5 Pillars of Open Water Swimming

One of the biggest barriers keeping people from entering triathlon is the open water swim.  Luckily pool swim triathlon have grown at record pace.  Eventually though, the majority of triathletes will dabble with racing in the open water.   The keys to success in the open water are being prepared and following 5 pillars below.

The 1st key to open water swimming is warming up and visualizing.  At a triathlon the majority of DNF’s occur in the swim.  This is due to a lot of reasons, many of which can be attributed to not warming up.  Warming up allows you to feel the water temperature and it ensures your muscles are warm and ready for action. 

The second part is visualization. Ask any sports psychologist if visualization improves performance and they will say it will.  Leading up to the race, look over the swim course and visualize yourself moving along the course. How you will turn around the buoys? What is your strategy?

The 2nd key is start position. I always tell athletes to start away from the big green washing machine (if you are in a lake).   Instead, I recommend you start on the front line on the opposite side that you breathe.  By doing this you will be away from the chaos and able to take advantage of sighting off other athletes.

The 3rd key to the swim is sighting.  We touched on this in the second key, but it is very important and deserves its own point also.  I always tell athletes the best place to sight is right next to you.  Being able to sight off the person next you will keep your body in a natural swimming position.  This will not only save you energy but also time in the long run by not having to engage many more muscles by looking forward.  If you are forced to sight to the front, try and keep it minimal. Study the course, and look for bigger objects that are easier to sight off of.

The 4th key is maintaining a continuous swim.  What I mean by this is, try your absolute best to never stop swimming.  You will save time by constantly keeping your arms moving.  One thing I always tell athletes is that the majority of people do not enjoy being hit in the swim. Most likely, if you bump someone that person will move of your course to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

The final key to the open water swim is drafting.  For the beginner swimmer this may be tough at first but practicing will eventually save you quite a bit of time and energy.  If the water is clear like an ocean,  I recommend you get right behind someone’s feet and draft from behind.  If the water is murky, get on someone’s hip.  This will allow you to gain a draft benefit as well as a sighting benefit. 

If you follow the 5 pillars listed above you can save time and energy while also setting yourself up for a great race.  If you have more questions about the open water swim you can email me at wes@playtri.com.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more, you can go the www.playtri.com/wes