Swim Ladder Workout From Janet
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This World Class Workout is a complex
"ladder" swim set that comes from four-time Olympic gold-medalist and current
world record holder Janet Evans.
Owning several of the top fastest
performances of all time in her respective events (400m freestyle, 400m IM,
800m freestyle, 1500m freestyle), Janet achieved her accomplishments due in no
small part to years of dedication and the completion of monstrous sets
requiring superhuman physical conditioning.
Her contribution this month is important
because it is an endurance-building workout thats also designed to help a
swimmer develop the "back-half" of their race.
Too often, training long distance develops
endurance, but at the expense of speed and pacing consistency. Triathletes
especially may focus their swim training solely on completing a mile-long swim
without being fatigued for the bike and run legs that follow. However, if these
swimmers want to be competitive, it is important for them to be able to finish
the last half of their swim strongly and not succumb to a slower pace and
Warm up as you see fit, anywhere from 800 to
2500 meters of easy swimming, kicking, and pulling with a buoy and paddles. A
short warm-up set of 8x50s @ 10 seconds' rest can elevate your heart rate
and prepare you for the sustained activity soon to follow.
Janet Evans World Class
1 x 500 @ 6:15
2 x 400 @ 5:00
300 @ 3:45
4 x 200 @ 2:30
5 x 100 @ 1:15
TOTAL: 3500 m
The basic ladder structure of 500, 400, 300,
200, 100 is reconfigured by the amount of repeats within each set so
while you are decreasing the distance swum within each set, you are increasing
the amount of times you swim that particular "repeat" distance. As a result,
while each set allows you a slightly shorter repeat between each break, you are
forced to swim that distance an extra time.
Janets example is meant for seasoned
swimmers who can maintain a base interval of 1:15 per 100m freestyle. Not many
people can do this for the 3500m duration of this set, so modifications are
If you only have access to a "yards" pool
(rather than meters), you can attempt this interval in yards, though it may
still be challenging. A 1:30-base will look like this:
1 x 500 @ 7:30
2 x 400 @ 6:00
300 @ 4:30
4 x 200 @ 3:00
5 x 100 @ 1:30
Throughout the set, it is most important to
make the interval and force yourself to stay on pace. The first 500 should be
comfortable but challenging, at approximately 85% effort. You should not have
more than 10-15 seconds' rest before launching into the next set of
For this second leg, concentrate on keeping
your pace per 100 the same as you did on the 500, but try swimming slightly
faster on the second 400 repeat. You may not have as much rest as you did after
the 500, but keep in mind that you are dropping the distance you are swimming
so your interval, though consistent in base, will seem shorter. Thats
part of the challenge.
The 300s are the middle leg of the
set, and possibly the most difficult. Not quite endurance repeats (like the 500
and 400), but not short enough to be akin to sprint repeats (200,100), this set
is the turning point for how successful you can be overall in this workout. The
pace should be equal if not a bit faster than the first two legs you just did,
though your effort should be at about 90%.
It is the longest leg of the set at 900m,
and if you can make the intervals you are home free, but it might be
touch-and-go between each 300 so be prepared to swim through with barely a
The 4x200s will be your first foray
into short repeats. Though the interval base is the same, it will be tougher to
finish 4 x 200s in a row after what came before. Swim to make the
interval but be cautious not to shorten your stroke and get sloppy.
Swimmers often tend to change their
technique when they shift into overdrive, especially if they feel fatigued.
Keep your strokes long and powerful, but increase the effort to 95% if you
The last 5x100s are your chance to be
explosive and fast at the end of two intense miles of pace training. While you
may have felt like you were sprinting at 95% effort on the 200s, your
times should have been at long-distance race pace at that point in the set,
assuming your endurance needs work (that is what this set is designed to
For the 100s, you may have to force
yourself to sprint at 100% effort just to make the interval or keep your
previous pace. But the repeats are short; you should have a few seconds' rest
after each one, and there are only 500m in the set as opposed to the previous
sets 800m or 900m.
Getting through this workout and
successfully making the intervals is a challenge enough in itself. Once you are
able to master it, you should see a significant improvement in the back half of
As a triathlete, you may also notice less
fatigue at the end of your swim accompanied by a more powerful exit and
transition into the bike leg.
An even more challenging approach to the
above workout is to decrease the base-100 interval as you descend down
the ladder. For instance:
1 x 500 @ 6:15 (1:15 base)
2 x 400 @
4:50 (1:12.5 base)
3 x 300 @ 3:35 (1:12 base)
4 x 200 @ 2:20 (1:10
5 x 100 @ 1:08 (1:08 base)
Obviously, this hardcore approach puts more
emphasis on descending your interval throughout the set under the assumption
that your endurance is already at peak levels.
The challenge here is not simply making the
set and maintaining the same pace times throughout, but challenging yourself to
swim at threshold and actually dropping your time (not just increasing your
exertion effort to maintain it).
For novices that yearn for a taste of
elite-level challenges, a more realistic approach to this workout may look like
this in a 25-yard pool:
1 x 250 @ 25 secs rest (250 yards)
200 @ 20 secs rest (400 yards)
3 x 150 @ 15 secs rest (450 yards)
100 @ 10 secs rest (400 yards)
5 x 50 @ 5 secs rest (250 yards)
TOTAL: 1750 yards
In general, ladder sets are favored by
endurance swimmers because they avoid the monotony of typical endurance
training where the same distance may be repeated several times (3 x
1500ms, for instance).
Janet Evans' example is effective in that
its not only a ladder in the typical sense (500, 400, 300, 200, 100), but
it adds an extra layer of complexity and challenge by increasing the
amount of repeats as you are descending down the ladder.
It clearly worked wonders for her career;
perhaps it can do wonders for you.