3 Key Open Water Sighting Tips for Triathletes

Sighting is a seemingly small element of a long open water swim. However, when not performed well, poor sighting carries a significant cost. Watch the following video to see how much extra distance the highlighted swimmers go:

I coached at our team’s final open water practice of the season last weekend. It was a great session, with a lot of good, hard swimming done. However, in general the team’s sighting was poor. I watched them snake through the straight out-and-back course. I was secretly (and sadistically?) pleased as it made the workout longer but I recognize the need to correct their technique for race day.

My swimmers (and maybe you too?) have two key elements to correct:

1. Poor sighting technique

Poor form is tiring and inefficient.

  • One of the most common faults is lifting your head too long which expends energy and causes your feet to drop.
  • Not sighting within the rhythm of your stroke will cause a pause in momentum and break your cadence. Stop-start swimming is no fun.
  • Finally, don’t lift your head to sight just for the sake of it, lift and scan for your landmarks. Use it to make sure you are on course, or don’t sight, just swim normally. If you are swimming parallel to shore, there will be minimal use to lift your head up and to the front.

2. Not sighting regularly enough

  • The swimmers tended to sight too late, only to discover they had veered off track. It’s a trade-off (energy and rhythm) but sighting more frequently would have prevented them from swimming the extra yards.
Keep your head low while sighting in the open water!

Keep your head low while sighting in the open water!


Key tips for Open Water Sighting

  • Sighting Tip 1: scan the course pre-race for landmarks that are bigger and more obvious than the buoys, e.g. telecoms masts, distinctive buildings, boats (as long as they are not moving!), etc.Even though my fellow Coach’s guns are HUGE, it was tough to see them from the water. Swimmers had to work hard to spot him. At Coney Island beach on Saturday, rather than using Coach as the marker in the water, it would have been far easier and more effective to sight using one of the huge buildings behind him on the beach.
  • Sighting Tip 2: Incorporate sighting into the rhythm of your stroke. Lift your head only enough to spot your landmark and throw your head into the breath and next stroke.
  • Sighting Tip 3: Sight regularly, but not too often. It all depends on how ‘straight’ a swimmer you are and how much you trust yourself.  Somewhere between 3 and 12 strokes is the norm. Experiment in training to find what works best for you and your internal compass.

Review the Swim Smooth video above that clearly shows how far you can go off course if your sighting is off. Be sure to practice a little before your next race(s). You get no points for swimming extra distance!

Keri-Anne-Payne-open-water-swim-Beijing-2008_1127785 Olympic Open Water, A Seminal Event About To Occur openwaterswimmingnews

Keri-Anne Payne’s crocodile eyes – head barely out of the water

Photo credits: Flying Cloud & http://www.openwaterswimming.com/

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