Openwater swimming like a pro

Published: 12.04.2019


Here is post number 2 in the SportPursuit Slateman training blog series. Hands up if you were a swimmer before you came to Triathlon... I think you’ll find the majority of people without much swimming experience except learning to swim when they were children - and in some cases not even that! It’s certainly the sport that people complain about the most and with good reason, it’s a tough one!

There are two reasons that ‘swimmer kids’ are so good both when they’re young and even 15 years down the line despite not having donned a pair of lovely MP Michael Phelps Xceed goggles (Pictured right). Technique and Volume. Technique is instilled in them at an early age and stays with them and using that technique they have time to swim at least twice as often as the most dedicated triathlete. That is the crux of the problem - time!

Most of us work full time jobs with little flexibility and so have limited time available to train. With the swim only being around 10% of our race it’s easy to think it doesn’t matter. But how well you get through that swim is reflected in the rest of your race.

But… it’s not too late, here’s what you need to do.

1. Get efficient

Technique is nearly everything for swimming efficiently, the other part is your fitness. So get a trained swimming teacher / coach to look at your technique and get some tips or alternatively look at some videos online. Either way find out what’s wrong with your stroke and fix it!

Some common problems include;

  • Really ‘sinky’ body / legs → Not relaxed enough, try some floating or sink downs.
  • Getting out of breath really quickly → Blow more bubbles before coming up for a breath.
  • Arms not propelling you fast enough → Make sure you are ‘catching’ the water and pulling it back rather than pressing it down (this is a really common one!).

2. Practice swimming with good technique at race pace

While technique is very important, you’re not going to be able to swim very far without some swim specific fitness. Without enough fitness your form tends to break down when you get tired. So this is why it’s you must practice swimming hard / at race pace with good form! Do repeated 100’s or 200’s to practice form under fatigue.

3. Get a good wetsuit

Not that you’d want to but most races won’t let you swim without a wetsuit. When I say a good one I don’t just mean a warm one. A lot of great wetsuits will have thicker neoprene in the legs to help the legs float better such as the Aqua Sphere Pursuit 2.0 which is perfect for beginners or the Aqua Sphere Phantom 2.0 (Pictured left) which has been redesigned to provide the ultimate speedy wetsuit (it’s very fast!).

4.Get outside!

Open water swimming can sometimes be a bit of a different beast. Waves, cloudy water and flailing arms make it a whole different experience to pool swimming. Notice I didn’t say worse experience - because it’s not all bad. When you get used to it, it’s like running on a treadmill or cycling on the turbo trainer vs outside. Open water swimming can be great fun! You may need to adapt your technique to suit the conditions so practice swinging straighter arms higher so they don’t catch on waves. Practice ‘sighting’ so you can see where you’re going. You can even practice this in the pool every few lengths.

Tips for sighting effectively;

  • Don’t lift your head out too high - you want to be able to see but you don’t want to be wasting energy leaping out the water!
  • Try just popping your eyes out the water to see if that gives you a good enough view - think alligator eyes!
  • Do it often - you will lose more energy by swimming an extra 200 meters than you would by doing an energy efficient sight every few strokes.

There you have it, some easy to master tips that will help you get after those natural born swimmers and come out feeling fresh enough for the rest of the race!

About me:

My name is Scott Findlay and I am a coach with the Hartree JETS Triathlon Team. I studied a Bachelors in Sport & Exercise Science, a Masters in Sports Performance Enhancement and I hold UKCC Level 2 Triathlon Coaching and Swim Teaching certificates. I have raced around the world including ITU Long Distance World Champs, ETU Sprint Champs, The Challenge Family - The Championship and this year am focusing on some of the finest races in the UK. I am proud to be an Aqua Sphere ambassador for open water and triathlon and an MP Michael Phelps ambassador in the pool. Follow me on Social Media; Twitter / Instagram: @SNFindlay