Workout Wednesday – 5 Tips for Better Open Water Swimming in the Pool

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to another edition of Workout Wednesday. Every Wednesday I will post a new Triathlon specific workout. If you like the workout, fit it into your training plan for the week. If you don’t like the workout you’re crazy, all of my workouts are brilliant pieces programming. (HAHA)

Today’s Workout – Open Water Swim – Pool Style

Pool Lanes

The number one fear for new triathletes is the open water swim. The thought of jumping in that dark water with arms and legs churning everywhere, causes some serious anxiety.

I have good news and bad news about open water training. The bad news, to get good in open water, you need to practice in open water. You may not have access to open water, or you may be too intimidated right now. Here’s the good news, you can work on some skills in the pool that will translate to open water.

Here’s 5 tips to improve your open water swimming in the pool:

1. Sighting – To keep your swim direction during an open water swim you must lift your head up to sight. Every few strokes you lift you head quickly to sight a landmark in the distance. Looking up to sight causes a disruption to your normal stroke.  You can simulate this in the pool by picking a focal point on the pool deck and looking up to sight every few strokes. This exercise will help you integrate sighting into your normal stroke.

2. Stroke Rate – In an open water swim with choppy conditions it helps to have a quicker stroke rate. In the pool we can keep perfect form and glide along. When the water get rougher, we want to increase that stroke rate to account for the added turbulence. Try swimming a lap at your normal stroke rate, and then pick it up on the next lap, and repeat. There’s no need to go crazy with your stroke rate, just a slight increase. If you normally swim 18 strokes per length, take that up to 24.

3. Drafting – Swimming in the draft behind another swimmer can save up to 30% during an open water swim. To draft behind another swimmer takes some practice. Plan to swim with a buddy with similar swim ability. Take turns drafting off each other in the same lane. Ideally you want to be about a foot behind the person and slightly off to the side. Play around with your position until to can feel the draft. This practice will also help you be more comfortable swimming around other people.

4. Different Strokes –  Yes there are more swimming strokes than freestyle. Take some time to work on some different strokes. It will increase your overall ability in the water. The breast stroke is great for sighting in choppy conditions, or rounding a buoy. I’ve never seen someone butterfly an open water swim, but it would be amazing.

5. Fast Starts – The beginning of any open water swim is chaotic. The mixture adrenaline and effort will cause your heart rate to rise. To have a great swim you need to get that heart rate down, and find your rhythm. Practice fast starts in the pool to simulate the conditions. Take off fast for 100M of a 200M set, then slow down for the next 100M, concentrating on lowering the heart rate, and swimming with a smooth rhythm.

Bonus: Have your friends pummel you with pool noodles and floats during a swim set to really simulate the wort case scenario. Here’s a short how-to video:

For more info on the basics of swimming, check out these two posts:

No More Controlled Drowning Part I

No More Controlled Drowning Part II

photo credit: hidden side via photopin cc

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