World Class Workouts 4: Try the Grand Prix with Olympian Cristina Teuscher

<strong>Cristina Teuscher before the 1996 Olympic Games.</strong><br><br><em>Photo: Matthew Stockman/ Allsport</em>
Cristina Teuscher has certainly swum her share of challenging workouts, and they have paid off for her.

A gold medalist in the 800-meter free relay at the 1996 Olympic Games (and a bronze medalist in the 2000 Games in the 200-meter individual medley), she is one of the world's most versatile and well-rounded swimmers.

With a reputation as not only a fiercely tough competitor but also as a well-spoken and good-natured "class act," Cristina welcomed the opportunity to contribute a World Class Workout to this column.

She supplied several workouts that she considers her favorite or most challenging, but surely the one that stands out is a set she calls the Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix is 8,900 meters (or yards, depending on your pool)?of madness, combining endurance with all four strokes while balancing pace work with sprinting--all with minimal recovery time.

It is certainly not for the faint of heart or the uninitiated, but the following column will offer suggestions and ideas for adapting this super-set to your own needs and abilities.

Unabridged, here is Cristina Teuschers World Class Workout:

The Grand Prix

3,000 swim (timed)
1,500 pull
800 individual medley
400 stroke (no freestyle)
200?fast freestyle
100 easy
200?fast freestyle
400 stroke (no freestyle)
800 individual medley
1,500 swim (timed)

Total: 8,900 meters/yards

As with all great sets, the Grand Prix offers unpredictability with a certain level of repetition; a tough mix to achieve but one that makes the time pass quickly while challenging the swimmer in various, unpredictable ways.

The first block, the 3,000-meter swim, is both a warmup and a pacesetter for what is to follow. Try to negative-split the distance so that your second 1,500 is faster than the first half of the set. Remember these two split times.

The 1,500-meter pull is an extension of the warmup set, designed to put in some upper-body work while stressing endurance. By the end of this second block, you will have completed over half the entire distance of the workout, with only one break between the 3,000 and the pull set.

Mixing it Up

With the warmup, endurance, and upper-body portions of your workout behind you, it is now time to get down to business with some faster swimming and some cross-training with different strokes.

The 800 individual medley (200 butterfly, 200 backstroke, 200 breaststroke, 200 freestyle) and 400 stroke is the first opportunity to swim a stroke other than freestyle, and this is an essential part of a well-rounded swimmer's daily routine.

Regardless of their preferred competitive stroke, Olympians and world-class swimmers always incorporate additional strokes into their training sessions. Triathletes and open-water freestylers should follow their lead; there are definite advantages to swimming strokes other than the crawl, even if you only compete in that stroke.

First, stroke training breaks up the monotony of swimming the same stroke each and every day, each and every workout. Second, it stretches and conditions muscles that are more or less dormant during your preferred stroke (this is necessary to maintain flexibility and increase endurance in the favored stroke). Third, swimming different strokes provides better cardiovascular conditioning (as anyone who has ever attempted a few laps of butterfly can tell you).

Regardless of your ability, I highly recommend peppering your swim workouts with butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke. It will certainly not hinder your performance and can only improve your overall ability.

Speeding Things Up a Bit

The 200?fast freestyle repeats, separated by a 100 easy, are designed to test your speed and get those slow-twitch muscles to respond to a pair of medium-distance sprints. While a 200 is hardly considered a sprint in sprinter's terms, its the shortest and fastest repeat in this endurance-intensive set.

Really push yourself in these two segments to get down to race pace, and try to get your heart rate above (at least) 150 or so.

The 400 stroke and 800 IM may look familiar; they are repeats from earlier in the workout. This time, attempt to beat your finish times (not easy given the fatigue you should be feeling).

Eventually, doing this entire workout should teach you to pace yourself so that you have enough energy left toward the end to complete the last few repeats without fading. In mastering this type of endurance, you will find yourself relying on back-half race strategy to overcome your competitor's--always a good thing.

Endurance Check

The icing on the cake (or the last straw, depending on your frame of mind) is a 1,500-meter swim for time. The all-important goal is to beat both of your 2x1,500 splits from the opening 3,000-meter freestyle. If you can do this, you should have all the confidence in the world that your endurance is a force to be reckoned with.

The first few times you attempt this workout, you may not even make it this far. If you do, but find that your muscles are screaming out in pain, forget trying to beat your earlier times and instead really focus on keeping your stroke technique together.

Take care not to drop your elbows, slap the water, or shorten your stroke (all things that result from fatigue or bonking towards the end of a tough swim). The more capable you are of keeping good form, the closer you will get to beating your initial splits and eventually, in a race, overtaking your competitors. Always try to maintain proper technique, especially when fatigue and soreness take over.

Of course, this set (unabridged) may only appeal to a small percentage of endurance swimmers and hard-core triathletes. There are ways to modify it to your abilities while still taking advantage of its drills and benefits. For instance:

Mini-Prix Workout

1,000 freestyle
500 pull
200 IM
200 stroke
100 sprint
100 easy
100 sprint
200 stroke
200 IM
500 freestyle

Total: 3,100 meters/yards

Substantially shortened, the above example of a Mini-Prix can be tried by athletes who may only swim a few times a week, 3,000 yards per workout. The gist of the Grand Prix is still maintained, however, in that the swimmer should negative-split the opening swim, focus on race pace during the 2x100 sprint, and then attempt to beat the split 500 time in the last 500 meters.

Stroke work is still included with 2x200 IM and 2x200 stroke, but these shorter distances allow novices to experience new strokes without being exhausting.

For swimmers that only swim freestyle:

Free-Prix Workout

1,000 freestyle
500 pull
300 freestyle?-- 20 seconds rest
200 freestyle?-- 10 seconds rest
100 sprint
100 easy
100 sprint
200 freestyle?-- 20 seconds rest
300 freestyle?-- 10 seconds rest
500 freestyle

Total: 3,300 meters

This workout is for freestylers who just refuse to (or can't) swim any other stroke. Slightly different in its make-up, it tests a swimmer's endurance and forces one to pay attention to finish times more closely in the workout.

The consecutive 300 and 200 freestyles (essentially a broken 500) should be swum fast enough to beat either 500 of the first 1,000. After the 2x100 sprint, the goal is to swim even faster on the next 200 and 300, beating your previous broken 500. Finally, the last 500 should be the fastest 500 of all.

The Free Prix version challenges you to swim a total of 5x500 throughout the workout: two in the warmup, two broken ones in the middle of the set, and one last one at the end of the workout (all descending and increasing in effort and speed).

Cristina helpfully offered some insight into how she gets through such daunting workouts every day.

"I just think about [the workout's] purpose, where it's going to get me, and how few people do this stuff," she said. "I also try to just view it as a challenge and nothing else. If you don't have it that day, relax and motivate for the next day. Hard workouts always get me excited and make me look forward to tomorrow."

She is quick to add that even on an off day, there are ways to get better and make the most of the set.

"I think of keeping my rhythm and relaxing when I do a hard set. I do it piece by piece. Sometimes all you need is one great 1x100 in a workout to think the session was a success."

Judging from her track record, Cristina has clocked enough great 100s in her career to ensure her a solid place in swimming history. By partaking in some of her world-class workouts, you too may end up at the front of the pack.

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