating just how little power is developed immediately after the catch and how little at the end of the stroke. I also worked on several quite detailed aspects of where and how I applied power. It was an enlightening experience for me to discover what worked.
Thirdly, I wanted to develop functional strength as well as having hour-long easy endurance sessions. I was fairly pleased with what I was able to achieve here. Sure I could have achieved a degree of functional strength via other methods but the great thing with Vasa is that I am developing the strength whilst broadly in the correct position for when I return to the water.
I’ve been unable to swim in the pools for a while (lockdown) but still feel I’ve improved my strength with Vasa – the stats say I have. It remains to be seen how well this will transfer to speed in the water but I’m hopeful. When normal times return, I plan to do 2 Vasa sessions a week and 2 pool sessions, one of the other great things with Vasa is that a 30-minute training session consumes only 45 minutes in total ie if I include the walk to the end of the garden, setup and shower. It saves significant amounts of time.
Vasa recommend recording the ANT+ power data as a bike workout and then changing the sport in your analysis software. Whilst that works, the better solution is to use a CIQ power field in a custom open water swim profile with GPS disabled. I explain that in more detail here and it’s great that a watch can be properly used to record the metrics, even power goes through correctly to Golden Cheetah (and probably elsewhere). You could then use your bike computer to display the power, power balance and other metrics and have that visible through the workout on the floor below your face.
Take Out: I’m disgruntled with the cost of an old-fashioned piece of tech that could be so much better. Yet, I’m glad I have a complete workaround for data display and collection and I’m satisfied that it has made me functionally stronger whilst also maintaining my swim endurance, whether or not this has been at the expense of technique remains to be seen (2020-21 lockdown).
- Trainer Pro: $1,049.00
- Swim Erg: $1,899.00
- Swim Erg with ANT+ Power Meter £2,299.00
Buy direct From Vasa Trainer
- Gym quality durability (with caveats)
- Sport Specific: Supports functional strength training
- Helps focus on identifying and correcting some stroke errors
- Excellent for understanding what phases of the stroke yield power.
- Metrics let you target periodised training and focussed improvement
- Helps train stroke rate
- Great for triathlon Brick training.
- Great for a time-crunched athlete
- Handy if you have a backlog of box sets and an iPad
- Perfect for a winter training or a pandemic when the pools are closed
- Full, proper technique is not possible
- Can be uncomfortable
- The data is broadcast as if it were from a bike power meter
- Antiquated data display which is too far away to use
- Poor physical design for storing, moving around & erecting
- Takes up more space than a Concept II rower
- Very expensive
Here are some further notes on obscure points or where more detail is relevant
Vasa Swim Erg Review – Settings
To change the Vasa’s resistance level you manually open a flap on an air inlet before you start. The flap locks into position and has an indicator of hardness from 1 to 10. As you lay on the bench you will notice a slightly upward-facing angle and there is no scope to adjust that. The bench slides smoothly up with your effort and back to the end as you rest, this movement can be disabled but Iiked it. The paddles can easily be detached and replaced and are very similar to regular swim paddles.
The display is very similar to a Concept PM2 with an audible tempo counter. It has other useful features, for example, you can set a pre-determined time/distance or create intervals with rest periods, but all you are doing here is setting a glorified timer. There is no smart control of the resistance level.
I found it hard to read the display, if your eye sight is better than mine you will be able to configure it to display several metrics including time, stroke rate, power, LR power, pace/100m, distance, calories, calories/hr, max power and LR Stroke length.
ANT+ Broadcast Metrics & Accuracy
Using ANT+, Vasa broadcasts time, speed, distance, power (Total & balance) and cadence. Most of those are self-explanatory and I assume that the broadcast ‘time’ refers to your active time rather than elapsed time.
Note: To get speed and distance to match the display, the bike wheel circumference needs to be set to 100mm
The guy who I bought the Vasa off tended to do shorter workouts based on 100m reps and he claimed that the Vasa pace/100m seemed to match his pool speed. For me, the speed on the Vasa is much faster than my real swimming speed.
Yet other annoyances were periodic power spikes for short periods of a second or two. These required manual editing to remove (PITA) and I’m not sure if they came from incorrect VASA data or incorrectly recorded data by the CIQ data field.
The power data correctly found its way into Garmin Connect & Golden Cheetah and I would assume TP would be the same. However, Golden Cheetah is not configured to correctly calculate swim-specific CP/max. thus I do get a swim CP curve and a session power curve but I don’t get a CP estimate.
Vasa Swim Position
This is an example from one of the Vasa Youtube videos where they show an athlete with his chin relatively close to the end of the bench. I would generally adopt this kind of position or one where the chin was further away (to the right in the image). Other images and videos show swimmers much further to the right with their celiac plexus at the end of the bench.
Vasa Swim Erg – Alternatives
There are only a few alternatives
Vasa Swim Erg Review – Take Out
You have very little real choice if you want a more structured approach to dryland swim-training during lockdown. It’s this or nothing. If you like your stats it’s definitely this!
I think the novelty of swim cords will wear off quicker than the determination to some value out of your $2000+ investment. To make matters worse it’s virtually impossible to get one second-hand (I’ve been trying for two years) and recently Vasa had no stock of new items either.
I am hoping the Vasa Erg will help me become a stronger swimmer over the next few years and I’ve already noticed strength increases after 6 weeks of use. I’m also hoping my poor technique won’t have got poorer due to a lack of real swimming.
Check out Vasa’s videos, they’re good.