Ryk Neethling anchored South Africa's world record setting, gold medal winning 4x100 freestyle relay team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
The sixth in this series of World Class Workouts comes from an athlete whose list of accomplishments alone would take up an entire columns worth of space.
Well-rounded freestyler Ryk Neethling has been making history in the pool, recently becoming the first South African to win all the freestyle events at his country's nationals; ranging from the 50-meter sprint to the longest official event, the 1,500-meter.
A finalist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 1,500-meter freestyle, Ryk competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, anchoring the South African 4x100 Freestyle Relay team to a gold medal and world record (3:13.17). He also finished 4th overall in the 100m Freestyle.
Such versatility does not occur by accident, and Ryk agreed to share a few of his training secrets in an effort to spread his success to the masses. While he currently swims on a modified training regimen designed to develop more speed, the sample workout he submitted was from his former days as an endurance machine.
A challenging 8,000 meters, the workout is destined to give even the most endurance-prone swimmers a run (or swim) for their money. However, with a few suggested alterations, anyone can benefit from the structure and purpose of the set below.
Ryk Neethling's 8,000m Challenge
1,500 freestyle @ 18:00 minutes
3 x 500 @ 6:00 (descending, total time faster than the 1,500)
5 x 300 @ 3:40 (descending, total time faster than the 3 x 500 combined)
15 x 100 @ 1:20 (descending, total time faster than the 5 x 300 combined)
Not only is the set above designed to develop cardiovascular ability and muscular endurance, but psychological strength as well.
The point of the set was concentration for a long period of time, Ryk explains, and descending each leg, of course. That's very important in distance swimming. So to descend the entire set—and also within each section—is the ultimate goal, and as you start going faster and getting stronger, you learn how to swim the ideal 1,500m race.
Of course, swimming the "ideal" 1,500 meters comes in handy if you're a triathlete, given that this is the distance for the first leg of an Olympic-distance triathlon.
Any swimmer facing this workout needs to be tough, for every 1,500-meter leg is followed by another, faster, more challenging one. As the meters pile up, the athlete has to have the mental stamina to complete each set successfully without throwing in the towel and going through the motions. While almost any seasoned swimmer can complete the set (albeit on slightly easier intervals), it is the disciplined swimmer who completes each leg correctly by descending every broken 1,500.
Starting the Engine
As with any long workout, a proper warm-up is important. While most swimmers may balk at a 2,000-meter warm-up that is one-quarter of their total yardage, I always swim at least that much before any harder sets that follow (and sometimes I insist on 4,000 meters, or half my total workout!).