July 1, 2014

Three Swim Drills I Do That Boost My Open Water Confidence

Making the move from pool to open water swimming can be a major challenge, especially when hundreds of your closest friends show up and join you. The key is to build specific activities into your training plan that will make the transition as seamless as possible.

Of course the best thing you can do is to swim as much as possible in the open water.  This allows you to practice using large landmarks like buildings or hilltops to swim straight.   And you get the additional physical and psychological benefits of swimming continuously without having to stop and turn at the wall.

Since most of us don’t have that option, though, there are some easy-to-implement drills you can do in the pool to be a better open water swimmer.  And best of all you can do them without adding any additional time!

(P.S. While there’s not much you can do to simulate bodies swimming all around (and over) you, get more comfortable swimming with groups by training with a water polo team, jump in a crowded lane at your local masters swim group, join a triathlon swim group, or get a couple of friends to regularly swim next to you in the lane while you do laps).

Three Simple Drills for Better Open Water Performance

1. Move Away From the Wall:  Deep water starts are pretty common in triathlon and even if it’s a beach start you may find yourself stopped during the swim and need a way to get quickly back into rhythm.  Practice deep water starts by moving away from the wall a few yards so you can’t use the wall to push off.  Allow your body to settle somewhere between vertical and horizontal just like you would right before the gun goes off. Take off quickly and get into your rhythm and swim at least a full lap before stopping.  Do anywhere from 6 to 10 repetitions at least once a week in the last 6 or 8 weeks before your key race.

2. Play with Some Speed:  Fartlek just means speed play and it’s an excellent way to mimic what really happens out there during the swim.  Whether you need to swim around a slower swimmer or pick up the pace to draft another person or group it’s easy to build this into your regular swim training without adding any time.  For example during your weekly long swim sessions, such as 2-4 x 500s, 800s, or 1,000’s, really crank-up the pace for short bursts anywhere from 25 to 100 yards and then settle back into your planned session pace. For best results be sure to start when you’re away from the wall in order to simulate being in the open water as much as possible.  It’s also a good idea to occasionally stop during one of these repeats just like might happen during your race swim so you can practice a deep water start and a little speed play at the same time.

3. Hold Your Head Up and Look:  Unlike using the lane lines under the water in a pool, in order to swim straight in the open water you have to use things above the water to get your bearings. An easy way to do this is to throw one or more water polo balls or volleyballs in the lane with you and every 5 or 10 strokes lift your head and find it. This teaches you the habit of quickly sighting an object, like a course buoy, floating on the water from water level.  If you practice this regularly you’ll get more proficient at quickly lifting your head, sighting, and getting back into swim rhythm.  For extra credit it’s a good idea when you swim up on the ball to take a few strokes pushing the ball down the pool like you would in water polo. This will require you to keep your head up for a few strokes just like you are likely to do in the open water when those waves make it difficult to see the buoys from the water line.

If you build these drills into your swim training 6-8 weeks before your next race you’ll arrive more confident for your open water start. Sometimes just knowing that you’ve trained for some of the “unknowns” you may face in the race can calm the mind and help you easily take on whatever the day delivers.

That’s it for this week until next time train safe, stay healthy, and I hope to see you at the races.

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