Honing Your Open Water Skills in a Pool

Open water swimming is almost an entirely different sport than pool swimming. Not only can you make contact with other swimmers, but open water is much more susceptible to the elements. You can have large fluctuations in water temperature, surface chop from wind, unpredictable wildlife, and strong currents that can dramatically effect how long you are in the water. Naturally, open water requires a different skill set than pool swimming, which must be practiced regularly.

However, even the best open water swimmers in the world do much of their training in a pool. Pools offer objective feedback, interval training, and a controlled environment where coaches can have a greater impact on performance. Also, depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to open water. Introducing drills and sets that target open water skills can make pool workouts more specific and enjoyable.

  1. Dolphin Dives: Beach starts and finishes in ocean races require the ability to quickly dolphin under or with waves. Using the waves properly will let you shoot forward and often gain an edge on competitors. In the shallow end of the pool, dive down with your arms out in front, touch the bottom with your hands then feet, and explode off the bottom at a 45-degree angle (jump forwards and towards the surface).

Example set: 8x50s on 1:00 dolphin dive the first and last 12.5yds, sprint the middle 25

  1. Sighting: Sighting is an essential skill in any open water swim. Practice keeping your head as low as possible while still being able to spot your destination, then rotating your head to either side for a breath as you finish the sighting stroke. Place 3 orange cones at different positions on the other side of the pool and alternate sighting between the three. Tarzan drill (swimming with your head up) is also a great way to strengthen the neck and back muscles required for effective sighting.

Example set: 3x [4x25s + 4x50s] where the 25s are Tarzan drill on :35, 50s sight all 3 cones on first 25, fast on second 25, on 1:00

  1. Pace Line: With a group of swimmers, do several long swims where everyone leaves 2-3 seconds apart and the leader rotates each 100. The leader can drop off at the 100 and hop on the end of the train, or for a more challenging set, the person in the caboose can sprint alongside the train to take over the lead when it’s their turn.

Example set: 4x400s on 6:00 alternating leaders in pace line

  1. Pack Swimming: Swim 3-4 swimmers wide in a single lane to simulate the contact of pack swimming. If you’re on the outside, get on the middle swimmer’s hip – that’s where you’ll get the greatest draft. If you’re in the middle, try to drop them.

Example set: 16x25s pack swimming on :40, taking turns in different positions

  1. Stroke Rate: A high stroke rate is preferred in open water, especially in rough water, where surface chop and currents would laugh at an extended arm attempting to glide. The <a href=” http://www.finisinc.com/equipment/electronics/tempo-trainer-pro.html”>Tempo Trainer Pro</a> is a great tool for increasing stroke rate. Figure out what tempo you comfortably swim at in strokes per minute (spm), and increase from there.

Example set: 500 + 400 + 300 + 200 + 100 on 1:30 (or other comfortable) base. Set Tempo Trainer Pro  2spm higher than your comfortable tempo for the 500. 2spm higher for the 400. 2 higher for 300, and so forth.

  1. Deck Ups: The reason the sprint up the beach at the end of a race hurts so much isn’t because you’re not a good runner; it’s because the rapid transition from horizontal to vertical causes a significant heart rate spike. Get used to this in the pool by sprinting 50s and immediately upon finishing, climbing out of the water and standing straight up. No hunching over!

Example set: 12x50s on :50, every 4th 50 recovery, all others sprint + deck up

Extra challenge: Add in 8 squat jumps on deck in between the fast 50s

Finally, the next time you’re stuck in an overly crowded lane at the pool, smile and remember it’s great open water training!

Jen Schumacher

Marathon Swimmer, www.jenschumacher.org

Sport Psychology Consultant, www.jenschumacher.com