Clearly, open water swimming has many different challenges to pool swimming, and naturally, many of you will make adaptations to your stroke and how you swim when you do get into the open water.
So today, we’ve got five tips to help you get faster and to excel in the open water, many of which you can actually work on and improve in the pool.
When swimming in the open water, it’s actually really helpful to increase our stroke rate – that’s the number of strokes that we take per minute or basically, how quickly our arms move.
There’s a number of reasons for this, but mostly due to the fact that the water is moving and it’s more turbulent. That means that the glide phase that we might normally do in the swimming pool that nice and long stroke doesn’t happen quite as easily. We just don’t move quite as freely through the water.
Also, because the water’s moving during that catch and pull phase, we may lose the purchase of the water and lose that power. So, you want that next arm to come around nice and quickly.
The nature of open water swimming and triathlons is that you quite often have other people around you, and they may knock your arms – it is naturally happening in these sorts of events, and again that may mean that you lose that power during the catch in the pool phase.
Again, you want that arm to come around nice and quickly. Now, this may be something that you adapt to quite naturally when you’re in the open water, particularly if you’re wearing a wetsuit because you’re more light in the water, and that makes it easier to increase your stroke rate.
This is something that you should also practice when you’re in the swimming pool. Try and play around with increasing your stroke crate and finding that happy medium for you.
The next part of the stroke to look at is the recovery, that’s where the hand exits the water at the back and then re-enters at the front. Typically, in the pool, what you see people striving to do is doing a nice high elbow recovery and the hand trailing quite close to the water surface.
In the open water, you may have seen people swim with this slightly wider and straighter arm recovery. Now, we’ll point out this isn’t something that you strive to do and change in your stroke – it’s just something that happened naturally with time.
That’s the best bit of advice for you guys – don’t strive to change your stroke to this wider straight arm recovery, allow it to happen naturally with time. But it’s good to know why we may have this wider and straighter around recovery.
As we mentioned already, in the open water, we’ve got this choppier water. It’s more turbulent and moving, so with this low arm recovery and hand recovery, there is a tendency to catch the water surface the chop and then to tumble down into the water and disrupt our stroke.
Also, we’ve got a lot of people around us, when we’re swimming in the open water, particularly in triathlons, so having that straight arm recovery means that we’ve got less chance of getting our arms caught up in one another. It allows us to get closer to another swimmer, so we can draft off them. Finally, that straight arm recovery also can help to increase that stroke rate that we mentioned just before.
Because the open water is more turbulent, you may feel that movement of the water head-on and side to side while you’re swimming, especially when you’ve got other swimmers around you. As a result of that, you may feel that as your hand enters the water, you just don’t have quite as much control of it. You feel like you’re off balance and can’t get that catch at the front of the stroke and into the pool phase.
Now, the way to work around that is actually to be more assertive with your hand entry. That means coming in with a faster hand entry, almost like you’re punching into the water.
If you come in with a slower hand entry, you’re basically at the mercy of the waves, the water movement, and other swimmers that may knock you off balance and basically waste your energy.
You may have noticed with these last three skills we’ve touched on were kind of pushing you towards this choppier and splashier stroke. Yeah, you’re right!
But you should make sure that below the water part is still performed well, getting that nice catch into a nice strong pool.
We’re now on to sighting, which is a pretty critical skill for open water swimming. We need to lift our heads up out of the water to sight. How much we lift our head up out of the water can have a big impact on our swimming.
If we lift our head up really high out of the water, our legs are going to drop, creating a breaking force. So, ideally, you should lift the head up out of the water, minimizing how much our legs drop. You can call it “crocodile eyes” – just the eyes coming up above the water.
That being said, there are times when you do need to lift your head up a little bit higher, maybe when it’s choppier, you’ve got more swimmers in front of you, or can’t simply see where you’re going and being able to adapt to that is really important.
Practice in lifting your head up and sighting lifting your head to different degrees, and seeing how it impacts affects your stroke and how you can adapt to minimize those effects.