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Open Water Swims Tips

Friday, April 29, 2011 by admin

With the next supported open water swim coming May 1, 2011, at Pier 121 (map), I thought it might be beneficial to share some open water swimming tips from our coaches.

Before the Swim

  • Cover your feet with a plastic grocery bag before putting them through the legs of your wetsuit.
  • Prior to and/or after putting on the wetsuit, apply lube (not petroleum-based) where needed. Pay particular attention to areas where chaffing is likely. For example, around the neck, armpits, and lats.
  • After jumping in the water, especially cold water, create a layer of water between your skin and the suit. This will feel cold at first, but that layer provides extra insulation. Trust us.
  • Ear plugs, particularly the wax ones, are helpful to maintain equilibrium when exiting the water, especially when the water is cold.
  • Get a good warm up in either dry land with resistance bands (especially when the water is cold) or get 5 to 15 minutes of relaxed swimming.
  • Pop a gel before long course events 15 to 20 minutes before the swim start.
  • Before the race make sure you have something on land that you sight on the way back to shore. Preferably something that doesn’t move.
  • Put your goggle straps under your swim cap. This keeps them from flying off should you get whacked in the face.
  • If open water swimming irritates your sinuses, wear a nose clip.

During the Swim

  • Swim “wide” by keeping your arms out wide. This helps keeps people out of your space.
  • Always sight every six to eight strokes. No more, and only less if you don’t happen to catch the buoy on your first try at sighting. Otherwise, if you are sighting every 2-4 strokes, your body is constantly out of an efficient position and you end up dragging your body through the water the entire race.
  • Draft when you can. However, when drafting, don’t exclusively rely on the person in front of you to sight for you. Sight off the turn buoys. You don’t want to veer off course because the people in front of you can’t sight very well.
  • Don’t let other swimmers bully you. You will come into contact with other swimmers, so don’t try and avoid them. Stay your course! Don’t add any extra swimming trying to avoid people.
  • Don’t be afraid to breast stroke a few times to get your bearings. You can still swim quick times. It’s better to slow down while swimming straight than swimming fast while going off course.
  • Turning over on your back is okay during a race. Use it to rest, fix your goggles, or release a cramp but not to make forward progress. It’s a common mistake to flip over and still try to make forward progress. There is no way to sight on your back, so only use it for the reasons above, not as your swim stroke for your race.
  • Proper position turning buoys is essential. Stay about 3 to 5 feet away from the buoy. The buoy can be a place of complete chaos, but if you leave a little distance to the side of you while approaching it, then swim 3-5 feet past it, and then make your turn, you’ll be able to stay out of the swarm of people.
  • Swim till you can touch the lake bottom with your hand. You can’t run in water as fast as you can swim so you might as well get as close to the shore as you can.

After the Swim

  • Wipe off any snot you have hanging from your nose when exiting for pictures.
  • Don’t eat until you’ve been on the bike for around 20 minutes. This allows some time for your blood to redistribute.

This list is by no means complete. Please add your own tips in the comments below.

The following video is not an endorsed method of open water swim training. Unless Coach Todd manages to gain full control of the club.


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