Common Open Water Swimming Mistakes

There are clear differences between swimming in the pool as compared to swimming in open water. Many triathletes, both beginner and even seasoned triathletes tend to over-look these key pointers during training and racing.

Here are some common open water swimming mistakes to avoid.

Don’t Glide

Many athletes feel that there is a need to glide while swimming. This misconception comes from watching competitive swimmers move through the water effortlessly with long powerful strokes that creates the perception of gliding. Essentially when you are gliding, you are actually decelerating in water until you take your next stroke (pull).

The effects of gliding and decelerating in open water works against a swimmer especially when swimming against the current. Instead of gliding, work to develop a good high-elbow catch and pull technique. Couple this with a higher stroke rate with the emphasis of always maintaining to have one arm pulling at all times through the front quadrant of the stroke cycle.

Don’t’ Train at One Speed Only

Triathletes are well known for putting in the volume into their training. However, much of this is usually done at the same pace regardless of the length of their swim interval. Though swimming at a single (steady state) pace develops a strong aerobic system, this is inadequate for improving your open water swimming ability because more than just the aerobic energy system is required.

At the start of a triathlon race, unless you are perfectly fine to remain in the turmoil of tossing arms and bodies smashing against you, the ability to start out fast and hard is important.

For intermediate and advanced athletes who want to work towards staying in the draft of other swimmers, the ability to decelerate and accelerate around a swim buoy will evidently keep you with the swim pack or get dropped. Open water swimming conditions are rarely calm and flat.

Unless you are competing in perfect conditions or in a pool, the ability to vary your pace and stroke rate (as mentioned above) will determine your success in the swim.

Don’t Train like a Pool Swimmer

There is no black line at the bottom on the lane to guide you. You won’t have clear space to swim towards your intended direction. The sun gets into your eyes while trying to spot the buoy, at the same time everyone is trying to get ahead of you. If this sounds familiar, it is.

Swimming well in open water requires training specificity. Triathletes tend to overlook acquiring necessary skills like sighting to navigate, the ability to swim in close proximity with other athletes and working their way around a marker buoy. These skills can all be practiced regularly in an open water or pool environment, and should be part of training altogether on top of your sets and intervals.

Rather than just swimming long straight sets in open water during a training sessions, utilize the opportunity to sharpen your skills and simulate race day situations as close as possible so that both the body and mind will know what to expect. Incorporate these changes as you prepare for your next open water race. Working with a triathlon coach who understands the demands of open water racing will also help accelerate your learning and performance.

Article contributed by: Eugene Lee @eugeneleecoaching

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