by Coach Steve
"I love the feeling of getting tossed by the water and
the constant shifting between giving in to the water and then pulling
against it." – Jan Weyant
Swimming in open water gives me a sense of freedom. I truly look
forward to it! Gone are the confines of the tiled, walled box filled
with chlorinated water. A grid of lane lines forces us to swim in
a straight line. With no where else to look, we stare at the line
on the bottom, lap after lap, turn after turn. The boundaries can
make training monotonous.
I'm psyched when my open-water training and competition days are
in sight! But that means making adjustments in my training techniques.
Swimming in the pool is good preparation for open-water swimming
from a fitness perspective, but let's face it, it's tough to swim
straight without lane lines or blue tiles as a guide. There's no
place to stand if you need to catch your breath, and no pace clock
to measure your progress. This is foreign territory!
For those of you who are relatively new to open-water swimming,
here are a few tips:
Warm-up before you take the plunge. While this is good practice
for pool and open-water swimming, loosening up your muscles and
getting your blood pumping are crucial before you start your open-water
swim. Unless you're training or racing in a lake in a warm weather
state, the water temperature is bound to be colder than what you
are accustomed to in the pool. First do any stretches you would
at the pool. Warm up your muscles with forward, backward and cross-over
arm swings. You should spend a couple minutes on these exercises
before you enter the water. If the water is really cold elevate
your pulse by jumping up and down for a minute or so, maybe even
a jog down the beach. These steps are particularly important when
the water temperature is in the 50s (ouch) to low 60s early in the
Stay on course. This is not an easy task, even for experienced
swimers. Before you begin your open-water workout, spot a target
in the distance to aim for. Examples include a unique looking house,
a boat or a tall tree. I don't recommend a cloud or a bird, as you
may find yourself swimming out to sea! When racing, make sure you
count all the buoys. How many do you pass before you turn? Is the
course and out-and-back? A U-turn? A circle? What color are the
buoys? I've had difficulty differentiating bathing caps from race
buoys at a few races. Of course I ended up swimming in a zig zag,
and a few times swam past the turnaround buoys. Not only do you
want to minimize your time in the water, you want to make sure you
swim the entire course to avoid a DQ!
Sight your target, then breathe. These are two separate
actions, beginning with the look forward. You don't want to lift
your whole head out of the water to spot your target. Tip your head
up and back, making sure you look forward. This lifts your eyes
and nose out of the water, but not your mouth. Then put your face
back in the water, and take your breath to the side as you normally
Draft during your training. Drafting is legal in the swim
leg, and a terrific way to conserve energy for the bike and run
segments. With a few buddies you can take turns leading and drafting
during your training in open-water or the pool. Find your comfort
zone, recognizing that you don't want to be so close that you get
kicked. But you also don't want to be so far away that you are dropped
when the swimmer you're drafting picks up the pace.
Design repeat sets to improve your pacing. After sprinting-out
for the first 100-200yards to get a good position, the pack breaks
up and you might be on your own for the remainder of the race. Whether
you fall behind the leaders or are passing people from earlier heats,
you must be confident that you can maintain a strong, consistent
effort the entire swim. Don't fade before you hit the beach! If
your race swim distance is a mile, 16x 100 yards will help you get
a feel for the right pace. You can vary the interval or the effort
within a set with different recovery intervals or pacing schemes.
You could sprint the first 100 to simulate a race start, then slow
to your 'cruise' pace for remainder. You could hold a steady pace
for all the reps until the last 3-5 where you take off 1-second
per rep, down to sprint pace for the last. As your level of fitness
improves, you should see improvements in your pace time.
Practice Bi-lateral breathing in training! Breathing to
the right AND left is tough for some swimmers. Most of us have learned
to breathe to one side only. But what if all the buoys are on your
non-breathing side? How can we keep an eye on people to the right
and left if we can't see in both directions? A portion, if not all,
of your training should include bilateral breathing.
Modify your stroke/breathing in rough conditions. It's important
to be comfortable during your swim. If the conditions are challenging,
relax and try a different breathing pattern or arm turnover. In
waves you may need to do most, or all, of you breathing on one side.
Conserving physical and emotional energy are key in these situations.
Don't panic if you see a creature. One of the bonuses of
open-water swimming is there's so much interesting stuff to check
out while you're churning up the H2O.
The sunrise or sunset, cloud formations, lightening, horse-shoe
crabs, and those pesky jelly fish!
Don't swim alone. Enough said.
If you're able to follow these tips, you'll soon discover that
open-water swimming is a foreign territory worth getting to know