There are loads of differences between open water swimming and churning out lengths at your local Everyone Active pool. For starters, the water in a lake, river or the sea isn’t heated like it is in the pool, there are no lanes, no markings on the bottom to tell you where to turn and it’s a much less controlled environment. That doesn’t, however, mean the pool is useless as a training tool for helping you prepare for open water swimming.
Far from it, in fact. There’s loads you can do in the pool to help prepare yourself for open water swimming – whether you’re a competitive open water swimmer only, or preparing to take part in a triathlon. Obviously, you’ll still need to train in the open water as well, but that’s not always possible. So, you’ll need to throw some pool sessions into the mix as well. Here, we’ve compiled our top tips to help you get the most out of these sessions.
One of the major differences between swimming in the pool and in the open water is sighting. In the pool, you’re in a confined space with loads of reference points both in and out of the water to help you understand where you are. In open water, that’s almost always not the case. There’s no wall, no ceiling, no pool edge, no markers on the bottom, just an apparently endless stretch of water in front of you.
All this is why you have to practice looking as far ahead of you as possible and finding a specific marker to follow. You’ll also need to practise swimming in a straight line. This may sound silly, but most people use their sight to make sure they’re still going in a straight line when swimming. Close your eyes while swimming and see whether you veer left or right. Try tweaking your stroke to straighten your natural line.
When you’re swimming out in the open water for the first time, it may come as a bit of a shock to be swimming in a large group of people. It just not something that gets practiced very often. That’s why it’s important to give it a try in your local pool before heading out into the open water. Go swimming with four or five of your friends in one lane and swim in close proximity to one another so you can get used to the feeling.
Breathing Both Sides for Open Water Swimming
It’s absolutely necessary to learn to breathe on either side if you’re going open water swimming. Even though it may not come naturally to begin with, keep focusing on your technique in the pool and it will begin to feel more natural.
Go Hypoxic: Hold your Breathing
Boosting your lung capacity is really important when it comes to open water swimming. Open water can seem a lot less intimidating if you can hold your breath for a long time (i.e. to go hypoxic). Additionally, not having to take a breath every three strokes can give you an enormous advantage. Try working on a hypoxic breathing-pattern set, gradually increasing the number of strokes you take between breaths. An example is a 5 x 100m set in which you breathe every three strokes the first lap, every five on the second lap, every seven on the third lap and every nine (or not at all) on the last lap.
Drafting for Open Water Swimming
Drafting is brilliant. It allows you to either swim at less effort for a given speed, or swim more quickly for the same effort. In fact, studies have shown that you can save up to 38% of your energy from drafting. But what is it and why does it work? Well, it works because the swimmer in front is essentially making the water behind them easier to swim through, much like slipstreaming in a car.
Well, there are two types. Firstly, there is in-line drafting, where you swim close behind the person in front of you. Try not to touch the person in front’s feet as it may annoy and distract them! Remember, you’re looking for a “free ride” but anything that slows them down will ultimately slow you down too.
Secondly, there is arrow head drafting, where you swim three abreast, with the central swimmer slightly ahead of the other two. This requires higher levels of concentration than in-line drafting but that’s good to become familiar with. In an open water race or event there will be times when you will be surrounded by swimmers on all sides so getting used to that feeling in the secure confines of the pool is the perfect introduction to this exciting sport!