Swimming Faster And Straighter In Open Water

We're going to follow on this week from last week's interesting data about just how far off course it is possible to swim in open water race.

We know from all your emails, posts and forum questions how fascinating you found that article. This week we're going to give you some pointers on how to swim much faster in open water - but first let's look at some GPS data from another swimmer who raced the Busselton Half Ironman. As you can see, they managed a much straighter swim than Dan - 330m shorter in fact, over a 1900m straight-line swim :

For this swimmer, 330m equates to approximately five minutes!


1) Learn To Put Your Wetsuit On Properly

Sounds simple but most swimmers don't put on their wetsuit properly. Watch this demonstration video of how to do it by shoe-horning plenty of material up the limbs towards the body and shoulders. This dramatically reduces the restriction around the shoulders, costing you less effort and freeing up your stroke.

2) Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety in open water is normally caused by external factors in the watery environment around you - depth, cold, not being able to see far (if at all!) and having other swimmers in close proximity to you. All of these factors lead to the same physical response - holding your breath.

Holding your breath immediately increases the anxiety further, things start to feel out of control and you may even feel a sense of panic. For many triathletes, their race is off to a very bad start, or even finishes there and then.

Focus on internal factors that you can control, the most important of which is remembering to exhale into the water. Check this throughout your next open water race, particularly if you're feeling anxious or panicky out there.

3) Swim Straight

To swim straight you need a symmetrical stroke and the natural way to become symmetrical is with bilateral breathing in training. Quite possibly this is not what you wanted to hear if you struggle to breathe bilaterally!

The straighter you can swim naturally, the less you will veer off course and the less often you will have to sight. That's good because every time you sight it requires an increase in effort and a loss of efficiency.

Learn how to conquer bilateral breathing here: http://www.swimsmooth.com/bilateral.html

4) Master The Art Of Sighting

You may think that sighting is as simple as lifting your head to look forward and see where you are going but it needs a great deal of skill to do it well. The world's best triathletes and open water swimmers can sight without disrupting the rhythm of their stroke or their body position in the water, and this is key.

Here's the correct technique: time your sighting to happen just before you're going to take a breath. Lift your eyes out of the water by pressing down lightly on the water with your lead arm (in this example your right arm). Only lift up enough to get your eyes just out of the water. Your left arm will have now started recovering over the water, as it does so, turn your head to the right with your body to breathe. As you do so, let your head drop down in the water to a normal breathing position. See a video clip of Ceinwen Williams using this technique to great effect here.

You can of course master this technique in the pool. Make it more race-realistic by practising in your quality swim sets when your heart rate and effort levels are high!

5) Draft Better

Drafting is swimming directly behind, or to the side and slightly behind, another swimmer. Studies show this saves 18 to 25% of the energy expenditure of swimming. In a race it makes perfect sense to capitalise on this source of free speed.

When it comes to drafting, once again practise makes perfect. If you want to become good at drafting then you need to devote training time to it. Look at drafting either as a way of swimming faster than normal by sitting on the toes of someone faster than yourself, or, by swimming behind someone of the same speed as you, leaving yourself super-fresh for the bike and run.

Get together with some training buddies and take turns leading and drafting behind and to the side. Again, harder swims are a great way to simulate race stresses. In our squad sessions in Perth we regularly organise swimmers into groups of three or four of similar speed. Rotating the group every 100m or so, it's the lead swimmer's job to try and drop the guys behind - great for your skill development and great fun too! (of course, if you hire some lanes you can have even more fun)

These points are a summary of our full article: 5 Tips To Swim Better In Triathlon And Open Water

Swim Smooth!


Unknown said...

Another issue with putting on a wetsuit is nicking the surface with fingernails - and then having a tear or repair job later on. An alternative to cutting nails really short, is to wear a pair of cheap cotton or gardening gloves - ideal for gripping and pulling on the neoprene without damage.

Ash said...

Your blog is full of really great advice for swimmers. I appreciate your insight and tips. Thanks for all your knowledge! We all really enjoy reading your blog and learning from your experiences.

Anonymous said...

Practice often in open water, I find it helps to arrive at the race early and swim between 200-500meters as a warmup. That way when the race starts, your already comfortable and your swim should be almost anxiety free.

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