Vertical Kicking: A leg-intensive workout provides a natural rut-buster for thick-shouldered swimmers. Warm up with a 400-yard freestyle swim, finishing by kicking hard to loosen your legs, recommends George Block, president of the American Swimming Coaches’ Association. Hit the deep end and try to keep your head above water relying on nothing more than a fast flutter kick. Without using your arms, sweep your legs back and forth from your hips, keeping your knees straight. For something harder, raise your hands overhead-you’ll earn a whole new respect for water polo players. Start with a 15-minute set, alternating 40 seconds of kicking with 20 seconds “off,” treading water.
Block Sprints: Cranking out lap after lap just doesn’t seem as fun without that rush of adrenaline. So try invigorating your pool time with block sprints. Warm up with an 800-yard swim. Then hop out on the deck, bribe the lifeguard if need be, and snug down those goggles for a set of 15 50-yard sprints, alternating one hard with two easy efforts. Take a deep breath, launch yourself off the blocks, and make like Amy Van Dyken. Assuming that you’re in a 25-yard pool, do your best flip turn at the end and sprint back. “Don’t turn into a windmill,” Block says. “Keep your stroke long and strong.” Rest ten seconds after each salvo, and swim the easy laps at 50 percent and 70 percent effort, respectively. Cool down with a 400-yard swim.
Water Work: One alternative for runners is simply running in place-in a pool. Water offers considerably more resistance than air yet eliminates the bang-bang-bangs of repeated pounding, important for those nursing nagging injuries. Put on a life vest, slip into the deep end, and start striding. Be sure to maintain an upright posture, mirroring your dry-land form, lest you start motoring across the pool. “Cup your hands as you pump your arms, and you’ll get an intense upper-body workout too,” says Steve Plasencia, former Olympic runner and now the men’s cross-country coach at the University of Minnesota. Incidentally, don’t pay much attention to your heart rate, since water pressure can reduce it by 10 percent. “Run” for 30 minutes, treading water every ten minutes for a brief rest.
The Plod: A slow run of twice your normal distance will force you to abandon your standard pace and push back your “wall.” Consider it a Saturday-morning project; get an early start. Begin at a seemingly embarrassing pace: three minutes per mile slower than normal, walking one minute after every half-mile. “That way, fatigue doesn’t have a chance to build up,” says Jeff Galloway, author of the best-selling Galloway’s Book on Running. “At first it seems pitifully slow, but then it’s great.” Obviously, you’ll want to hydrate throughout the run; Galloway recommends downing carbohydrates after the halfway point.
Noodling: To break the monotony of spinning along at 80 rpm every ride, Dr. Arnie Baker, coach of San Diego’s gritty Cyclo Vets, suggests alternating between high-gear and low-gear repetitions using one leg at a time. Sounds silly, but just be sure to keep your resting leg off its pedal-and out of your spokes. After a 15-minute warm-up, find a flat stretch of pavement and pedal for three minutes at 50 rpm with your right leg. You’ll have to experiment to find the right gear. Ride easy with both legs for three minutes, and repeat with your left leg. After another easy interlude, do a speed set: Pedal for three minutes at 100 rpm with your right leg, do three minutes of spinning, and repeat with the left. Do three sets for a complete workout.
Stand and Deliver: Give those bulky quads a break by climbing a long hill out of the saddle, says 12-time U.S. National Champion road racer Kent Bostick. It’ll reintroduce such overlooked muscles as glutes, hamstrings, biceps, and deltoids. If you live in Iowa, sorry, but perhaps you can improvise on a freeway overpass. Ride 20 minutes to warm up and then, at the base of a long, steady hill, shift into a gear that’s two cogs harder than if you were sitting. Stand upright with your back straight and your hips in front of your saddle, and rock the bike back and forth, opposite each downstroke. Stay up as long as you’re able, sitting down to climb for three minutes at a stretch if you need the rest. “Cool down with ten minutes of spinning,” says Bostick, “but coasting doesn’t count.”