It’s open water swim season, hooray! It’s been consistently warm for the past several weeks in my part of the world (Upstate New York), which means the opportunities for practicing in open water are increasing. That’s welcomed news to a wintertime curmudgeon like myself. But at the same time, it’s not feasible for me, and many other triathletes, to get into open water more than once per week. There are things we can do in the pool to best simulate your local lake, river, or ocean.
Ditch the lane lines
If you swim with your triathlon club or another group of fun people that take up most or all of the pool, take out the lane lines. This will allow you to practice a mass start and get comfortable with the intense effort necessary to find your way through a crowd over the first few hundred yards. You could also add some makeshift buoys to practice going around them.
Don’t push off the wall
For those who can’t take the lane lines out of the pool you can still simulate an open water environment by not pushing off the wall. This helps practice a sculling start.
Drills, drills, and more drills
There are a multitude of drills you can do such as sighting drills where you lift your head straight up out of the water focusing on the end of the lane. This can also fit in nicely with your breathing. As you swim along bring your head straight up, sight, and then turn your head to breathe as it goes back into the water.
You could also practice drafting off the person in front of you if you’re sharing a lane.Hopefully you’re training with a handful of people. In this case you can each cycle through sprinting around one another. This will help you become comfortable drafting in different positions around other swimmers and increase your ability when overtaking a fellow competitor during a race.
Exiting the water
Many triathletes get a bit disorientated when coming out of the water. Your heart rate spikes as you go from horizontal to vertical and hit can be uncomfortable for some athletes. Practice swimming a hard 25 yard, then climbing out of the pool. If you’re able, run back around to the other side and start again. You could also jog in place to get the feeling of moving through transition following the swim.
To improve these skills we must practice them. So do you typical warm up and drills. But instead of focusing on 10x100 yards at a certain time or pace, you’ll focus on the open water drills mentioned above. For example, start at the flags with a sculling motion and no pushing off the wall. Take the first half of length at a hard effort to mimic the start of a race then take the rest of the 100 for example at a steady effort.
As part of the entire set you could also not touch any walls at all. Instead of flip turning or pushing off, you come close to the wall and turn yourself around in the water.
Open water practice
If you’re like me and are only getting into open water once per week, it’s best to work on some drills there too. One thing to focus on is increasing your swim stroke right at the start, say 20-30 really fast strokes. This helps mimic the start of a race, elevates your heart rate, and should hopefully get you more comfortable in the open water environment.
While training with a group, you could set out with one or two of your training buddies and then have one pick up the pace while the others try to keep up. Cycle through this a few times much like the sprinting drills mentioned above. It’s important to practice swimming at different paces, learning to relax and control your heart rate. This drill is perfect for that.
If you’re looking to improve your swim, send me a message or leave a comment. I can share a series of pool drills to help get you more comfortable in the water, improve your stroke, and ultimately make you a faster triathlete.