Practise open-water techniques in the pool to get ahead of the game when it comes to swimming outside. Here’s how to tailor your indoor training for the great outdoors.
The first open-water swim of the season can be daunting and, let’s face it, uncomfortably cold, so preparing for lake or sea swimming in the pool can help you have a positive experience when you transition outside. Here are our top tips to get yourself ready for open water in the warmth of the pool.
Dry land warm up
Sometimes it’s not possible to do a warm-up swim before the start of your open-water event – and other times it’s just too cold to get wet then have to hang around waiting for the gun to go off. If you’re not already doing a dry-land warm-up before getting in the pool, now’s the time to start getting your routine nailed.
Arm swings, shoulder rotations, doing your freestyle technique in mid-air, twisting your upper body from side to side and some very light stretches are all great ways to get the shoulders and arms used to what’s to come.
When it comes to the open water swim start – and especially in mass-start events – the air-horn that starts the clock for the day is usually a cue for a thrashing, churning sprint towards the first buoy. You can replicate this in the pool by starting your swim at a faster pace and higher arm cadence than usual before settling back into your regular pace. This will send the heart-rate rocketing, so getting experience of recovering to a lower intensity while swimming will put you in good stead for your race.
Deep water starts
Another way to practise the race start is to move away from the wall of the pool then, with your head up, scull your hands from side to side under the water with palms facing forwards as if waving to someone at the other end of the pool while gently kicking. This should keep you pretty static in the water. Then, when you’re ready to simulate the race start, kick harder and start your high cadence stroke, keeping your head up to sight the first few metres then settle back into your pace for the rest of the length or set.
Being able to sight properly in open water can save you going off course and swimming extra distance you don’t need to. It can also be a tricky movement to master, so practising in the pool away from the chill of open water will give you a chance to experiment with what works for you best.
There are three main ways to sight: looking up just before breathing; looking up just after breathing; and looking up during a non-breathing stroke. Try placing a drinks bottle at the end of your lane to sight and try all three – and on each breathing side – to see what works best for you. Whichever you ultimately choose, practise regularly to make sighting as fast and unobtrusive on your stroke as possible.
Swim with a pull buoy
The humble pull buoy is a great tool for simulating open water swimming thanks to the way it lifts your legs in the water, just like a wetsuit. This can help get you used to a slightly different position in the water. An even better aid is a pair of neoprene shorts, which give your quads a lift, but still allow you to kick properly too.
Drafting and group swimming
If you get the opportunity to swim with some training buddies, drafting in the pool can be really useful – both to get used to swimming close to other people and to see what drafting positions work best for you. Practise lengths where you swim on a friend’s toes, then move up one side of them to swim by the hips. You might find that one way seems faster, more comfortable or easier to sight.
To get an even better open-water experience in the pool, get a lane to yourselves and have a friend deliberately impede your stroke by slapping your feet, grabbing an ankle, swimming into you, knocking your arms and generally getting in the way. Annoying and uncomfortable, this is exactly what you’ll need to be prepared for in your triathlon race.
Swim in a 50m pool
If you usually swim in a 25m pool, heading out to your local Olympic-size swimming pool is a great way to get used to the open water. Not only does the length allow you to sight further, but you’re able to swim continuously for longer before hitting the end of the pool. As such, don’t be disheartened if your times in a 50m pool are a little slower.
Many 50m pools have no aversion to you slipping a wetsuit on poolside, so this gives you a perfect opportunity to feel exactly how it will feel when you take to the open water. While wetsuit manufacturers warn against swimming in chlorinated water, the odd swim each season shouldn’t hurt if you rinse the wetsuit out properly with clean water afterwards.