The Kitchen Sink Set

Here’s a workout I sometimes do if I show up to the pool without a plan. It consists of 10 sets, each totaling, respectively: 1000, 900, 800, 700, 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100. You make up each set as you go along. Usually, I’ll do the first 1000 as warm-up, and tack on 5×100 cool-down at the end, for an even 6,000 yards/meters.

I call it the Kitchen Sink Set. Here’s one version I did this past weekend (SCY):

  • 1000 w/u: 300 swim, 200 kick, 300 pull, 2×100 IM
  • 3×300 pull, moderate
  • 4×200 IM, threshold
  • 14×50: 2x {fly, fly/back, back, back/breast, breast, breast/free, free}
  • 6×100 kick, descend 1-3
  • 100 loosen, 400 Free AFAP (as fast as possible)
  • 4×100: 50 drill / 50 swim, choice of stroke
  • 6×50 fly, smooth
  • 200 IM, broken @ the 50’s, 10 seconds rest – AFAP
  • 4×25 sprint under-water SDK (streamline dolphin kick) on back

I like this workout for a couple reasons. The structure of descending distances keeps you motivated to push through to the end (important when training solo). It has a little bit of everything – aerobic, threshold, lactate, mix of strokes, drilling, kicking, pulling, SDK’s. And it’s different every time. If you have a training partner, you can divide creative responsibilities to make it even more interesting.

Don’t fight the water

People sometimes ask me what I think of Total Immersion. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say: While I may quarrel with a few of the details, I think it’s general emphasis on “harmony with the water” is quite valid – and its validity increases with swim distance.

T.I. coaches teach their students to not “fight” the water. Beginning swimmers often fight the water (almost by definition), but advanced swimmers aren’t immune. I often catch myself doing this when I’m fatigued and trying to hold a pace slightly beyond my comfort zone. I’ve paid much more attention to not fighting the water since I started doing marathon swims. You might be able to get away with fighting the water in a 50, or even a 200, but in a marathon this is death. A relaxed, efficient stroke is essential.

On days when I’m not feeling so hot, I try to forget about going fast and just focus on relaxing and swimming efficiently. If I’m working out with a team, this may require slight adjustments to sets.

For example, say the coach assigns a descend set – 4×200 descended 1-4. Instead of trying to go faster on each 200, I’ll try to hold the same pace on each one, but with progressively less effort. The only way to hold pace constant while using less effort is to become more efficient. Incidentally, I think these types of sets are useful as a warm-up to a long swim – or during the few days leading up to it.

Wet Drylands

You don’t need a gym to get a great dryland workout. I’d venture to say that you don’t need more than a medicine ball and a pair of stretch cords.

In some cases, you don’t even need dry land! One of the most effective core exercises I’ve ever done involves taking the medicine ball with you into the pool (preferably not one of those old school leather med balls, though). Push off the wall on your back while holding the ball above your upper chest with both hands, and dolphin kick to the other end of the pool. Try to feel how your core initiates and powers the dolphin kicking motion, all the way through to your feet.

I typically do a set of 50’s, alternating 50 med-ball dolphining / 50 fast fly or back, working the SDK’s. I use a 4-6 pound medicine ball, but you can make it easier or harder by using a lighter/heavier ball or by holding the ball closer/further from your chest.

Pre-Tampa training swim

Last weekend I did a rather epic pool workout (as you know if you follow my Twitter feed). An unexpected excuse came up for a quick trip to Santa Barbara, and given my current lack of long course or open water options in Chicago, I decided to use the opportunity for a pre-Tampa training swim. The Rec Center at UCSB has a beautiful outdoor 50m x 25y pool that – conveniently – is open for LCM lap swimming from 9am to 8:30pm on the weekends.

Despite a chilly morning, it turned into a gorgeous day. With cloudless skies, a light breeze, and mid-day highs in the 60s, I actually worried about getting sunburned. When the front door opened at 9am I went straight to the pool to claim my lane – second from the bottom of the picture, with the best viewing angle to the pace clock. Incredibly, nobody joined me in that lane until the last 15 minutes of the swim.

In designing the workout, I aimed for something that would challenge me in terms of distance, time, and pace, but without boring me to death. So I ruled out a long continuous swim, or something overly repetitive like 15×1000. I aimed for something I could realistically do, but that also offered a not-insignificant chance of failure. My previous longest swim/workout in terms of both time and distance (including my club and college swimming days) was Swim the Suck last October – 10 miles (effectively ~8.5 given the favorable current) in 3 hours, 7 minutes.

I eventually settled on a 25,000-meter (15.5-mile) set that, at a constant interval of 1:30 per 100m, would take 6 hours, 15 minutes. This would approximately double the Tennessee River swim and put me within spitting distance of the current-assisted length of TBMS. While a 1:30/100m is a conservative interval for me under most circumstances, at marathon distance I knew it would pose a challenge. As a point of reference, a 1:30 pace for 10K is 2 hours, 30 minutes – no slouch of a time. It’s also interesting to note that only 4 of 45 competitors in the last USMS 25K National Championship finished under 6:15.

And remember, a 1:30 interval means my actual pace must be faster than 1:30, so I have time to feed between swims.

Anyway, here’s the set:

  • 1000
  • 10×100
  • 1000
  • 5×200
  • 1500
  • 5×300
  • 1500
  • 3×500
  • 2000
  • 4×500
  • 2000
  • 5×400
  • 1500
  • 5×300
  • 1000
  • 5×200
  • 1000
  • 10×100

I maintained my normal training volume going into the swim, though I did take off the day before. My energy level and general “feel for the water” during warm-up rated about a 6 on a scale of 1-10 – not ideal, but good enough.

After a quick 500m loosen-up, I did the first 1000m swim in 14:05 (pace of 1:24.5) – right on target. I managed to hold this pace for the first 10K (3×500). On the first 2000m swim (10-12K) I started hurting a bit and my pace deteriorated slightly; but I was still getting plenty of rest between swims. The second 2000m (14-16K) was slower still, and hurt even more.

By the “downhill” portion of the set (1500, 5×300, 1000, 5×200, etc.) I was fully ensconced in the hurt box. I experienced what I can only describe as a “narrowing” of consciousness. I had no idea what was going on around me; my stroke was on autopilot; I was aware of only the pain. But I kept making my intervals. Not by much – especially on the shorter swims – but I made them.

I finally did cross over the 1:30/100m barrier on the final round of 10×100. I started feeling dizzy and thought I might puke, so I just swam a straight 1000, alternating 50 back / 50 free. In the end I finished the 25,000th meter (excluding warm-up) a few seconds shy of 6 hours, 16 minutes.

Then I pulled myself out of the pool, chugged a quart of chocolate milk, and took a hot shower. I had entered the water a few minutes after 9am. It was now almost 3:30 in the afternoon.

That evening I watched the Oscars with my parents. I felt like I’d been run over by a truck, but I washed down some ibuprofen with a few glasses of wine (probably not the healthiest combination), which numbed me up pretty good. The next day my shoulders were still a bit perturbed, but I was better. Two days after that: as good as new.

25K training swim: check.

Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?

If you like gadgets and/or swim toys you may have found yourself, at some point over the past couple of months, drooling over the FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor. And after playing with one for a few weeks now, I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool.

Before you fork over $200, though, consider the question: What does the Swimsense – and swim watches in general (e.g., the Swimovate Poolmate and Oregon Scientific’s watch) – offer that a simple pace clock doesn’t?

Continue reading “Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?”

On training logs, and a 2010 retrospective

Among swimmers, runners, cyclists, weightlifters – really, any athlete in a quantifiable sport – it’s common practice to keep a training log. In high school and college, I kept a log only sporadically – and I really regret it now. I’d love to look back on some of the sets I did in those days.

Since I got back into swimming a year and a half ago, I’ve been much more conscientious about keeping a log, and I think it’s really helped – motivating me to get to practice, and helping me gauge progress. I split my training log between two documents: a text file where I write what I did in each workout (sets, intervals, times, etc.), and a spreadsheet where I log the total distance I swim each day. In two adjacent columns of the spreadsheet, I also keep a 7-day running total (how much I’ve swum in the past week), and an average of the previous four 7-day totals (i.e., 4-week moving average).

I like the 7-day running total for its straightforwardness – “What have I done in the past week?” But I think the 4-week average is actually a better indicator of my fitness level at any given point.

Out of idle curiosity, I decided to revisit last year’s log. Here’s a chart showing the running 7-day totals (blue line) and the 4-week moving average (red line) between mid-August 2009 and late-October 2010 (from the end of the 2009 O.W. season to the end of the 2010 O.W. season). The Y-axis is in meters, and I added some annotations to show the timing of various races and other life milestones. (Click the chart to enlarge.)

I’m actually surprised how well I ended up doing last year, given that I averaged only 19,000 meters/week. Obviously, at some point increased training has diminishing returns. But I have a feeling I’m still on the “steep” part of that slope.

Moreover, I never actually did a “real” taper last year. The most I gave myself was a 5-day “drop rest” for Big Shoulders – but even that barely shows up on the 4-week average. A “real” taper would show up clearly on the red line.

Short Course: The bad news

I recently noted an unforeseen benefit of doing long swims in a short-course pool: It’s easy to monitor your stroke count without counting!

That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Swimming for a long time without stopping in a short-course pool can increase the risk of tossing your cookies.

I assume this has something to do with flip turns, and I also assume it depends on what you’ve eaten recently. I didn’t have a problem in the One Hour Postal last year, but I occasionally do get nauseated during these swims.

It goes with the territory. Just ask Dave Barra, who did a memorably gruesome 30,000 SCY workout at about this same time last year.