Friday, March 18, 2016

5 Things You Can Do Now To Prepare For The Open Water Season

If you live in the northern hemisphere we hope you are enjoying the longer days and perhaps even the occasional glimpse of some spring sunshine! If you love open water swimming you'll be counting down the days until the season begins - depending where you are, it's probably only 4 to 8 weeks away now.

So what can you do now to get yourself ready for swimming in your local lake or the ocean as soon as it's warm enough? Here's five simple things you can do now - in the warmth of your local pool - that will make a real difference when you head outdoors for your first open water swim of the season:

1. Experiment With A Straighter Arm Recovery

If you watch elite open water swimmers and triathletes at work, you'll see that nearly all use a straighter arm recovery to a lesser or greater extent. In a wetsuit this takes the load off the shoulder muscles and when swimming in disturbed water (created by a field of swimmers) a straighter arm gives you more clearance and stops the hand catching on chop.

The arm doesn't need to be bolt straight - opening it out a little at the elbow can make all the difference. Carloyn demonstrates:

2. Experiment With A Higher Stroke Rate

Swimming with a higher stroke rate (read higher cadence) is especially useful in disturbed open water as it helps you punch through waves and chop more efficiently. This needn't be harder work when you get used to it - it's a bit like spinning a smaller gear on the bike - each stroke is less effort but you take more of them.

Think about getting into your catch a little quicker at the front of the stroke to lift your rate. This is quite subtle (it's easy to lift things too high and start fighting the water) so we recommend using a Tempo Trainer Pro in stroke rate mode and experiment with lifting your stroke rate by 5-6 SPM in a controlled way.

The best open water swimmers is the world mix this up, lengthening out in flat conditions and shortening the stroke subtly when things get a bit rougher.

Rotate positions every length and
try the position directly behind the
leader to get a huge tow!
3. Swim Close To Your Friends

Get together with a small group of 3-5 friends and perform some structured exercises swimming as close as you can to each other, for instance arrow head drafting (see right).

You can only swim two or more abreast if you have your own lane with no swimmers coming the other way but even in a public lane you can practise swimming as close as possible behind each other to experience a lot of turbulence. Swim fast and get the heart rate high!

Another tip is to deliberately swim in a side lane at the pool where there will be more chop bouncing off the side wall.

4. Breathe Bilaterally

Oh god really? Yes! Breathing to both sides can make a huge difference to the symmetry of your stroke - and stroke symmetry means swimming straight.

You can work on your swim fitness and stroke technique to the cows come home but if you can't swim straight in open water you will throw all that away and much more besides! We know from GPS tracking and drone footage that age group triathletes can easily swim 10 or even 20% too far by swimming off course.

Even if you are a few seconds per 100m slower breathing bilaterally you can gain this back and much more from swimming straighter.

5. Include A little Sighting Practise

Getting good at sighting is important - the key is to be able to look forwards comfortably without undue effort and interrupting the flow of your stroke. The very best way to develop this technique is in the pool, sighting forwards regularly when you swim. Try sighting once per length at a random distance down the pool, picking out an object like a clock to read the time.

The key to good sighting technique is to not lift your head too high above the surface, just lifting the eyes above the surface...

...and then immediately rotating to breathe to the side. Read our previous blog post on this technique here:

Swim Smooth!

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