05 July 2022

Training: Open water swimming tips for novice’s – part two

August 10, 2015
Triathlon-swim - open water

So, you’ve read part one of our open water swimming tips and you’ve overcome any niggling worries about having a go, now it’s time to concentrate on how to improve your swimming, learn to swim in a straight line and deal with turns!

Triathlon-swim - open water

1. Learn to sight

One of the hardest things to master in open water swimming is swimming in a straight line and not veering off course. Even really well practiced swimmers can lose focus and time by not taking a direct route – with no lanes to guide you it’s important to practice sighting.

Most swimmers sight every 5 or 6 strokes, the easiest way is to lift your head forward with eyes straight ahead, check your position and then turn your head to breathe. To start with just go through the motion on land, get the sequence in your head and then practice in training.

If the water is very choppy, you may look up just as a wave in in your face, so be prepared to look up a couple of times in a row if you need to. You may like to prepare by training this too – try swimming 2-3 strokes with your head looking forward.

2. Be able to adapt your breathing
Everyone has a their own preference for breathing, whether its breathing every 2 or 4 strokes on the same side or alternating sides and breathing every 3-5 strokes. 

The thing to bear in mind with open water swimming is that it could be choppy and wavy and if the wind is blowing across the course then the waves will be peaking on one side, this could give you a mouth-full of water every time you breathe in that direction.

So practice your breathing and be able to swap sides if you need too. Also practice with your sighting, it might seem a bit of a lightweight session, but the right technique is invaluable and timesaving in open water.

3. Don’t fight choppy water

In open water it’s inevitable that sometimes the water may be wavy or choppy, as a swimmer you are far less vulnerable than you imagine – it’s not the same as being in a boat where you can become upturned by waves – as a swimmer, you can move with the waves.

It’s important not to try and fight the waves, staying calm and smooth with a good, long technique will help. Don’t be scared of the wave moving you or pushing you to one side, just keep sighting to keep on track and let the waves wash through you.

You may find that you want to stop a moment, tread water and take a really good look at the direction you are heading – better to do this and save time because it can be hard to spot using your regular technique if the waves are blocking your view

4. Relax and stop if you need to

If it all becomes too stressful and exhausting then roll onto your back, relax and breathe for a few moments to regain your composure.

Use mental techniques to calm yourself and try concentrating on something other than the thing that is bothering you. So if it’s wavy, focus on your technique and not the waves. If the other swimmers are stressing you then concentrate on your sighting and your race, you can’t control them, so control yourself instead.

5. Prepare for the turns
Generally the turns will be large inflatable buoys or markers and often there can be more than one buoy making the turn long and wide. Prepare in advance by knowing what to expect – study the course before you arrive.

When you get to the event, walk down to the water and check the course, work out where you will start, turn and finish. Ask a marshal if you are not sure, you don’t want to be relying on other swimmers to follow.

If there are other swimmers near you at the turn then kick your legs harder so they keep wide – no one wants a foot in their face! In training practice interval swimming and ‘surging’ so you can put on a turn of speed to get away from other swimmers as you go into the turn.

Make sure you sight well after the buoy so you make sure you are heading in the straightest possible line to the next point.

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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