World Class Workout 2: Climb the Ladder With a Distance Diva

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

The second World Class Workout (check out the first one) comes courtesy of Lisa Hazen, an open-water legend who has competed in distances up to 88 kilometers!

A four-year All-American swimmer from Stanford University, Lisa briefly retired to pursue a career in high-tech in Silicon Valley. When a skiing accident forced her back to the pool for recovery, some friends convinced her to try open-water racing, and she took to it naturally. By 1994 she was competing in U.S. competitions up to 25K as well as internationally-sanctioned events over triple that distance.

Raking up victories and international acclaim as one of the more enduring (and endurance-prone) athletes of the sport, Lisa continues to build her reputation as a Distance Diva even though she is nearly two decades older than some of her competitors. Although she is mostly swimming for the fun of it these days, Lisa still trains like a pro, and some of her workouts are indeed jaw-dropping.

Here, she has agreed to share one of her favorite endurance-building workouts. Beware: It's not for the faint of heart! But regardless of your fitness level, there will be ways you can participate in Lisa's challenging set, so read on.

Climbing the Ladder

When I asked Lisa what her favorite workout was, she couldn't decide. But after some pause, she concluded as follows:

"If I didn't have a coach one day and someone asked me to come up with a workout and no one was going to complain, I would suggest this set:

1 x 800
2 x 400
4 x 200
8 x 100

"For me," Lisa explains, "it's a way to get a lot of yards in in a relatively short amount of time. Plus, by the 100's I'm nice and warmed up so I can try to do some good repeated intervals."

The ladder set above equals 3,200 meters—or a little over two miles. For swimmers who only train half that distance, the best way to modify the set would be to divide the distance in half by swimming a 400, 2 x 200, 4 x 100, and 8 x 50. This way, by the time you reach the 50's you will be warmed up (as Lisa says) to practice your pace on the short 50-meter repeats. Avoid reducing the workout by swimming an 800, a 400, a 200, and a 100, because you will not be doing any repeats by the end and will thus miss an opportunity to train for pacing.

Developing Endurance

Swimmers hoping to develop endurance couldn't ask for a better set: by starting with an 800, they're forced to swim a half-mile nonstop and then take a short break before completing a broken 800 (2 x 400 = 800). At this point, they've already done a mile and yet are only halfway done. Rather than quitting from fatigue or boredom, swimmers have the opportunity to complete another mile with more breaks and rest (with the 4 x 200 and 8 x 100).

The key is to complete the entire distance (regardless of how much rest you take) so that your endurance is tested and improved over time. Although you are covering long distances, as you proceed down the ladder the repeats get shorter, facilitating the set.

For novices looking for a way to start formal training, the ladder set above can be reduced to laps. For instance, in a 25-yard pool, you may want to try:

8 laps
4 laps
2 laps
1 lap

This equals 750 yards, or a little less than a half-mile.


Lisa suggests doing the ladder backward if you're feeling really conditioned.

"When I'm in really good shape, I think I would actually prefer to do it the other way, starting at the 100's and going up. In that case I would put a lot more thought into how to do each segment:

"8 x 100: Keep a steady pace to get warmed up. None of them fast or with tons of effort.

"4 x 200: Picking up the pace, remember the times for each 200 and then figure out the average at the end.

"2 x 400: Your time must be a little better than twice the average for the 200's. Make the second 400 slightly faster than the first one—just by a second or two.

"1 x 800: Give it all you've got. Faster than the sum of the two 400's. Try to negative split. Basically, this is what the set works up to for a good end-of-the-set time."

Lisa explains that for this method, "I would only want to do it when I am in good shape, so that even though I had done 2,400 already, I could still crank on that last 800."

She adds that this set is not something she gets to do very often, as most Masters swimmers don't want to do that much. But for the distance folks, this is a really good one.

When training for two-mile or longer ocean swims, people attempting this workout may want to do it once down the ladder and then repeat it back up—swimming for a total of 6,400 meters, or about 4.5 miles.

Although this is way more yardage than one needs to cover to complete a two-mile ocean swim, it is a nice confidence booster and challenging set to try if you have the time and motivation. By completing it, a two-mile race will seem like a piece of cake.

Determining Your Interval

As far as intervals are concerned, I've tried this set and I prefer completing the entire distance on a 1:15 (one minute, 15 second) base per 100 meters. This forces me to maintain the same speed throughout the set, and I am challenged to get more rest by swimming faster on the longer distances.

Pick an interval per 100 that you are comfortable repeating and try it for the 800 (for instance, if you can swim a 100 at 2:00 comfortably, try the 800 on 16 minutes).

Another approach is to take a specific amount of rest between each set—perhaps 15 seconds. Although that may not seem like a lot after an 800, by the time you reach the 8 x 100 you will have 15 seconds between each one; enough rest to compose yourself and really try to maintain the same pace on each repeat.

For the ultimate endurance workout, your intervals can decrease as your distance decreases. Start with a 30-second break after the 800, then allow yourself 20 seconds between the 400's, 10 seconds between the 200's and only five seconds between the 100's.

If you can complete this set, then you are probably ready to hold the pace you maintained on your 100's for any ocean race!

Related Articles:

    ?World Class Workout 1: Core Conditioning in the Pool
    ?Ladder sets take (some of) the drudgery out of pool training
    ?World Class Workouts 3: Hone Your Speed and Pacing

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