Journey to Olympic Trials: Everybody Hurts

Commentary by Jeff Commings, SwimmingWorld.TV associate producer

PHOENIX, Arizona, February 15. LAST Saturday, I celebrated my 38th birthday. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that, at this point in my life, I would be training for my third Olympic Trials!

Workouts like the one I endured today reminded me that I a)am not 20 years old and b)I need to win the lottery to afford the kind of entourage that helps Dara Torres recover after her workouts. I am happy, though, to get my monthly massage, because it's better than nothing!

I knew what I was getting myself into when I walked onto the deck this afternoon. Pain. Lots of it. Wednesday is lactate day at Phoenix Swim Club, and boy did I create some lactate today! I hurt so much at the end of workout that 300 yards of warmdown was barely enough to get blood flowing back to my calves.

The goal of these lactate sets is not to hold back at the beginning and have something left at the end. You want to be fast at the beginning and get through the rest of the fast swim with all the energy your muscles can give you. I can tell you that my lungs and my legs were not happy at the end of each fast swim. Add to the fact that the water was still too warm (at or near 82 degrees), and sprinting was not an easy task today.

The main portion of the workout only had 475 yards fast, according to head coach Coley Stickels. It felt like more, but that's just my brain thinking that the set was much longer than it was. We did four rounds of fast swimming, with no more than 100 yards fast each round. The thing that made it so difficult for me was swimming with fins. I don't do much fast swimming with fins, nor do I do much dolphin kicking, and by the end of each round, I could barely get my legs to move … which is the whole point. The good thing was that we had about five minutes rest between each round, and that we were going in heats, which meant we didn't have to deal with swimming in circles. I love doing fast swimming with no one else in the lane!

As I mentioned, we did four rounds of fast swimming. Each of the first three rounds were different, and on the fourth round, we got to choose which of the first three rounds we wanted to do again. Neither of them seemed particularly enticing for a reprise, but I chose the first round. Here's how that went:

25 underwater kick fast from dive with small fins/12.5 fast swim choice
12.5 underwater kick/25 fast free
25 fast swim choice

It's much tougher than it looks! The thing is, you only get about 10 seconds rest after each section of that set. Not enough time to catch your breath, but just enough to get your mind pumped up for the next section. Oh, and you start the second section (12.5 underwater/25 fast) from the middle of the pool from a neutral sculling position, do a flip turn and kick underwater. Again, it much tougher than it looks. I know many of you do the workouts that I post here, and I'm anxious to find out what you think of this set.

Lactate sets like this are very good for sprinters, because I feel it gets the fast-twitch muscles going and teaches the muscles to "swim through the pain," which is what we all have to do in the last 25 percent or so of a race. I hope to do another lactate workout with Coley before sectionals, which is in three weeks.

Portions of this article were reprinted from Jeff Commings' blog at

Jeff Commings will swim the 100 breaststroke at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials — and will be the oldest competitor in that event. He holds a few Masters world records and hates doing butterfly.