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How to Become a Better Open Water Swimmer

Posted Mar 21 2011 12:27am

Swimming in a triathlon can be an unpleasant experience. Your months of training become disrupted by dozens or hundreds of other triathletes churning in the water all around you, and the mental focus that was so simple during a pleasant lap lane swim at the local swimming pool becomes almost impossible with the sudden chaos. As if that wasn't difficult enough,  visibility sucks, there is no wall to push off, and the 10 degree drop in water has completely taken away your So...what's the best way to deal with this difficult and often exasperating aspect of multi-sport? The answer returns to the one of the most important concepts in racing - train the way you race.Here's some key open water swimming drills that should help.I'm *hoping* that you already plan on, or have already performed, open water swimming. But you can often use your open water swim time to work on the subtle nuances of training that may give you a slight edge during the race, such as...

1) Starts: If starting waist deep, push off the bottom with your feet, dolphin dive forward, then propel yourself with one powerful whip kick before transitioning into 10 powerful, sprint-speed strokes. If starting with a beach run, enter the water in a sprint, dive forward, grab the bottom of the surface (sand, rocks, sticks, etc) with both hands, and then pull forcefully forward, up, and out of the water. Once at the surface, take one strong stroke, breathe once, then transition into 10 powerful, sprint-speed strokes. Glide back to the starting position (for either start) and repeat 8-10 times.

2) Sighting: Practice sighting by turning your head slightly forward either before or after taking a breath. I recommend sighting after your breath, as there is more time for the water to clear your goggles, thus improving visibility, and less drag from pulling your head directly forward and out of the water. When sighting after a breath, you are also more likely to rely on peripheral vision, which will also reduce drag. Practice sighting off buoys or other non-moving objects in the water. Remember, when in a group of swimmers, these types of sighting marks may not be visible. Therefore, you should also practice sighting off landmarks such as highly visible homes,  buildings or other structures on the shore. In an actual race, you should be choosing these landmarks beforehand, probably while warming up your swim before the start. A great drill involves choosing 3-5 landmarks, located in different positions along the shoreline or in the water. Begin by swimming towards and sighting one landmark (sight every 3-10 strokes), and change direction to another landmark after 30-50 strokes. Decide beforehand the order in which you will change direction (i.e. white house, to hotel, to orange buoy, to island).

3) Turns: Since you have no pool wall to push off during the "turn" in an open-water race, you should be practicing tight and efficient changes of direction. Depending on the race course, you may end up performing up to 4 or 5 turns around a buoy or other non-moving object in the water, and you should be practicing to use these pace changes to your advantage. Choose an object in the water to practice turns. When approaching the turn, you should transition to one-side-only breathing with every stroke. The side you breathe on needs to be facing whatever object you are turning around  (another sighting drill!). Try to cut the turn as close as possible, which may require you to use short, choppy strokes. Practice transitioning from a tight, choppy turn back into a long, relaxed glide, as you would do in the race. Again, go for 8-10 turn repeats.

These three drills will give you something to practice during your open water swims, rather than just jumping into the water and swimming for an hour. Remember, the more practical and race-focused your training becomes, the better triathlete you will be.

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