As triathletes, we spend hours in the pool. We work on everything from basic stroke technique to building our endurance through long sets. The tricky thing about all of this is that we race in open water, and most of us neglect honing our skills to help us get through the first portion of our events. The next time you are out at the beach, think about trying out these few techniques to up your open water swim game:
1. Only lift your head has high as necessary. This is something that most triathletes exaggerate due to not practicing it enough. When you do pick up your head, kick slightly harder to assist in keeping your head above water until you have sighted the direction you wish to go.
2. Pick fixed landmarks to follow. By choosing a fixed point you can swim in a straighter line and less distance since you don’t have to constantly re-correct. This should be something on the shoreline. Choosing a fellow swimmer is okay, but if they end up off course so will you. Similarly, it’s easy to lose sight of a buoy in choppy water.
3. When sighting in the ocean or choppy water, attempt to sight when you are on the top of the swells. Naturally this will give you the best view of the course and allow you to better correct if you find yourself drifting in the wrong direction.
4. Compensate for current. Remember when you are sighting take into consideration the current. Just because you are swimming towards your sighted object you may need to correct for being pushed left or right due to the current.
5. Use your peripheral vision. This starts with purchasing goggles that have a larger lens and go outside of your eye socket. This will allow you to look left and right with minimal movement of your head. The benefit of this is when you are taking a breath, and your head is turned, look around and sight. Although this is a limited view, by using your peripheral vision you can sight fewer times and minimize the strain of a full upright sighting.
6. Glare can be an issue with open water swimming that indoor pools don’t have. Considered shaded (smoke) lens rather than clear or yellow lens. Since most of our races are early morning, the sun is low and there can be glare coming off the water.
7. Practice breathing from both sides as to be comfortable in the event you need to breathe (or sight) from your non-dominant side. This can also be helpful if there is a strong glare.
Although nothing can replace getting out and swimming in open water, here are a few drills you can do in the pool that will assist in developing your sighting techniques:
1. Swimming with your head up (or Tarzan drill). Swim an entire length of the pool facing forward using front crawl (not breaststroke). This will strengthen your upper back and neck muscles and make it more comfortable for you when you are out in open water.
2. If you have the benefit of training with a partner, try swimming and sighting the other while they move around the deck. This will develop sighting while turning your head.
3. Blind swim. Find an open swim lane and swim with your eyes closed. Whichever lane line you hit first will be the direction you will need to compensate for in open water.
By following these tips your open water swimming should improve and lead to better swim times on race day.