World Class Workout 14: Different Strokes With Kristy Kowal

Drill Suggestions for Each Stroke:

Butterfly: One-arm stroke drill focusing on proper underwater recovery and synchronized kick.

Backstroke: Sculling drill with your arms at your sides, using wrist motions to propel yourself forward. This works on the end, or finish, of your stroke while strengthening forearms only; move your arms from the elbows down to get across the pool, never breaking the surface of the water by your sides.

Breaststroke: Kick only, with arms at your sides; works your legs and corrects body position.

Freestyle: Catch-up drill, with arms outstretched in front of you; once one arm completes a full revolution and touches the other, begin next stroke. This lengthens out stroke while encouraging body rotation.

Explaining the Workout

The 50 "build" means that you increase your speed and effort to over 90 percent. This serves to get your heart rate up and hopefully allows you to maintain the good form from the previous 25 drill under faster conditions.

The 3,200 main set is broken down as four sets of 4x200. This is an ideal structure for working all four strokes, something that Individual Medley enthusiasts should find particularly delightful. It is also, as previously noted, a terrific method of cross-training if you're a long-distance freestyler or triathlete in need of a challenging swim workout.

Take the first set of 4x200 and include some butterfly on repeats 2 and 4. On the second, choose a butterfly drill (such as one-arm stroke) for the drill 50's. On the fourth 200, only do the last 100 butterfly unless the prospect of a 200 fly doesn't faze you.

A 200 fly in a workout may be too much for a non-butterflier, and it can wreak havoc on overworked shoulders. But swimming the last 100 butterfly of a fast 200 will provide a cardiovascular and anaerobic challenge. The good news: the worst is now over!

On the next three sets, focus on backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, respectively (IM order). On these sets, you can swim the entire even-numbered repeats in the selected stroke. The fourth 200 should be negative split, meaning that your last 100 is faster than the first.

In addition to picking up the pace, make sure to keep good form. By forcing yourself to swim fast using correct stroke technique, you will adopt good habits under duress, which will come in handy during race-pace situations.

Remember to rotate your shoulders with each stroke revolution on backstroke, and to lunge forward and glide throughout your breaststroke.

Kristy's pull set comes after the main set, an unusual place to don pulling equipment (I prefer to pull as part of an extended warm-up, before the main set). One reason her coach may have placed this pull set later in the workout is that the main set is meant to be swum breaststroke in her case, and pulling before such a long stroke set could have a detrimental effect on her technique. Pulling later allows her to stretch out tightened muscles.

Use the pull 50's to keep your heart rate up while stretching out your stroke and powering through the set. Work your legs on the 300 kick and take a short break between 100's if you need to.

Focus on keeping your feet submerged rather than foaming at the top of the water you'll encounter more resistance this way and work your legs on the up-kick as well as the down-kick.

The final set is short, but essential to complete according to the directions in order to get the most out of the session. Descend the 8x50 in two sets of four down to race pace (or close to it).

In the end, this set equals two broken 200's, and your fourth and eighth 50's at race pace should equal your goal time of the last 100 of a 200 stroke. Take the rest you need: If the stated interval is too quick, then give yourself an extra 10 or 15 seconds. The goal is to perform with a fast time, not an aerobic workout.

The 3x100 stroke with paddles and fins are negative split again, a chance to focus on strengthening the back half of your race. Wearing paddles and fins helps lengthen out your stroke while magnifying technical errors that occur from fatigue. Execute the set in a controlled manner, maintaining good form in spite of how tired you might feel.

Allow your heart rate to slow down with the easy 200 swim, but feel free to relax for a longer distance if you need more time to recover.

It is important to include stroke work in your workouts even if you favor freestyle or triathlons. Strokes can stretch, lengthen, and challenge your muscles in numerous ways and increase cardiovascular ability over time (just try swimming a few laps of butterfly if you think you're in great swimming shape).

Equally important, stroke workouts break the monotony of endurance freestyle training and offer a respite from repeating the same sets day in, day out.


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.

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