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.
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!
Photo credits: Flying Cloud & http://www.openwaterswimming.com/
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!
In open water swimming one of the many challenges is to swim straight and keep the distance you swim to a minimum.
You can beat much better swimmers than you by being clever and efficient with your open water swimming. If you snake through the swim and are constantly having to correct course, these tips may help you.
1) Bi-lateral breathing
Most swimmers have a stronger side and that naturally leads to imbalances in the stroke. If you breathe to one side only it increases the likelihood of swimming off to one side (unless you sight regularly). Breathe to both sides to swim straighter. You can use markers to sight to both the left and right, and reduce your reliance on sighting to the front.
2) Practice in the open water
This is where the true test occurs, and the more you practice, the better you will become at open water swimming and in particular straight swimming.
3) Swim blind
When in the pool, close your eyes and see how straight you can swim. Try and get a feel for which arm or element of your stroke might be leading you astray. Practice and see how far you can get with your eyes closed and without hitting the lane ropes. Swim safely though.
4) Keep your stroke long and smooth
This will reduce any ‘jerking’ that may cause you to swim off course. The more strokes you take, the more likely your imbalances will reveal themselves.
5) Practice your sighting
The goal is to sight as little as possible, while keeping as straight as possible. Make your sighting technique as efficient as possible, and in rhythm with your stroke to reduce the energy it takes. Practice regularly in training. When you are sighting, look for tall, obvious landmarks that stick out bit jut the buoys which can be hard to spot. Pre-race, scout the course and see what landmarks are in line with the buoys. Work on spotting them rather than searching long and hard for the smaller buoys.
Open water swimming can be a tough skill to master, but there are many quick and easy tips to help you master it. Swimming straight in the open water is key, as it ensures you swim fewer metres and helps conserve your energy for the bike and run legs.