Guppy Challenge: Week 4

The Human Eel. That’s what we’ll call this horror movie. You are the star, snaking your way through the pool.

You didn’t know you were an eel! You and I found it out together when we tethered your legs! We’ve spent some weeks talking about this and this is the last week I’m going to belabor the point, but I’m going to add one more thing to nag you about: We’ll look at what you do from the neck up. Next week we are going to move to some other themes.

Learning to swim as an adult is a psychological exercise. So much of your technique is born of trauma: specifically, the fear of death by lack of oxygen. For so many swimmers the act of breathing, and the fear of not being able to breathe, has exerted an overpowering influence on how you swim. What I’m talking about are two behaviors, or urges.

First is the urge to just pull your head straight up to breathe, like a prairie dog popping his head out of his hole. For some of you, this never quite leaves, and regardless how much lipstick you slather all over your stroke, there are vestiges of this fear that remain. I suspect you suffer from this if I see the water hitting your forehead right about eyebrow line. Yes, you breathe to the side, but you never quite got the hang of looking straight down in between breaths. Way back on your brain stem sits that fear of drowning.

But this head posture sinks your feet. Also, if I want you to turn your head to the side, one goggle cup still in the water, mouth angled back toward the shoulder, breathing in that little hollow airspace your head forms, that small maneuver to breathe is much easier if the water is hitting you at the top of the forehead instead of at the eyebrow.

The second thing you do, subconsciously, is you make a big production out of the act of taking a breath. You bend at the waist, twist your torso, to make golldanged sure that you get that breath of air. This pulls you out of balance, out of line, and you must splay your legs or engage in some other gymnastic to keep yourself in line. When your legs are banded these things you do are exposed.

I’ve insulted you! You are affronted by the idea that your stroke problems are a consequence of the fear of the water! I acknowledge that you really are not afraid anymore. I concur that you breathe to the side. Still, you retain the vestigial behaviors from the time you were still struggling with learning to breathe to the side. The fact that we don’t have to deal with your fear means we only have to deal with the mechanics influenced by a long-forgotten fear.

Below is a simple tether made of a 700c bicycle tube (in this case a tube for a gravel bike tire, but you can use a regular road tube or an MTB tube). The valve is cut out. The two knots closest to the center are about 8 or 10 inches apart, from the center of one knot to the center of the other. At each end is a hole big enough to pull my foot through if I stretch the elastic over my heel. I can kick with this, so I don’t need a pull buoy to keep my legs afloat. This band would keep me from any sort of funky leg maneuvers that compensate from my equally funky breathing motion. This keeps my legs, maleolus to maleolus, to about 18” or 20” of max separation during kicking.

A center-mount snorkel will help you focus on keeping your head down, and also show you what a symmetric stroke feels like. You have no excuse, while swimming with a snorkel, to not swim with a 6-beat kick (3 kicks for every arm pull). No excuse not to swim with your hands hitting the water directly in front of each shoulder. No excuse why you shouldn’t pull your chin a bit more toward your chest while in between breaths. If you’re having trouble with these swim elements, get yourself a swim snorkel.

Here is a video of Michael Phelps' freestyle. Note in particular how his hands enter the water directly in front of each shoulder, and he has a completely symmetric kick.

When you swim next week’s final workout you’re halfway finished with the Guppy Challenge. We’ve spent a lot of time focused on swimming straight ahead, without extraneous movements taking you side to side (The Human Eel). Let’s add to that making sure that you swim on the surface, from your fingertip to big toe. Your head position in the water (looking down instead of forward) is going to help you in both planes.

When you kick, I want your feet to break the surface. Look at Phelps’ feet when he kicks. Your feet don’t have to come entirely out of the water, but I want the heels, at least, to break the surface. Just, you know, make your stroke look exactly like Michael’s stroke ;-)

Guppy Challenge, Week-4, Workout-1

=> 6x50yd freestyle.
Style set:
=> 4x100yd: Banded ankles. Use a symmetric snorkel for the first 3 if you have one. Do not flip turn. Stop and catch your breath after every 25.
Main set:
GUPPIES => 3 times thru 3x150yd followed by 50 kick.
TARPONS => 4 times thru 3x150yd followed by 50 kick.
TUNAS => 5 times thru 3x150yd followed by 50 kick.
=> 200yd, easy, alternate freestyle and “stroke”.

Total Guppy yards this workout: 2400

Guppy Challenge, Week-4, Workout-2

=> 6x50yd.
Main set: It’s a Fifties Party! Take a guess what interval you need if you’re going to do a bunch of 50s with 8sec rest between.
GUPPIES => 40x50yd swim (don’t start too fast!)
TARPONS => 50x50yd swim
TUNAS => 60x50yd swim
=> 100yd, easy, alternate freestyle and “stroke”.

Total Guppy yards this workout: 2400

Guppy Challenge, Week-4, Workout-3

=> 6x50yd
Style set:
=> 2 times thru 2x100yd 1-arm pulls followed by 50 kick.
Main set:
GUPPIES => 500yd, stiff (but evenly-paced) effort; rest 2min, 8x100 at an ambitious interval
TARPONS => 500yd, stiff (but evenly-paced) effort; rest 2min, 10x100 at an ambitious interval
TUNAS => 500yd, stiff (but evenly-paced) effort; rest 2min, 12x100 at an ambitious interval
=> 200yd, easy, alternate freestyle and “stroke” and when we simply say “stroke” in swimming that’s parlance for anything other than freestyle (backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly).

Total Guppy yards this workout: 2300


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

=> 6x50yd freestyle
Style set:
=> 8x50yd w/banded ankles: first 25 the goal is to take the fewest number of strokes to get across the pool; return with a strong freestyle.
Main set:
GUPPIES => down-ladder: 4x100, hard swim, short rest, kick a 50. 3x100, kick a 50, 2x100, kick a 50. 100yd hard, kick a 50.
TARPONS & TUNAS => down-ladder: 5x100, 4x100, 3x100, 2x100, with a 50 kick after each.
=> 100yd, easy, alternate freestyle and “stroke”.

Total Guppy yards this workout: 2000

Guppy Challenge, Week-4, Workout-5 Double Extra Credit!

=> 4x50yd, 50 kick, 4x50, 50 kick
Style set:
=> 2 times thru 3x100yd: 1-arm pulls (focus on off-arm!) followed by 50 kick.
Main set: repeat through the following sequence twice (or more if you're above Guppy):
GUPPIES => 6x200yd See if you can lower your swim interval. Try to do these on short rest (10sec or less)
TARPONS => 8x200yd
TUNAS => 10x200yd
=> 100yd: again, first 50 very slow, second 50 normal, then repeat. Were the “slow” 50s easier to swim, easier to maintain form, than earlier in the workout?

Total Guppy yards this workout: 2500

Total weekly GUPPY yardage

If you do the first 3 workouts: 7100yd
These plus the 4th workout: 9100yd
All 5 workouts: 11,600yd