Triathlon Coach on Open Water Swimming

Open water swimming is a very different experience than pool swimming. It can take place in any natural bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers, rather than in a pool. It can be a thrilling and challenging experience, but it also requires a set of specific skills to be done safely and effectively.

One of the most important skills for open water swimming is the ability to navigate. Unlike in a pool, where the walls and lane lines provide clear boundaries, swimming in the open water can be disorienting and it can be easy to get lost or swim off course. To prevent this, it is important to familiarise yourself with the area you will be swimming in, including any landmarks or features that can help you orient yourself. It can also be helpful to use a compass or GPS device to help you stay on track if you are swimming long distances or in poor visibility.

The key skill to help you navigate in the open water is the ability to sight while still swimming. This skill requires you to look up at where you are going without breaking your stroke pattern. It is a skill that can be easily learnt from an experienced triathlon coach at squad swimming, or even an online triathlon coach. The main components of the skill are hard to convey on paper, but are as follows:

  1. Push down slightly as your leading hand extends,
  2. Lift your chest upwards,
  3. Allow just your eyes to exit the water very quickly and focus on your target landmark or buoy. Your nose and mouth should remain in the water. You don’t have to see exactly what you are looking for at the first look. Take 3 or 4 sightings and narrow down your field of vision each time until you see your specific landmark. After that you can reduce the number of times you sight based on your surroundings. This should only take a fraction of a second and should not disrupt your stroke pattern noticeably.
  4. There are two options after your sighting stroke, and it is personal preference as to which you choose to do. You can then either turn your head to breathe on the next stroke, OR you can put your head back down for one stroke and then breathe.
  5. Stoke normally for 5-7 strokes, then repeat. If the conditions are very flat and calm, you may only need to sight every 9-11 strokes.

Another important skill for open water swimming is the ability to deal with changing conditions. The weather and water conditions can vary greatly in open water, and it is important to be prepared for this. This means being able to adjust your stroke and breathing to accommodate choppy water or strong currents and being able to stay warm in cold water. It is also important to be aware of any potential hazards, such as boats, rocks, piers or other swimmers, and to know how to avoid or deal with them if necessary.

In addition to these practical skills, open water swimming also requires a strong mental game. Swimming for long distances in open water can be mentally and physically exhausting, and it is important to be able to maintain focus and motivation throughout the swim. This means setting goals and having a plan for how to achieve them, as well as being able to stay calm and focused even when faced with challenges or setbacks.

Overall, open water swimming requires a combination of physical, technical, and mental skills to be done safely and effectively. It can be a challenging and rewarding activity, but it is important to develop and hone these skills to maximise your safety, enjoyment and success in the open water.

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