5x200 IM @ 3:00 descending in effort
(#1: work the butterfly)
(#2: work the backstroke)
(#3: work the breaststroke)
(#4: work the freestyle)
(#5: work the whole 200)
10x100 (odd: freestyle; even: 2-stroke transitions—see below for explanation)
TOTAL: 8,000 meters
Breaking Down the Workout
The 16x50 warm-up is your first chance to try out your strokes on the odd repeats. Don't muscle your way through them (especially during the butterfly), but rather concentrate on long, smooth technique-oriented strokes. Use the even 50s to stretch out with freestyle.
Set 1 is the first half of a ladder totaling 1,800 meters. The middle portion of each repeat is IM, and since this is a workout focusing on the four strokes, it is this middle portion that you should concentrate on while the outer freestyle legs can be swum as "recovery."
As you descend down the ladder, the stroke portions get shorter and should be swum increasingly faster, so that by the time you are on the 150s, you should be swimming the 50 stroke at 90 percent effort (at least). The 200 IM in the 600 can be at 75 percent effort, concentrating on stroke technique.
Use the 800 pull to relax and stretch out, allowing your heart rate to slow down since you should have been training at an aerobic level for Set 1.
Set 2 is back up the ladder with a little more rest between sets, so focus on maintaining good form while hopefully descending your times from the previous set. Since you are finishing with a longer stroke portion (meaning the 200 IM during the 600), pace yourself so that you can attempt that last IM at 90 percent effort. Note your time, as you will need it for Set 3.
Set 3 is simply a 200 IM repeated five times, allowing you to focus on one stroke at a time during each of the first four repeats. This is followed by a fifth 200 "all-out effort," where you will attempt to beat your 90-percent performance from the previous 200 IM at the end of Set 2.
Set 4 is part recovery, part drill and part light aerobic set. "Two-stroke transition" means that on each even 100 repeat, you are to practice two strokes that are consecutive in the individual medley event. For example: butterfly/backstroke, or backstroke/breaststroke, or breaststroke/freestyle.
This helps teach your body to switch gears (strokes) more efficiently, as many swimmers find the rapid switchovers from one stroke to the next challenging and upsetting to their rhythm.
In addition, this drill allows you to work your turns (make sure you practice two-handed touches on butterfly and breaststroke to avoid event disqualification!).
While no one can promise you an Olympic gold medal or American record, the above workout does ensure a level of endurance and versatility worthy of Summer Sanders.
"I often think the workouts I did in my prime, like the one above, set the stage for my current level of cardio fitness," Summer admits. "I doubt I'd be running marathons, or even thinking that I could, if it weren't for workouts like this where my mental as well as physical endurance was challenged!"
This article was originally published in April, 2003.
A former swimmer at Stanford University, Alex Kostich has stayed strong in the sport at the elite level even while maintaining a day job. The three-time Pan-American Games gold medalist still competes in—and wins—numerous open-water races around the world each year, as well as competing in the occasional triathlon and running race.