When 23-year-old swimmer Conor Dwyer transferred from the University of Iowa to the University of Florida a couple years ago, a few things changed. He got a new coach (2012 U.S. Olympic men’s coach Gregg Troy), famous new teammates (Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay), and most notably—after all the changes—he earned new accolades: He was named the 2010 NCAA Swimmer of the Year.
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This summer in London, he’ll earn yet another new title: Olympian. Dwyer is set to compete for the U.S. in the 400 freestyle and 800 free relay.
“I like to go eye-to-eye with people to see how bad it can hurt,” he says. “I’m not really afraid to race anyone in the world.”
One place where Dwyer has learned some lessons in pain isn’t in the pool, but on the steps of “The Swamp,” Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where the University of Florida Gators play football stadium. The swim teams head to the stadium three times a week during the winter for workouts. One such session requires athletes to climb 90 rows and coming back down in two minutes—repeated 10 times.
To the uninitiated, the intensity can be hard to picture. But when athletes get just one-third of the way up, they say their legs burn and feel as if they just might give out. Climbing to the top and back in two minutes is an aggressive pace, to say nothing of repeating it 10 times without letting your pace slack.
“It hurts the worst, but it gets you in shape,” Dwyer says of the workout. “You get to the last 30 steps and it gets pretty tough.”
The swim program at Florida is known for these types of marathon training sessions. Call it insurance. “You know you’ve out-trained the person next to you when you’re racing at the end of the year,” Dwyer says.
At the stadium, Dwyer and his swim team has two minutes to make it to the top of 90 rows of bleachers and jog back down again. They repeat that 10 times. The squad then runs a three-mile loop around the campus’s Lake Alice before hitting the pool. “It ends up being two-and-a-half or three hours total —or 12,000 meters, which is the longest practice I’d done,” Dwyer says. The entire workout lasts a good four hours.
Do It Yourself
Running stadium stairs or hills is a great way to train your body’s endurance, strength, and power, but adding something at the end teaches your body to work even when it’s fatigued. After a 15-minute warm-up (light running and dynamic stretching), run a circuit on a hill or stadium steps.
Go up at a pace that’s somewhere between a walk and all-out sprint. Time yourself up and down. Now try to hit that number for five more sets. After you finish, choose a steady-state cardio event of your choice—run, bike, swim—and go for 30 to 45 minutes, trying to maintain an even pace the entire time.