November 30, 2021

8 Tips to Help Triathletes Prepare For a Better Open-Water Swim

Off to The Races – Are you prepared for an open-water swim?

IronMan 2010 Open Water Swim

Train in the open water

If you have access to open bodies of water, practice as much as possible before your race. This will help you swim smarter and build confidence before your race. Perform some of your open water swims by running into the water and sprinting all out for about 1 minute. Then try to settle into your normal race pace for about 5 minutes or so. Repeat several times.

Practice sighting

A good way to sight the buoy is to lift your head up and look ahead right before your turn to the side to breath. A good way to do it in an ocean swim is to sight as you rise up on a swell. You have to balance sighting often enough so you can swim straight, but not so much you get tired and impact your rhythm. A good rule of thumb is to practice sighting during pool swimming, starting with every 8-10 stokes and building up to 20. Also, remember to lift your head just high enough to see, so your hips won’t drop as much, creating drag.

Protect your face

To help eliminate the fear of getting kicked in the face, I recommend that swimmers swim the catch-up drill. Catch-up is a stroke drill where one arm is always extended in front until the other hand pulls through a complete stroke. At the start of the swim leg of a triathlon, or during a mass swim start, having a arm out in front helps protect you from getting kicked, and once the swimmers scatter a bit, you can return to swimming your regular stroke

Try to draft

If you can find a swimmer that swim’s your pace or even a little faster, it’s a good idea to draft so you can save your energy for the bike and run. Drafting can help you save precious energy but it can also hurt if you are struck behind a slow pack of swimmers, or you swim blindly behind someone who is swimming off course.

Learn how to ditch the wetsuit (quickly)

Practice getting your wetsuit off quickly many times before your triathlon. You can rub vaseline or lube on your legs and feet to help peel your wetsuit off fast. This also makes it more difficult for other swimmers to grip your ankles during the swim. Usually, once one foot is out, you can step on your wetsuit to help the other foot come out more quickly.

Practice sprinting then settling into your race pace a few weeks before your event

A few weeks out from your race, perform the following race-specific workout to get you used to swimming out of a congested swim start. After a complete warm-up, sprint 50 yards then swim an evenly paced, maximum effort time trial at your race pace. This will help you practice surging at the beginning of the race and then recovering while settling into your race pace

Review the course

Prior to the race, notice where the buoys are and look for various landmarks (buildings, balloons at the swim start, etc.) that you can become familiar with to help keep you on course during the swim.

Plan your point of entry

Plan where you should line up at the swim start based on your skills and experience as an open water swimmer. Most swimmers prefer to line up in the center of the buoy line so they have the shortest swim, but this is also the most crowded area and possibly the roughest swimming environment. Unless you are a fast swimmer and you can surge ahead, you are better off lining up on the ends so you will be able to start your swim in a less congested area. This will minimize the chance you will get knocked around and you won’t add that much distance.

If you are a fast swimmer, be warmed up and prepare to go out hard. This will help eliminate contact with other swimmers and get you into less congested waters with a group that swims as fast or a little faster than you can.

By Karen Meadows
USAT Triathlon Coach
Personal Trainer

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