Many athletes find open water swimming much harder and slower than in the pool, particularly after a winter of pool swimming.
- Stroke Rate: in open water, the water is moving so you don't get the smooth 'glide' as you do in the pool. Speeding up your stroke can help you maintain purchase/traction with the water to keep the catch and pull phase of your stroke efficient.
- In open water you can benefit from a straighter, over water, arm recovery position (more of a windmill stroke). This can allow you to swim alongside others for drafting benefit, without clashing. And with a straighter arm recovery you will minimise hitting waves or swell on re-entry.
- Be assertive with your hand entry, as if you are punching the water (with your fingers). It may not look pretty (there will be a lot of splash) but it will help you stay in control at the front-end of your stroke.
- Practice sighting drills (no.10). Maintaining an optimally efficient stroke whilst sighting is key. This takes practice and time to perfect.
- Drafting - save energy and boost speed. The best position to draft is off the hip of a fellow swimmer, but off the feet works well too. Don't rely on the swimmer in front to be on course, keep sighting to make sure you are taking the most efficient line
Cold Water and Wetsuit
Open water swimming is generally a few degrees cooler than the pool, hence the need for a wetsuit, but swimming in a wetsuit takes a bit of getting used to and can slow you down at first.
It can feel constricting, this alongside the cold water and nerves may mean that you are short of breath/ hyperventilating for the first few hundred meters of the swim - this is normal, relax, slow your swimming down, focus on exhaling properly (blowing bubbles into the water) until your breathing returns to normal. Swimming a few strokes of breaststroke or floating on your back can also help you relax.
Once you find your rhythm, focus on the tips above to optimise your stroke.
Be prepared, familiarize yourself with your surroundings, check your entry/exit and ensure you are swimming in a safe water area. It’s advisable to swim with a friend, a group or with a safety boat.
A bright buoy that floats behind you while swimming to help others see you is also recommended. It can double up as a flotation device if needed. Wear a brightly coloured swim hat too, so boats can see you. (Bright pink or green are the recommend colours.)
Knowing that you are safe will help you focus on your open water swim efficiency.
The sure way to improve is with regular Open Water swim practice. For more information check the articles and video below:
Open Water Swimming; Training and Racing
How Can I Swim More Efficiently?
GTN video: Pool Swim versus Open Water Swim Stroke
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