World Class Workouts 12: A Distance Set From Open Water Champ Kalyn Keller

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in March, 2003.]

Our next comes from a young lady whose best years are likely still ahead of her. Kalyn Keller of Phoenix, Arizona, is only 17 years old, but she has already raked in an impressive list of accomplishments in her few short years on the elite swimming scene.

Having represented the United States internationally three times (1999 Pan American Games, 2001 Goodwill Games and 2002 Short Course World Championships), Kalyn also owns a U.S. National title in the 800m freestyle.

Equally impressive as her speed is her ability to switch from pool ingenue to ocean swimming distance diva: She owns two Open Water National titles in the 5K (2000 and 2002). To have this resume so early in her career proves that Kalyn is a force to be reckoned with, both in the pool and the ocean.

Kalyn's workout is a little bit of everything with a distance slant, incorporating pulling, some explosive kicking, stroke work and endurance drills into one 8,200-yard challenge.

Even Kalyn admits that "It's a pretty long workout!" But such excuses aren't necessary: People who attempt these sets will be serious endurance athletes looking to build their base in preparation for the upcoming swimming and triathlon season.

However, there will be suggestions for modifying the workout to more earthbound capabilities later in the article.

300 easy free
900 - (300 kick/300 pull/ 300 swim)

Kick Set
3 x 100 @ 1:50 descend (each 100 is faster than the previous one)
4 x 25 @ :40 sprint kick
3 x 100 @ 1:40 descend
4 x 25 @ :40 sprint kick
3 x 100 @ 1:30 descend
4 x 25 @ :40 sprint kick

Stroke-Specific Set
20 x 50's:
1 - drill @ 1:00
2 - build @ :45 (get faster throughout each interval)
1 - strong (90 percent effort) @ :45
1 - easy @ 1:00
(repeat through four times, varying strokes)

Main Set
15 x 300 (one minute rest between sets)
3 @ 3:30
3 @ 3:25 (pull)
3 @ 3:20
3 @ 3:15 (pull)
3 @ 3:10

300 Easy

TOTAL: 8,200 yards

Kick Set

After the 1,200-yard warm-up, approach the kick set as an extension of the warm-up but also as your first set of the main workout. You're really only warming up your legs with a light workout before attacking the main set, but it's a nice way to get your heart pumping and get some serious leg work in.

Stroke-Specific Set

The stroke-specific set that follows has intervals with plenty of rest, allowing Kalyn to focus on her butterfly and backstroke. Such stroke work early in the workout provides an opportunity to stretch out muscles not normally used in freestyle for added conditioning, overall flexibility, and in Kalyn's case, some base work for her secondary events (the 200m butterfly and individual medleys).

"I really enjoy the stroke-specific 50's because it warms me up for the rest of workout. I do a lot of fly and back on those 50's, and it's nice to build and then go strong."

Swimming different strokes, even if you're a triathlete or long-distance freestyler, is as beneficial and necessary as cross-training is for the multisport athlete. Always try to incorporate some other strokes into your swim workout; this could help offset overuse injuries (such as rotator cuff inflammation) and will give you an added boost in cardiovascular conditioning.

Main Set

The meat of the workout is the set of 15 x 300. That is nearly three miles of swimming, so prepare for a long set! Here is what Kalyn has to say about it, for those of you that might have doubts:

"It looks really long, but it isn't that bad or maybe that's just what us distance swimmers think! I guess I'm just good at getting a good song in my head, hopefully I know more than one line of it, or else it'll drive me crazy! "

Although she used to favor Michael Jackson's oeuvre, "he's gotten way too weird with everything lately," Kalyn explains, so she relies on John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" during long sets, appropriately enough.

So pick your favorite song and dive in, taking care to pace yourself accordingly since each set descends in interval (and thus your effort needs to increase with each one).

Approach the second and fourth pull sets as a form of active recovery, focusing on form while preparing for the swim set that follows:

"I think that pulling those middle sets help break it up a bit," offers Kalyn, "and they really set my stroke up and lower my heart rate a little without having to kick."

The Meat of the Workout

The last set of 3x300 is obviously the critical part of the workout, with the lowest interval and highest amount of effort required by the swimmer. It is also the point where fatigue is likely to strike given what came before but it's the last set, so there's no reason to hold back; just try to stay disciplined with your stroke technique (which usually falls apart with the onset of sore muscles).

"The last 300's aren't bad at all, once you get going and warmed up with the 12 before it they are actually pretty smooth," Kalyn reassures.

"I like to descend each group of three so I know I can go faster when the interval gets tighter," she says. "It wasn't as bad as it looked when I first started. You just kinda get into a 'groove' and set it on cruise control. One good thing is that there is not much thinking on this set; it's pretty straightforward with the intervals.

"I don't like to think too much," Kalyn says laughing, " after all, I gotta think of the next line to the songs I'm singing in my head!"

Below is an abridged version of Kalyn's workout that amounts to 4,650 yards of swimming, a little more than half the original distance. It maintains the warm-up/kick set/stroke set/main set structure of the featured workout, but cuts some of the distances and repeats to a more manageable grand total.

Instead of hard intervals, the breaks are generic 5-,10-, or 15-second blocks of time, allowing swimmers to complete the distances at their own pace.

Warm Up
500 easy free

Kick Set
100 @ 15 secs rest
2 x 25 sprint @ 5 secs rest
100 @ 10 secs rest
2 x 25 sprint @ 5 secs rest
100 @ 5 secs rest
2 x 25 sprint @ 5 secs rest

10 x 50 Stroke Specific
1 - drill @ 15 secs rest
2 - build @ 10 secs rest
1 - strong (90 percent effort) @ 5 secs rest
1 - easy @ 15 secs rest
(repeat through two times, varying strokes)

15 x 200 (1:00 Between Sets)
3 x 3:20
3 x 3:15 (pull)
3 x 3:10
3 x 3:15 (pull)
3 x 3:00

200 Easy

TOTAL: 4,650 yds

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