In part one of this blog, I gave an overview of open water swim training. Part 2 gives you all the tools and training you need to gain a competitive advantage in your next race: drills and workouts. Plan to get into the open water on a regular basis through the summer. What does this mean for you? Three times a week, once a week. Do what you can reasonably manage, but that consistent practice is the key to making improvements on race day.
I frequently see and hear about swimmers who swear they can swim in a pool, then struggle to reproduce their pool swim results in the open water. Take the time to acclimate to the “wild” environment of the open water; this is not the controlled environment of a pool! Start slow and build your distance and effort levels. Never underestimate the added challenge of temperature, chop, navigation, fear, pack swimming and other factors that will challenge you. Practice solo and with groups. Solo allows you to focus on what you need while practicing with a group will help you step up to the next level of swimming well while bumping into other swimmers.
Here are several swim and open water specific drills and skills to help you conquer the open water. And, I’ve included several workout ideas to make your open water swim session both more challenging and fun.
Open water swim drills. Alternate drill and swim for 10-20 strokes each
- Your specific drills to help correct and improve your mechanical flaws. Good drills to practice: sculling, high elbow catch and single arm (both sides).
- Swim straight drill. Choose a course free from obstacles. Then swim straight with your eyes closed for 10-20 strokes. See where you end up and what you need to correct.
- Polo drill. Swim like a water polo player or lifeguard. Swim 10-20 strokes with your head out of the water. What happens to your body position? Make sure your kick is helping.
- Sight breathing. As your arm enters the water, push down on the water and slightly lift your head up, only enough for your eyes to clear the surface; think “alligator eyes”. Take a quick look, turn your head to the side to inhale, then face back into the water. Practice to perform this in one smooth motion.
Mass starts and rounding the buoys
- Shallow or beach starts. Group together, run on beach or push off bottom, then swim a specified distance or time. Where is the best place for you to start?
- Deep water starts. Get out to water above your head, practice treading water to wait for the start, then get into prone start position. Use a light scull and kick to stay in prone position. This ensures better start speed.
- Rounding buoys. First practice on your own, then in a group. Swim a normal stroke to the buoy. When you approach a left turn buoy, use your left arm to pull across and under your body. Your right arm (recovery arm) also crosses over toward the buoy. Continue in this stroke until you have successfully gotten around the buoy. Practice in both directions. If there is a large group at a turn buoy, go to the outside. Swimming in clean water will be faster and help you maintain your momentum.
Start speed, race pace and finish speed workouts. Stroke count is used to approximate distance.
- Warm up with easy swimming, drills and 2-6x 10-20 stroke build efforts with 10-20 strokes recovery between. Then back to shore for the main set:
- Start on beach or in water: 5-10 x 20-40 strokes all out or ‘start speed’. Swim easy back to shore, repeat.
- Start on beach or in water: 5-10 x 40-80 strokes at start speed. Swim easy back to shore, repeat
- Start on beach or in water: 4-6 x 80-100 strokes at start speed, 80-100 strokes as settle into race pace/effort. Return to shore and repeat.
Race pace. What is your race distance? What is your goal race pace/effort? Know this in the pool, then transfer to the open water. Use RPE and stroke count in the open water when you don’t know accurate time and distance.
- Warm up (same as above). Swim 10-20 mins at aerobic effort/pace. Then 5-10 x 20-40 strokes at race pace, 10-20 strokes easy between.
- Warm up. Swim 10-20 mins at aerobic pace/effort. Then 5-10 x 40-80 strokes at race pace 10-20 strokes easy between.
- Warm up. Swim 10-30 mins at aerobic pace/effort. Then 5-10 x 40-80 strokes at race pace, 5-10 strokes easy between.
Finish speed, wetsuit strip and run.
- Warm up (same as above). Swim 10-30 mins at aerobic effort. Swimming toward shore: swim 5-10 x 10-20 strokes at finish speed, run a short distance onto shore. Swim back out easy and repeat. On the last interval, run several steps and quickly remove wetsuit.
- Warm up. Swim 10-30 mins at aerobic pace. Swimming toward shore: swim 5-10x 20-40 strokes at finish speed, run a short distance on shore, swim back out easy and repeat. Wetsuit strip on last interval.
- Warm up. Swim 10-50 mins at aerobic pace. Swimming toward shore: swim 4-8 x 20-40 strokes at race pace, then 20-40 strokes at finish speed, run a few steps (or longer!). Swim back out and repeat. Wetsuit strip on last interval.
Dives and Dolphin dives
- Dives. Place goggles securely on face with strap under cap. Tuck chin tight to your chest. Practice dives from a standing position, from a dock and from a run into the water. Keep goggles securely in place!
- Dolphin dives. In knee to thigh deep water, place feet on bottom push off in an exaggerated butterfly motion (body will come mostly out of water), head tucked, arms reaching to dive back into water. Repeat several times, then swim 20 strokes. Repeat dolphin dives to swim for start. Then dolphin dives to standing for exit.