Category: Open Water

First Out of the Water

I love this photo, from Ola Vista Photography on flickr.

open water swim triathlon first out of the water ola vista photography flickr

The photo is called “ITU San Diego Pro Men”.

I love how it captures the first athlete out of the water, with his competitors close behind, chasing him down. What a rush!

Do you finish the swim in first place?

Workout of the Week (WOW!): Start fast, and just keep trucking

Goal: Less warm-up in today’s session to get us used to not always having a proper warm-up before starting a race. In particular, less fast work to get us primed for the main set.

In practice, we should work on replicating imperfect conditions so we are ready to handle anything on race day. Something always goes wrong!

Start fast in the swim and keep going to the end!

Desert Truck Head On, from Cold Cut’s flickr

Warm up: 2 x (100 free /75 back /100 drill /25 kick)

Main set: The main set itself is short and fast work at the front to replicate the initial speed of the swim start, before settling into longer swims. Get used to the initial burst and being able to maintain race pace. If you can do it in a crowded lane, all the better!

4 x 50 Fast: for time
50 easy
4 x 100 Fast: for time. Try to double your time for the 50s, but not slower.
50 easy
2 x 200 Negative split each 200, and number 2 to be faster than number 1 overall.
50 easy
400 Race pace
50 easy

Cool down: 200 easy swim, 100 back, 100 kick

Total: 2,800

How did it go?
Were you able to maintain good speed throughout?

The #1 drill to overcome your fear of the open water

open water swimming and treading water skills to help gain comfort

Treading water & nerves from AliiDreamin’s Flickr

Open water swimming involves a lot of different stress factors. The good news is that overcoming these difficulties is not impossible and there are just as many tricks to help you become more comfortable in the water.

Some of the difficulties of open water swimming include:

  1. No lane line
  2. Dark, murky water.
  3. Currents
  4. Waves
  5. Crowded, choppy water
  6. Competitors whose only goal is to punch you in the head

Overcoming any reluctance is partly about diving in and ripping the band aid off. With time and persistence comes comfort. However, there are also many drills and tricks you can use to quickly become comfortable.

If you find swimming daunting and struggle on race day, the number one drill that can help you when swimming in the open water is Treading Water.

There are a variety of different ways to tread water – egg beater or flutter or breaststroke kick for example? Hint: flutter kick is more tiring. Check out the many videos online that will help you with the technique, for example, this one.

Start in shallow water and then proceed to the deep end. During your swim sessions do not hold on to the wall, simply tread water. Mix treading water into 50’s drill, taking a few seconds to tread water in the deep end.

Being able to tread water will help you if you ever need to stop in a race. For example:

  • to sight
  • to adjust your goggles
  • to catch your breath
  • if you need to let a pack of swimmers past
  • Starting a race from the water, being able to tread water will help conserve energy as you await the starter’s gun

Treading water also helps your swimming in multiple ways:

  1. With technique – sculling and the catch at the front of the stroke
  2. It helps strengthen forearms
  3. Forces you to engage the core

Just ask this Alsatian.

In addition to treading water, being able to turn on to your back or do breaststroke, will help in situations where you need to stop for a breather. Be sure to work the non-frontcrawl strokes in practice.

What aspect of open water swimming do you hate the most? Has being able to tread water helped you? Let us know with a short comment below.

Tip of the Day: Close Your Eyes to Swim Straight as an Arrow

Blindfolded Typing Competition, via Foxtongue’sFlickr

Do you veer off course during the swim portion of your race? If so, you will be surprised at how much extra distance you will cover.

This may be due to sighting but also due to having imbalances in your stroke. As on land, you will likely have a stronger side, for example if you tend to breathe only to one side.

You likely won’t discover this while swimming in the pool, since you have the black line at the bottom of the pool and lane ropes to guide you. It is not easy to correct imbalances without any visual guidance.

A way to test for any such imbalances is to swim with your eyes closed. Yes, eyes wide shut!

Push off the wall and swim nice and steady. Easy! No peeking. If you reach the end of the pool without bashing into the lane rope you are golden: no imbalances! Most people however will end up swimming to one side.

Once discovering to which side you veer, you can work on your stroke to correct the imbalance. It is not unlike running where – sometimes due to a prior or current injury – you favor one leg to some extent.

Be careful if sharing the lane with other swimmers of course!

So, “close your eyes, give me your hand, darling” and swim along (and sing) along.

Did you discover any imbalances in your stroke? Please comment below to let us know.

31 Easy Tips to Sporting Excellence #27: Race-day training

I am a firm believer in efficiency and effectiveness in training. I don’t have the time, energy or attention span to plough away for mile after mile racking up insane training volumes. Sign me up for those things that allow me to achieve more in less time and have fun while doing so!

“31 Easy Tips to Sporting Excellence” is a series of those tips that will kick your performance to the next level, without any inordinate expenditure of time or money. How are you going to reach your goals?

Today is #27: Race-day training

Prepare for race day with race-specific training eg open water swimming for triathletes

The triathlon season is long and there are many miles to be covered on the road to race day. Along the way do not neglect your race-specific training. What are the things that will save you minutes on race day and help you outperform your expectations?

Adapt your training to the course you plan on conquering. Get plenty of open water training done and be sure to note if the swim is in a lake or sea which can offer very different conditions on race day. Is the bike/run course hilly? Make sure you are training on hills otherwise the effort on race day will surprise you.

Open water swimming is far different and more chaotic than pool swimming. Be sure to tackle the currents, waves, lack of visibility of open water swimming. Work on your sighting so you do not end up swimming extra distance!

Brick workouts should be incorporated into your training. Swim and then bike, bike and then run. Help your muscles adapt to the changeover.

Nutrition is another element you can practice. What will your pre-race breakfast be? What snacks and fluids will you take during the race (be it in transition or on the bike)? Experiment with various foods and brands. You will like the taste of some and your body will reject others – make sure you find which ones before you ruin your race! Find out when and what quantity you should consume in and around your race – that is equally important. Nutrition can make a big difference.

Get your nutrition right for triathlon race day

Equipment is another variable that can make a difference. While a $10,000 carbon bike will help your cycling time, not all of us can afford that investment. Plus you’re doing it to push yourself anyway, right?! With so much equipment there are lots of choices and a lot of margin for error. What socks are comfortable and do not give you blisters? Do you have a pair of goggles that fit well and are comfortable? Are they tinted in case of sunny conditions and do you have a spare pair in case one breaks? Do you have a comfortable cap for the run and tri shorts? What sunglasses will you wear? These are all smaller items that will not make you faster, but knowing them will determine your comfort level and minimize stress in race week and on the day itself.

Practice your transitions – knowing your routine and making it second nature will be the difference between a 45 second transition and a 3 minute one, which in turn could be the difference between hitting your goal time or missing it. Practice what works for you in terms of order of events, whether to eat or not, do you put on socks for the bike, do you dry off with a towel or air dry? etc, etc.

Learn to fix a flat – Murphy’s Law will dictate that you will NEVER get a flat in training but halfway through the bike leg, BOTH your tyres will pop! Be prepared. Don’t end up sitting by the side of the road waiting for bike support to arrive!

Preparing the smaller, seemingly less significant items will give you the mental confidence to race hard. Free your brain from stress and focus on racing hard and fast!

What tips would you add to the list?

“31 Easy Tips” thus far:
#1: Drink Water First Thing in the Morning
Write Down Your Goals (Now!)
 Ask an Expert
Start Stretching
#5: Track your progress towards your Goals
#6: Take a Cold Shower
Incorporate Drills into your Workouts
Superfoods for Superperformance
#9: Get Some Rest
#10: Cross train
Reward Yourself
#12: Don’t Breathe in the Pool
Take a Bath
#14: Do Squat!
#15: Get Yourself a Mentor
Do Yoga
#17: Be on Time
#18: Leave Your Bucket of Troubles at the Door
#19: Stay Healthy!
#20: Do LESS Freestyle
#21: Grind it Out on the Foam Roller
#22: Engage Your Core
#23: Don’t Break the Bank!
Be Persistent and Patient (Like Skyscraper Builders)
#25: Kick!
#26: Sprint!

31 Easy Tips to Sporting Excellence: #20 Do LESS Freestyle

How is the “31 Easy Tips…” series treating you? I hope it is helping. Implement one or two things from the list (don’t try to do too much) over the course of a few weeks and track your progress.

Today’s tip is #20: Do LESS Freestyle

Phelps is a world class in breaststroke as well as his traditional fly and free, which helps his all-round game

Yes, you read that correctly – do LESS freestyle!

Most triathletes swim freestyle and only freestyle, given that it is the fastest stroke. Fair enough.

However, experimenting with the other three strokes will benefit your swimming in a number of ways:

  • Give your freestyle-specific joints and muscles a break and avoid overuse injuries
  • Make your swim practices more interesting
  • Develop your non-freestyle muscles (e.g. strengthen your legs doing breaststroke)
  • Give you options in a race should you need to switch strokes – take a breather, fix your goggles, etc.
  • Up the intensity in the pool by adding butterfly
  • Give you confidence in your overall swimming ability by mastering the ‘other’ strokes
  • Maybe counter-intuitively, a strong kick can help with sighting in open water as you can use it to get your head out of the water and maintain forward progress

Try adding a mix of the different strokes in the warm up and warm down, and go from there. Your freestyle muscles will thank you!

Previous tips in the 31 Easy Tips series include:

#1: Drink Water First Thing in the Morning
#2: Write Down Your Goals (Now!)
#3: Ask an Expert
#4: Start Stretching
#5: Track your progress towards your Goals
#6: Take a Cold Shower
#7: Incorporate Drills into your Workouts
#8: Superfoods for Superperformance
#9: Get Some Rest
#10: Cross train
#11: Reward Yourself
#12: Don’t Breathe in the Pool
#13: Take a Bath
#14: Do Squat!
#15: Get Yourself a Mentor
#16: Do Yoga
#17: Be on Time
#18:  Leave Your Bucket of Troubles at the Door
#19: Stay Healthy!

31 Easy Tips to Sporting Excellence: #12 Don’t Breathe in the Pool

Today’s tip in the “31 Easy Tips to Sporting Excellence” series is #11: Don’t breathe in the pool

I am a big fan of hypoxic work in the pool. I believe it strengthens the lungs both in and out of the water, helping your body process carbon dioxide more efficiently and helping it operate efficiently with less oxygen.

Holding your breath while swimming

Like anything new, it will be hard at first, but gradually increase the times and distances you limit your breath for. Be careful as you introduce it, but who knows you may eventually be able to hold it for 20+ minutes!

For example:

  • breathe every 3 strokes then every 5 strokes, then every 7 strokes
  • Breathe every 2 strokes for 25m, then breathe every 3 strokes on the next 25m, then every 4, and so on.
  • Do 25m sprints with no breath
  • Underwater for 25m

Here is a sample hypoxic workout and some tips on how to improve your breath-holding abilities.

As your lungs grow stronger you should be able to feel the improvements at the end of long runs or a race, where normally you would be sucking air.

Previous tips in the 31 Easy Tips series include:

#1: Drink Water First Thing in the Morning
#2: Write Down Your Goals (Now!)
#3: Ask an Expert
#4: Start Stretching
#5: Track your progress towards your Goals
#6: Take a Cold Shower
#7: Incorporate Drills into your Workouts
#8: Superfoods for Superperformance
#9: Get Some Rest
#10: Cross train
#11: Reward Yourself

Knock minutes off your swim time with minimal effort

Most people swim many, many more meters than they need to during the swim leg of a triathlon, adding minutes to their time in the process.

By working on your sighting while swim training, you can improve your swim time quickly and with minimal effort.

I wrote about it in the following article: Open Water Swimming Tip: Swim Straight Like the Pros

Be sure to practice your drills and bilateral breathing – preferably in open water conditions. In so doing, you should avoid results as seen in the following video from the guys at Swim Smooth. It highlights the perils of poor sighting.

Try practicing sighting and say goodbye to long, snaking swims where the end never comes, and say hello to fast, efficient swimming.

Try some of the following swim workouts, adding sighting as a key drill and reap the benefits of a swim time that is minutes faster!


How to Master Your Fear of Open Water Swimming

I recently wrote a guest post for Beyond Transition (update 06/2013: now defunct apparently), a comprehensive website for all triathletes. The post is copied below.

It features tips on overcoming a fear of open water swimming. If you’re a beginner swimmer, this mental battle is often the toughest part of open water swimming. Developing open water swimming skills (both technical and mental) is vital for triathletes.

Dive in, it’s fun in the open waters!

Open water swimming tips to stay relaxed during a triathlon

Open water swim by IreneHammond (flickr)

6 tips for people who are scared of open water swimming

Swimming in the open water, be it a lake, river or sea, is very different to pool swimming. You’re in a strange environment with fewer comforts – no solid black line on the bottom to guide you, no lane ropes calming the water, no walls at which to rest, no shallow end where you can stand, a lack of visibility and any number of creatures to deal with.

When you add in the crowd of athletes, rough waters and waves crashing close to shore, it is understandable that people are intimidated by open water swimming.

However, it does not have to be so daunting. Here are some top tips to help get you over your doubts and through the swim.

1)    Safety First.
An obvious one perhaps, but taking common-sense precautions will help you minimize the danger – and your fears. Tell the lifeguard on duty your plans so they can look out for you. Always swim with others, especially in water with no lifeguards. Swim parallel to the shore – this will help guide you, and if you do get anxious you will have a shorter distance to shore for a breather. Maximize the safety, minimize your anxiety!

2)    Relax!
Have faith in your training. On race day remind yourself you’ve been here before in countless practices. If you’re scared of drowning, scan the many lifeguards, kayaks and boats supervising the swim. Don’t get frazzled by the pack – frustration only wastes energy. Prior to the swim start check out the layout of the course, identify the buoys, water conditions, the sun, etc. Have the proper equipment and be comfortable using it. Don’t let your brain run on overdrive – relax.

3)    Breathe…in AND out!
Holding your breath automatically increases your anxiety, as your body and brain will set off alarm bells about your lack of oxygen. Not only will steady and efficient breathing help you relax but it will fuel your muscles and help you perform better.

Make sure you are breathing out at a steady rate, and taking in enough breaths. You can breathe every two strokes, or breathe bilaterally every three strokes. Everyone has a stronger side to breathe to, but practice bilateral breathing for race day so you can sight to both sides, and avoid splashy competitors.

Be comfortable floating. If you do panic and can’t get your breath, just flip over on to your back and take some slow breaths. Swim on once you relax.

Control your breathing by focusing on blowing bubbles at a steady rate. This will ensure you breathe out regularly and will also take your mind off your anxieties.

4)    If you struggle to relax, distract your brain.
Count while breathing out (“1, 2, 3”). Count your strokes. Count your left arm for 50 strokes, your right arm for 50 strokes, etc. Focus on particular elements of your stroke you have been working on in the pool, e.g. hand entry, reach at the front, etc. Other tricks to distract your brain include building lists of your favorite songs, or places you want to visit. Just don’t lose total focus –make sure you are on course and on pace.

5)    Swim sensibly.
Ease in to the swim, start steady and increase the pace as you settle in. Ignore everyone else and swim your own race.

Avoid the hustle and bustle of the pack. Start at the back or to the sides of the pack. It may cost you some time, but you will be swimming in calmer waters. Focus on your breathing, stroke and relaxing. The chaos and churn will die down as the swimmers spread out.

Watch where you’re going, sight regularly in order to travel in a straight line and keep the swim as short as possible!

Take advantage of your fellow swimmers. They are not all out to kick you! Follow their bubbles, they can help guide you. Swimming alongside others can give you the comfort of a group, and you can take advantage of drafting, making the swim a little easier.

6)    Practice, Practice, Practice!
Just like on the bike, the more you practice open water swimming, the more comfortable you will become and the better you will swim. Do anything enough and it will become second nature! If you hate even the thought of open water swimming, then try and make it fun. Go to the beach with your family and include a training swim. There are lots of drills to help you in the open water, e.g. water polo swimming for sighting.

There is a lot to think about, but nothing to fear. Focus and relax and all will go swimmingly!