Open Water Swimming Tips for Triathletes

by Pool Builders on 06-13-2013 in Articles

Open water practice is different and separate to pool practice, and equally essential. Open water practice should be done prior to the event. Since conditions are variable you should be practising regularly in open water until you learn to integrate these differences and to be able to adapt.

Open water marathon swimming as a sport is more extreme and dangerous, but triathlons are far more popular and with a higher fatality rate. One should recognise and prepare for these risks by better understanding of and preparation for open water. The best safety decisions are always made outside of the water and before the swim. it is important to recognise and remember that a wetsuit is NOT an open water safety aid and can in fact lead to dangerous over-confidence. Don't use a wetsuit as an aid to enter a swim you are not certain you are capable of completing. You should be able to swim the complete triathlon swim leg distance before the event, not just as part of the actual event, hoping to use the adrenaline to bridge the gap from training to full distance during the event.

Breathing and sighting are separate activities when swimming. You should breathe to the side as normal but sight forward from just over the water surface. You can think of this as being like "alligator-eyes". Don't lift your head high as it will cause your body to sink and slow you. You can however also sight forward from the crest of waves with experience.

Getting through or past large breaking waves is straightforward once you've learned how, though you must also practise this. It is done by simply diving under the oncoming wave. You should not try to swim over or through breakers as the wave force will push you backwards.

Wind strengths and directions change every day so water conditions change every day. You should practice in different weather conditions and always expect change.

Cold water swimmers have different ideas of cold because they don't wear wetsuits. This is done by long preparation and training for those temperatures, usually over the course of a couple of years. So you must train and prepare for yours, even with a wetsuit.

Practice in open water well in advance of your event so you can learn your weaknesses. Practice repeatedly.

Navigation, also known as sighting, is a difficult learned skill. Aim for something well above the waterline and work out how often you need to sight forward to swim straight based on strokes. At the beginning of your development, or in rough water you will be sighting often. No-one is naturally good at sighting. Most people are poor at it and there are common technique problems that cause deviation from swimming a straight line. This is another reason why you should constantly address common triathlete swim technique errors. There are too many variable to always be certain you are swimming in a straight line so you must always adjust.

Do not try to lowering your stroke rate, or gliding even if you have read this is something you should do. It is wrong and is a marketing gimmick. Do however train to increase your stroke rate in open water. Higher strokes rates once trained are no more tiring and are more efficient on open water and allow a better range of responses to varying situations.

Do not kick hard unless you have trained to so do. It will tire out your large oxygen-consuming thigh muscles and possibly slow you down if your kick isn't well trained, efficient and low in drag.

Do not sprint at the start of races. Stay relaxed. You want to get out of the water as fresh as possible.

Do not wear new goggles in a race. Always test new goggles in training. But check the straps on older goggles regularly as this is how they are likely to split.

Do not start at the front of a race wave unless you have done so before as it can be very aggressive. Open water and triathlon swimming is often a full contact sport with other swimmers. To avoid contact start a couple of seconds behind the pack. You will not lose much time, and will be more comfortable. Swim to the side of the pack and don't get boxed in. This position will also allow you to respond more easily to race changes or if the pack is navigating poorly. Don't assume that the pack knows where it is going. Races can often be won simply by better navigation.

The swimming leg of a triathlon is the most technically complex, and simply swimming more won't necessarily lead to improvement, unless the practice is specific to both technique and the challenges of open water. You should spend appropriate time in training in open water as well as training your technique.

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