Fitness Makeover: Advice for achieving those swimming goals

Credit: Harry Howe/Allsport
Starting this year, I am beginning a monthly column called "Fitness Makeover" on a monthly basis. Modeled after the L.A. Times? popular Financial Makeover column, this feature will focus on swimmers of varying skill levels and offer advice on how they can better train for, and thus achieve, their personal athletic goals.

Subjects will be selected based on issues they have in common with other users, so that the profiles have something everyone can relate to.

Feel free to submit your profile for possible ?makeovers? in future columns.

So without further ado, let me introduce our first willing victim, Jenny Cook!

Jenny is 42 and lives in West Los Angeles and is a travel agent. She trains with a masters team and has only been swimming open water for three years, and writes that she intends to compete in five open-water swims this summer ranging from two to five miles in length.

?So my challenge,? she writes, ?is to keep my level of fitness up over a long period of time. How do I train so as not to peak too soon and to still be rested? My weak points in open-water racing are the starts and finishes. I face-planted on at least three or four of my finishes last summer. Don't want to do that anymore!?

Jenny?s current workout schedule is four days a week. One of the workouts is stroke/IM, the remainders are mid-distance and distance freestyle. An average workout is 3,200 meters.

She does not lift weights, but does a one-hour soft-sand workout on Saturdays. Included in the workout is running, squats, lunges, push-ups, upper-body resistance training with tubes (see band training article), and lots of sprints, and crunches and leg lifts (for abs).

Jenny?s dilemma is a common one: How do you maintain the proper level of conditioning throughout the season and yet still have enough ?pep? or ?speed? to be competitive during ? and especially at the end of ? an ocean swim?

Both endurance and speedwork are essential. Jenny is off to a good start in that she is part of a masters program that challenges her with the occasional sprint or pace set. However, she would like to maintain sub-1:20?s per 100 meters and she is currently at 1:22. What she should do is adopt a swimmer?s weight-training regimen twice a week (see archived article on swim weight training). The strength she will gain from these sessions will help her overall speed in the masters sprint workouts, as well as increase her overall endurance.

The week prior to her races, she should lay off the weights and concentrate on tapering with explosive sprint sets and the occasional pace set. 4x25-meter sprints with one-minute rests are a great post-workout speed-builder, and 3x100?s on 1:30 interval holding sub-1:20?s would be a good pace set to do in the days leading up to competition.

If she only has a week or two between races, she should hit the gym once within two days of completing her last race, to maintain her muscle tone and allow for maximum recovery time before the next event. The sprint and pace sets she can do each day, as long as her muscles stay relaxed and aren?t sore.

Given the demanding race schedule Jenny has planned for herself, endurance workouts can help make the frequent racing less hard on her body. Given that her current regimen is four swim workouts a week at 3,200 meters each, I would suggest adding one workout of hardcore ?distance? training, either ladder sets or swimming-for-distance, where she swims constantly with no breaks for an hour and covers as much distance as she can.

With the weight training to help her speed, and the endurance training to increase her stamina, Jenny should be able to complete her five ocean races without ?face-planting? at the finish. Personally I think face-planting is as dramatic and photo-friendly as sliding into home plate, but if she wants to be more graceful, than that it?s her call.

Regardless, Jenny has a lot going for her already and with a few minor adjustments to her weekly routine she should accomplish her goals with no trouble at all.

If you are interested in being the subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.

Get advice for getting back on track with Alex's Fitness Makeover column

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