9 Tips For Building Open-Water Swim Skills

If you’re getting ready for a triathlon or you just appreciate swimming in natural bodies of water, this kind of swimming is vastly different from swimming in a swimming pool. Different weather conditions, uncontrolled water, and the strenuous characteristics of open-water swimming require a changed method of preparation.

Tips For Building Open-Water Swim Skills

1. Train The Way You Race

To have self-assurance, you must be able to prove to yourself that you can do the full length of your race in practice. Nonetheless, it does not have to be done all in one go; confirm that you are capable of completing the total duration of the swim during the competition.

Assuming that an Olympic-distance race takes 1,500 meters or 1,640 yards, and considering you can swim 400s in eight minutes, it is recommended that you do three 400s with 10-30 seconds rest.

Ensure that specific initiatives regarding race are included in your strategies. The most common error among triathletes is to swim uninterruptedly for a half hour to exercise.

“That’s the worst thing you can do. Once you do it five or six times, it will no longer be of any use as you will have reached the most advantageous point. You need to incorporate pauses into your routine and explore different approaches.

You should have a practice session for a master where you maintain the same speed throughout. Coach Jim Vance from Training Bible Coaching in San Diego asserts that leisurely swimming won’t enhance one’s competitive swimming skills. “Race efforts practised regularly, will help you with that.”

Put forth the same level of effort that you would if you were competing in a swim meet since training is useless if you have not properly prepared for it. If you intend to begin races at a fast pace, make sure you are adequately prepared for it by doing the same in your workouts.

Rather than swimming 10×200 at a steady 80 per cent effort, put in your best effort for the initial 50 or 75 of each 200 and then settle into your usual race pace. If you like to take it slow and build up, run four 400-meter intervals at progressively decreasing speeds so that your last interval is the quickest.

It is best to have regular open water practice sessions once a week for a few months during the time when races are being held. If you do not have access to open water, you can still practice as if you were in it by doing activities like the Tarzan Drill (head out of the water), swimming without a wall to use as a guide and sighting off something on the edge of the pool.

Putting on your wet suit during a training session in the pool as well as doing quick dives with other people to replicate race day challenges. Be sure to communicate your preferences to the swim program if you are paying to be a member of it so that they can give you what you desire.

It is hoped that you will be able to join a team that is agreeable to practising open-water swimming drills in the pool with lane lines removed and buoys placed in. But there are also specialized camps that focus on providing training, similar to a cycling or base training camp.

2. Plot Your Course

It is often said that drafting is the key skill needed in a race, however, Rodrigues insists that navigation is the most essential open-water ability.

If you are not very fast for swimming 100 yards in 1 minute and 40 seconds, or if you take more than 36 minutes to swim half of an Ironman, then drafting will not really be helpful. He suggests that the individual walking or running in front of you is not very proficient. Rather than relying on others to make decisions for you, take control of your own course in life.

Integrate sighting into your stroke. Most athletes are unable to take in their surroundings while in the middle of their performance because it is often inconvenient and breaks up the flow of their stroke. If you can manage to integrate it into your stroke, you can perform the action more often thereby conserving both time and energy.

We know it’s a decade back, but at the 2012 ITU World Triathlon San Diego race, Jonathan Brownlee was swimming flawlessly both when he was in prime position to end the race and during typical stages of the swim, always sighting every two and six strokes respectively.

For almost all swimmers, the desired number of strokes is six, barring any unsatisfactory ripples or wave formations in the water. Never go more than 10 strokes. If you’re not swimming at a rate of 1 minute and 10 seconds for every 100 meters, you’re not swimming accurately.

Recon the course. Sara McLarty is rarely able to imitate what other swimmers are doing, as she is usually the one who is first in the water.

She states that, as the initial swimmer, she must be aware of the route. Before the event begins, she is aware of how many buoys are in the competition, where the corners are, and so forth. It is essential to prepare beforehand to ensure someone can successfully steer their way through the race.

Pick out your sighting points. Theoretically, aiming towards the swim exit should take you to the swim exit.

It is advisable to have several points from which to observe if the water current and visibility are relevant.  Picturing your sighting plan as a triangle, with three specific components: your destination, the starting point of your swim, and how far away you are from the shoreline.

Select stand-out, tall elements on the ground as opposed to relying on small floats, which will vanish when the waves are choppy.

3. Focus on The Warm-Up

When you get to the course on race day, don’t forget to complete a warm-up swim before attending to the set-up of your transition and talking with your teammates. Be cautious: The flutter of nerves and agitation before a race can easily be misconstrued as feeling prepared.

It is best to stick to the established warm-up routine and disregard any other signal. He inquired if running a 10K necessitated arriving at the beginning of the race five minutes prior. “Hopefully not. If you don’t warm up, the body won’t be able to make use of all the exercise you have done.

Many triathletes tend to start off with a brief jog to get warmed up, running can make the upper body stiff and inflexible, not at all beneficial for your swimming performance. It is a beneficial practice to get your core warm, however, it isn’t ideal to dedicate your full warm-up period solely to warming up your lower body.

When competing athletes always make sure you are adequately prepared for their events before the race begins by warming up for both the biking and running portions, and then putting on their wetsuits once the race is set to start. In my opinion, swimming should be the activity you do to warm up for something else. The swim at the beginning of the race is a preparation for what is to come afterwards.

Furthermore, even though there is no proof that a proper warm-up might have stopped any of the recent fatalities in triathlons while swimming, it is possible that it could lower the odds.

The water is chilly and makes the chest feel tight, with many people swimming close by and a large adrenalin rush. A lack of preparation and being unfamiliar with an environment could act as a catalyst for someone who already has a predisposition for something. Maximize your chances of success by reducing any potential pitfalls.

4. Build Endurance

If you are participating in an open water race, the event will likely take a long time. When you are preparing for races in open water, having the endurance necessary for swimming is particularly important since sprinting is more focused on pool swimming.

In addition, open seas can be unpredictable and difficult to navigate. You must attain the ability to swim without interruption for three times the open water distance that you are practising in the pool. It will take more effort to run a 5K in the ocean than it does to run a 5K in the pool, so make sure to prepare adequately.

Engaging in interval training can be an excellent way to boost swimming stamina. Swim intensely at close to your maximum effort, then slow down but don’t stop, repeating this pattern while taking breaks in between.

Over time, your cardiovascular endurance will increase as your heart develops the ability to recover more quickly.

5. Build Your Strength and Endurance Away From The Pool

To boost your energy levels and enhance your stamina, it is important to incorporate different types of exercises into your routine, instead of solely focusing on swimming. Swimmers who swim in open water should incorporate workouts into their routine that emulate the motions and strokes they use in the water.

6. Work On Alternate Breathing

Most pool swimmers prefer one particular side when surfacing for a breath. Despite this, open-water swimming can occasionally lead to issues.

The elements such as wind, waves, and other conditions of nature can create a situation in which it is difficult or even impossible to breathe while lying on your favoured side. It is essential to become familiar with breathing on both sides.

Switching your breathing patterns may not appear to be difficult, yet not incorporating this routine can be surprisingly uncomfortable. It may take some time to adjust to the process of inhaling and exhaling alternatively so it is beneficial to begin trying it out as soon as possible.

An effective way to perform alternate breathing is to switch the side you are breathing through frequently and sporadically.

Try taking three consecutive breaths by inhaling through your right side before taking five breaths on your left. Then complete nine on the right side and four additional ones on the left. You could also attempt to not breathe for a few seconds while swimming.

7. Don’t Rely on the Wall

When getting ready for water sports that are in an open environment, it is tough to bypass some swimming pool practices. Training in the water that you will be competing in is the most effective, however, swimming pool workouts can still be helpful.

It is of utmost importance to not depend on the boundaries of the swimming pool.

In open-water swimming, you do not have the support of walls to propel yourself forward, meaning your energy levels will go up as you go on. That’s where the first tip comes in handy. You’ll need to have stamina when you don’t have aid from support.

Another set of activities that can help you become less dependent on pool walls are treading water, flipping around without employing the wall, and changing your strokes. This leads to our next point.

8. Switch Up Your Stroke Style

The water can alter unexpectedly and it’s necessary to alter your strokes for the different conditions. For instance, long and heavy strokes of the arms can help you travel quickly and far in the water, but if it is choppy outside, it is best to go with short and shallow movements to keep yourself afloat.

Swapping between different kinds of strokes during open water can help you adapt to changing conditions and give your aching arms a rest from the monotony.

9. Practice Sighting

When engaging in open-water swimming, there are no lane lines or flag markers to use as guidance. It is important to hone your open water sighting skills, to be conscious of your position and make certain you are going in the right path.

Rather than only paying attention to your lateral environment while breathing, you must also learn to pay attention to what is ahead of you. It is advisable to perform the action while exhaling, to prevent inhaling liquid.

Raise your eyes slightly above the water while scanning the view in serene, still bodies of water. Nonetheless, if you’re swimming in the ocean, you must learn to distinguish the tides and habituate yourself to glancing at the crests of waves, providing you with a better outlook.

Other quick tips regarding sighting:

  • Press down with your hand and arm as you prepare to sight to give your body extra height
  • Give an extra hard kick while you’re sighting to maintain a forward speed
  • Arch your back while sighting to minimize drag
  • Sight three times in a row, first to locate the buoy, a second time to adjust, and a third to confirm. Then swim straight for 30 seconds before repeating.

Side notes

There’s a lot to consider when training for open water swims and we’ve included a few tips that didn’t make the list but are still important:

  • Skip the goggles for some of your workouts to prepare for potentially murky water
  • Take cold showers to prepare for chilly lakes and oceans
  • Learn to relax even in stressful open water conditions with mindful breathing techniques
  • Use cross-training to prepare your body for the challenges of open-water swimming

The expertise of our physiotherapists is not only focused on addressing and treating injuries and diseases present with physical limitations, but also on customized exercise plans that can help to prevent trauma, grow strength, and more.


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