World Class Workouts 11: Repeating 200s With Olympian Lindsay Benko

The Importance of Warming Up

Lindsay's warm-up is a generous mix of swimming, kicking, drills and multiple strokes. The more varied your warm-up, the better prepared you will be for a main set (or a race).

Remember to incorporate some other strokes into your warm-up even if your main event is freestyle or a triathlon. Backstroke loosens shoulders, breaststroke helps warm up the legs, and even a few hard strokes of butterfly can stimulate groggy muscles and prepare a swimmer for fast swimming.

Kicking and drills are also good ways to ensure adequate pre-race preparation.

Because Lindsay's main event is essentially a long sprint, flip turns are an integral part in her success. Therefore the warm-up set she supplies incorporates attention to flip turns while requiring short, fast explosive bursts of speed at varying points within each repeat. Such bursts of speed bring her heart rate up (as a warm-up set is supposed to do), yet do not require the type of physical exertion that will tire her out for the main set that follows.

Tailoring the Main Set to Your Ability

The main set of 21 x 200 may look daunting on paper, and it is 4,200 yards of swimming on a demanding interval. However, the set should be approached as seven mini-sets of 3 x 200 each, and suddenly it becomes more feasible.

The first two sets should be on a manageable interval: In Lindsay's case that's 2:25 and 2:20. For you, that may be 2:45 and 2:40. Pick an interval that you will be able to make, but one that you will be able to drop for a select few 200s later in the set. Your first two sets of 3 x 200 should be at about 80 percent effort.

The third set of 3 x 200 is a fast one, and you should be exerting at least 90 percent effort since your interval drops by 10 seconds on this round. Do not overexert yourself, as you are not even halfway through the set and there are two remaining sets on a faster interval ahead of you.

The fourth set of 3 x 200 is somewhat of a recovery since your interval jumps back up by five seconds. Note that it is still faster than the first two sets, so you are slowly forcing yourself to swim at an elevated speed for a sustained period. This helps build endurance.

Also, doing this set a few times will teach you how to pace yourself; if you start out too fast the first time you attempt it, you will find yourself not able to make the intervals or finish the set toward the end.

Start out conservatively and for the athletes training for a long-distance event or triathlon, remember this approach as you set out on the first leg of your race!

Time to Bear Down

The fifth set of 200s is the crux of the set. You should be swimming at 95 percent effort, but able to maintain the same steady pace for all three 200 repeats. This is where you should reach your aerobic threshold: the point where you are sustaining race pace and a steady heart rate consistently.

The sixth set is a recovery of sorts, although in Lindsay's case she is required to repeat 200s at 2:10, not an easy feat. Whatever interval you work your way down to on the (previous) fifth set, increase it by five seconds for this sixth round and simply swim to make the interval. Do not worry about your time. You need to recover as much as possible for the seventh and last set of 3 x 200.

The last set of 200s is an all-out 100 percent effort sprint. Of course, it is preferable that you maintain the same time on all three 200s, but whatever you need to do to make the interval is fine.

After 3,600 yards of swimming mostly at aerobic threshold, these last 200s will be painful and you may feel your stroke begin to fall apart. Do your best to maintain proper technique. Better form under duress will come in handy during a race, and you will swim faster than your more fatigued counterparts when their technique falls apart.

This entire set builds to a crescendo of effort through the interval, not through the distance of the repeats (which remain consistent throughout the set). So while swimming 21 x 200 may sound monotonous at first, it is much more interesting to approach the set as a series of smaller sets where the variable is the interval and not the distance.

Break it down into seven sets of 3 x 200 and not only will the set become more interesting, but it will seem more surmountable too.

Not making the last set of three is not the end of the world, so if you fail then simply regroup and attempt to get farther through the set the next time you try it. As your endurance and strength builds throughout your season, the set will become more and more attainable the more you do it.

The Final Set of the Workout

The final short set is an anaerobic challenge designed to force the body to perform on decreased levels of oxygen after a period of sustained aerobic activity. This builds endurance and VO2 max efficiency, but be wary of attempting 50s on no breath if the main set has you worn out.

The reason for doing this set so late in the workout is to duplicate the feeling of oxygen depletion and anaerobic fatigue that you might feel at the end of a particularly hard race. The more accustomed you are to swimming under these conditions, the better prepared your body will be to handle the physical challenge that comes with racing at these intense levels.

Understandably, some swimmers will not need to do Lindsay's 7,100 yards to cover their daily yardage. A simple way to modify her workout is to make the 200s into 100s—the main set is thus shortened from 4,200 yards to 2,100 yards.

The intervals should be such where the all-important fifth set of 3 x 100 is done with minimal rest at aerobic threshold: If your race pace is 1:12 per 100 yards, then your interval for this fifth set should be at 1:15 per 100. Then, building out from that, the rest of your main set would look like this:

3 x 100 @ 1:35
3 x 100 @ 1:30
3 x 100 @ 1:20
3 x 100 @ 1:25
3 x 100 @ 1:15
3 x 100 @ 1:20
3 x 100 @ 1:10

Regardless of how you choose to model your workout after Lindsay's, it should challenge you in both aerobic and anaerobic ways, while increasing your overall speed and endurance.

"When I first heard the main set (of this workout), I thought I wasn't going to make it," Lindsay admits. "But I ended up going under two minutes for the last three 200s."

"I didn't wake up easily the next morning, but I loved being able to finish it. It makes you feel great, even if it might be painful during the process. The end result is pure satisfaction."


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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