Guppy Challenge: Week 1

The Famous Slowtwitch Guppy Challenge: It’s 10 weeks long, it begins this upcoming Monday, December 11th. Are you ready?

The goal is to make you faster in the water - way faster - and to do it not simply through grunt yards but also through fixing some technique problems you may have.

You don't have to sign up for this, you can just follow along and do the workouts, but if you want to sign up, you'll get there from this page, which is our training log. See "Challenges" in the menu bar? Click that, and you'll see the Guppy Challenge.

Reader Forum Sign-Up

But first! Signing up requires just the typical reader forum login to be established. You need to Log In! Go there to log in and if you don't have an account you'll be prompted to make one.

(As of this writing we're closing in on 87,000 Slowtwitch Forum Users who've done so!)

You'll note from last year's comments the "How often per week" question. Once, more than 40 years ago, a minister of the Gospel asked me if I knew the secret of how not to be a sinner. No! Tell me! The answer: Stop sinning. Best advice I ever got, because it became a template for how simple the solution to life's problems. So...

Want to know how to be a better swimmer? Start swimming. Swim more often. At least for the next 3 months. This is a swim-heavy "moment" in your triathlon career where you'll become a better swimmer and, once better, you'll remain better, even if you throttle the volume back once this challenge is over.

Try to swim 3 x week during this challenge, but you can swim as much as 5 x week.

Mandatory equipment: a pool, a swimsuit, goggles, a device to time yourself. Elective equipment: buoy, paddles, symmetric (center-mount) snorkel, neoprene sleeves. If you only have the mandatory equipment, fine, we have drills that will paper over the elective equipment you lack.


Let’s talk pool standards. What kind of pool you swim in? Historically about 60 percent of Slowtwitchers swim in a 25 yard pool. We call that a "short course" pool and it’s a short course yards pool because it’s yards. We abbreviate it SCY.

About a third of you regularly swim in a 25 meter pool and we call that short course meters (SCM). About 1 in 10 of you swim 50 meters (LCM) even during the winter. That’s rare. A 50 meter pool is typically set up the long way in the summer because that’s LCM season, and it’s set up the other way (widthwise) during the Winter because that’s SCY season. I’m going to give you workouts in SCY. If you’re swimming 25 meters, you’re swimming 10 percent farther. Good for you!

A "leave interval" is the total time it takes you to swim and rest. Let's say you were swimming repeat 100 yards, 10 of them, which I’ll write as 10 x 100yd. If you’re in danger of not making the cut-off in an Ironman swim, a good leave interval for you is 2:30, meaning that you might swim the 100 yards in 2 minutes, rest 30 seconds, and then take off again. You’re “leaving” every 2:30, so you would "leave" at 2:30, 5:00, 7:30, 10:00, etc., until you had completed 10 of these 100s. Got it?

If you were doing a "ladder" set that consisted of swimming 100yd, followed by 200yd, 300yd, 400yd, and then back down, 300, 200, 100, you might say that you're "leaving" on the 2-minute base. This means you swim your 100yd, maybe you finish that swim in 1:40, you rest 20sec, then leave at 2min. Then you swim the 200 in, say, in 3:35, and then you leave at the 4-minute point. If you're leaving on the "2min base" then you would swim 200yd and leave for your next swim at 4min; if your next swim was 300yd you’d leave at the 6min point, and so forth.

What about Tarpons and Tunas?

As the Guppy Challenge has morphed, we've discovered that some better swimmers - faster than guppies - have wanted to follow along, still work on their technique, but can and will do more than Guppy volume. What you'll see below is the same workout for everyone, just, the main set is lengthened for Tarpons (1hr15min Ironman swimmers?) and Tunas (1hr Ironman swimmers?). The total yardage listed is always for guppies. Tarpons and Tunas: You have to calculate your total yardage.

Alright, let's get to it.

Warm-Up =>

I like long warm-ups. We’re going to kill two birds here. The first several hundred yards of each workout will serve as a warm-up and also to work on technique. Some of the better coaches I know put a premium on knowing how to swimming slow. If you can’t swim slowly and make good progress with good body position, this uncovers stroke deficiencies you paper over by just swimming faster. So…

6 x 50yd leaving on the a slow interval: Where you can swim easily and still have about 10sec to 15sec to recover. What I want is attention to specific elements of stroke mechanics, namely:

Specifics => Hands entering directly in front of your shoulders during the catch. You *think* you are doing this. Maybe you are. But the failure comes during the catch when you’re breathing. Adult onset swimmers pull their torsos out of line when they breathe, so that if you breathe on the left your torso pulls a bit to the left, that is, your torso isn’t really pointing to the far wall anymore. Yes, your hand may be hitting the water in front of your shoulder, but because your torso is no longer facing the other end of the pool your hand is “crossed over,” it’s crossing the body’s centerline.

We have two problems here we need to fix: torso out-of-line, and hand entering the water crossed over. Rather than overthinking this, I just want you to concentrate on not contorting your torso, not bending at the waist, when you breathe. Then, as for the hands, they need to reach to the far wall with every stroke.

Warm-Up continued =>

6 x 100yd leaving on interval easy to make: Much like the set you just did, just it’s 100s now, again leaving on a slow interval, where you can swim easily and still have about 10sec to 15sec to recover. What I want now is for you to swim with 1 arm, the other arm straight in front of you. I want you to swim that way, 1-arm pulls, for one length of the pool, then back regular swimming, then the 3rd length is pulling with the other arm, final length is regular swimming.

Specifics => The focus here is on the off-arm. It needs to be STRAIGHT! Hand right below the surface! No sculling with the off-hand!

Main set =>

6 x 150yd: We’re keeping this short, because I don’t want you to swim to the point where you can’t hold our technique any longer. What I hope for in the warm-up set is that we’ve gotten into your head the notion of straight-ahead swimming. Reach for the far wall. Keep your kick tight and concise, with your feet not crossing over during the kick, or with your legs splaying wide when you breathe. Remember those 1-arm pulls? Where the off-arm was straight in front of you, hand near the surface? That’s where that hand should be during the catch and extend phase. Try not to let your hand drift down during the extend phase.

Don’t try to swim this overhard. Make sure you have 10sec to 15sec between each 150. See if you can establish what you think your leave interval is or will be, at least for now.

That’s your first workout for Week-1 of the Guppy Challenge. It’s 1800 yards, or meters if you’re in a meters pool. We’ll write it like this:

Guppy Challenge, Week-1, Workout-1

=> 6 x 50yd freestyle, easy, slow, establish a leave interval that gives you 10sec rest between each 50.
=> 6 x 100yd alternating 1-arm pull and freestyle, moderate pace, 10sec rest between each.

Main set =>

GUPPIES => 6 x 150yd, moderate pace, leave interval allowing 10-15sec rest between each.
TARPONS => 9 x 150yd
TUNAS => 12 x 150yd

For that final set especially, a famous triathlon coach once wrote that triathletes look like “frogs in a blender” when they swim. The idea is to swim like you’re a torpedo, or a missile, rather than a frog in a blender.

Total yards this workout: 1800

Guppy Challenge, Week-1, Workout-2

=> 6 x 50yd freestyle, easy, slow, establish a leave interval that gives you 10sec rest between each 50.
=> 3 x 100yd alternating 1-arm pull and freestyle, moderate pace, 10sec rest between each.
=> 3 x 100yd using a symmetric (center-mount) snorkel if you have one, AND some of De Soto’s Extreme Sleeves if you have them. Why? The point? Remember when, in the 1-arm pulls, I stressed the off arm, the one out in front of you? And that this arm needs remain near the surface during the extend phase? If it all works as it should, the De Soto Extreme Sleeves (or other similar product made by any company) should help your arms remain near the surface. When you take the sleeves off, make sure your arms stay near the surface. You're going to need to work a bit to make that happen.

If you don’t have all this paraphernalia filling up your swim bag fine, then you’re fine simply doing what we did in the first workout: 6x100yd alternating 1-arm pull and freestyle.

Main set =>

GUPPIES => 5 x 200yd: Just like the 150s, think about technique.
TARPONS => 8 x 200yd
TUNAS => 10 x 200yd

Total yards this workout: 1900

Guppy Challenge, Week-1, Workout-3

=> 4 x 50yd freestyle, easy, slow, establish a leave interval that gives you 10sec rest between each 50.
=> 4 x 50yd freestyle, with pull buoy if you have one, endeavoring to keep your body in-line rather than swiveling at the waist.
(If you don’t have a buoy, then with a center snorkel. But not both. Either the buoy or the snorkel. If neither, then fine, simply 2 sets of 4 x 50yd)
=> 4 x 50yd kicking. Flutter kick (freestyle kick). Kickboard if you want. I can’t use a kickboard and look forward. Old age, bad neck. Are you like me? Two options: kick on your back, hands over your head facing the opposite wall. Or, with kickboard or without, kick with a snorkel. If you can’t make it across the pool kicking, just keep trying. Keep kicking. Find a method by which forward propulsion happens. Trial and error. It’s frustrating, yes. You’ll get there.

Main set =>

GUPPIES => 4 x 300yd: Just like the 150s, think about technique.
TARPONS => 6 x 300yd
TUNAS => 8 x 300yd

Total yards this workout: 2000

Guppy Challenge, Week-1, Workout-4 Extra Credit!

Many of you will do just 3 workouts a week swimming. Fine. But for those who want to go down deep and stay down long, here are workouts #4 and #5.

=> 4 x 50yd freestyle, easy, slow, establish a leave interval that gives you 10sec rest between each 50.
=> 4 x 100yd alternating 1-arm pull and freestyle, moderate pace, 10sec rest between each.
=> 4 x 50yd, with buoy or with symmetric snorkel.

Main set =>

GUPPIES=> 200yd/150yd/100yd, a 50 kick in between each swim, twice through. That’s a 550yd set x 2 = 1100yd
TARPONS & TUNAS => 3 sets instead of 2

=> 200yd easy warm down

Total yards this workout: 2100

Guppy Challenge, Week-1, Workout-5 Extra Extra Credit!

=> 6 x 50yd freestyle, easy, slow, establish a leave interval that gives you 10sec rest between each 50.
=> 4 x 100yd technique: either 1-arm pulls, snorkel swimming, buoy swimming, your choice.
GUPPIES => 200yd swim/50yd kick, 4 times through (1000yd set).
TARPONS => 200yd swim/50yd kick, 6 times through (1500yd set).
TUNAS => 200yd swim/50yd kick, 8 times through (2000yd set).
=> 6 x 50yd, 1-arm pull out, freestyle back, every second 50 it’s pulling with the other arm.

Total yards this workout: 2000

Total weekly yardage

If you do the first 3 workouts: 5700yd
These plus the 4th workout: 7800yd
All 5 workouts: 9800yd

Questions? There's a thread on our Reader Forum, you may ask them there.

Let me clear up what might seem confusing. See the Facebook comments below this article? Some go back as much as a year. That's because I'm amending Week-1 of last year's Guppy Challenge article. The workouts themselves, and the commentary, are updated to reflect what think now differently than what I thought a year ago. But the comments remain. (You might find some of the old comments illustrative - they reflect questions and struggles some of last year's participants experienced.)