World Class Workout 1: Core Conditioning in the Pool

[Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2002.]

The first World Class Workout comes to us courtesy of USA Triathlon team-member Peter Hursty, currently residing in Honolulu, Hawaii. A former pool swimmer, Peter has been successfully pursuing a career as a triathlete for the last several years, with four overall first-place finishes in the reputable Tinman Triathlon, and victories in the Lavaman Triathlon in 2000 and 2001.

Peter is also a masters swimmer and age-group coach, making him an ideal and well-rounded choice for the inaugural World-Class Workout series.

Peter's favorite workout totals 4,500 meters, or three miles. It is an overall swim conditioning workout, balancing intricate pace work (that comes in handy during a long-distance open-water swim) with explosive speedwork (that helps keep fast-twitch muscles in racing form). The nice thing about this workout is that it includes a well-rounded set of drills that can be used every day. Indeed, Peter relies on it a few times a week--with modifications--as his core-conditioning workout.

(Workout and intervals are based in a 50-meter pool)

500 swim
200 kick
300 pull (breathe once every five strokes)

Set 1
10x100 @ 1:30, freestyle/backstroke by 50

Set 2
4x400 @ 15 seconds rest, descending:
No. 1 @ 70 percent effort
No. 2 @ 80 percent effort
No. 3 @ 90 percent effort
No. 4 @ 95 percent effort

Set 3
300 easy pull

Set 4
4x50 @ :40, sprint

400 easy swim

"Usually," admits Peter, "I'm not one for much stroke work."

The above workout clearly favors freestyle; which is fine considering that Peter's primary purpose for swimming is to stay in shape for the first leg of his triathlons. Even so, he wisely includes backstroke in his first warmup set. The purpose of this is to stretch out his shoulders, both backward (backstroke) and forward (freestyle).

"I usually do that first set just to get the blood flowing and get my heart rate up slightly," he says.

Swimmers who would consider 10x100 the major part of their workout can pare down the set to 3x100. Swimmers who find the 1:30 interval too difficult can try the set at 1:45 per 100, or simply take between five to 10 seconds rest between each repeat.

The main set of 400s is the heart of Peters workout. By increasing his effort with each 400, he is also forcing himself to descend his time on each 400, negative splitting not only every repeat but also the entire set. Negative splitting is when the last half of the distance completed is faster than the first half. It is an ideal, though very difficult, way to compete in longer events.

"Along with the descending, I try and negative-split each swim to work on my pacing," Peter explains.

By conditioning himself to swim harder and faster as the set progresses, even as fatigue sets in, Peter is slowly teaching his body to negative-split automatically (this helps during his triathlons, as he is usually the first one out of the water).

Swimmers who find the mile-long set of 4x400 too daunting can either do 2x400, or 4x200, with the same amount of rest. The point is to descend and negative-split the set at all costs.

If you have trouble descending your times on the repeats, you may be going out too fast in your first half. Experiment by taking it easy on the first repeat (maybe only exert yourself 50 percent instead of what you perceive to be a 70 percent effort). In time, you will learn your body's capabilities and become familiar with your own sense of pacing and endurance, which will help you in long events where you will be required to save some energy for the back half.

"On the 4x50, I try and go pretty much all-out for each one," Peter says. "I like to do this set to work my anaerobic capacities. It hurts, but I feel so good after its done!"

Granted, it is the end of his workout and he may be exhausted from the endurance set he just completed, but there is no better time to test his sprint mettle. This short burst of four consecutive sprints is exactly the kind of anaerobic burst he may have to rely on at the end of an event to out-sprint a competitor. As tired as he is at the end of his workout, he will be even more fatigued at the end of a race, yet called upon to dig down for that last bit of explosive energy. This set conditions Peter to be competitive even when he is feeling weak and spent.

Remember to always cool down at least five minutes after your last set before exiting the pool. Especially after a sprint set like 4x50, your muscles will be brimming with lactic acid that needs to be flushed out (otherwise the following day will be a painful reminder of your last workout).

A 400-meter easy swim, mixing backstroke and freestyle, can help get your heart rate down while flushing out that excess lactic acid. Hyperextending your arms with every stroke will also help prevent lactic-acid buildup by stretching sprint-fatigued lateral muscles.

When your heart rate lowers and you're feeling comfortable and loose, exit the water and consider your first World Class Workout complete.

Related Articles:

    ?World Class Workout 2: Climb the Ladder With Distance Diva
    ?World Class Workouts 3: Hone Your Speed and Pacing

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