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How to Get Prepared for Open Water Swimming

How to Get Prepared for Open Water Swimming

By Andrea Whitcombe

February 7, 2019

Swimming, especially open water swimming, is often the discipline that triathletes dread the most.

If your opening your triathlon season before May, chances are you will not be able to get in much open water practice beforehand.  The lucky ones might have the luxury of heading to warmer climates to swim outdoors but the majority of us we will be heading to the pool to practice our open water skills.

Deep water starts, drafting and sighting are all skills which can be rehearsed in the pool and easily transferred to the open water.

Deep water starts: The start of a triathlon is often a bit hectic.  Try to replicate this by practicing group starts from a horizontal floating position.  Scull to stay on the spot, look forward and get ready to kick hard and use short, fast, powerful strokes to get up to speed.  Complete several of these ‘mass start’ repetitions over varying distances from 15-50m.  Start in different positions such as towards the front, in the middle or at the back of the pack.

Drafting:  Swimming directly behind somebody or to the side of them can save you potentially minutes over a long distance triathlon.  Experiment to see what your preferred position is.   Firstly swim very close to the swimmer’s feet in front of you but don’t tap their feet as this irritation can slow them down, which in turn slows you down too!  Attempt to swim close to the swimmer’s hips  and test this out on both sides.

Sighting:  I’ve known many athletes to end up swimming a lot further than the race planned route.  This is often down to poor sighting skills.  Place a drinks bottle or something of a similar size at either end of the pool.  Lift your head in a smooth action, chin close to the water and try to sight the object.  Do not take your breath when you are looking forward, breathe to the side as usual and sight a number of times per length.  Kick a little harder so that your hips and legs do not drop.  Incorporate sighting drills into every session.

Along with all the above, the better your technique in the pool, the faster you will swim open water, especially  with the added benefit of a wetsuit.  Take the opportunity of being indoors to focus on perfecting your stroke, complete drill sequences that will enable you to correct your faults.  Use a variety of equipment such as finger paddles for hand positioning or fins for kicking.  Ideally get videoed from all angles and analyse later with your coach or a swim expert.

Remember distances can also be accurately timed in the pool so you can truly see if you are progressing.

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