Open Water Swimming: The Basics
I have been back in New Zealand for three weeks now and have been busy with the start of the Open Water Fitness and Technique series at the amazing Pegasus Lake North Canterbury, 1 2 1 open water swim sessions, providing swim support at local triathlon events, planning coaching clinics and also maintaining my own open water swimming training with a little bit of competing thrown in for good measure.
I have had plenty of opportunity to talk to swimmers from a wide level of experience and background and have been finding a common theme amongst those who are preparing for their first open water swim. These areas are regularly being neglected but can make the difference between success or failure, fear or enjoyment on that first open water experience. I think it is timely to highlight them as New Zealand enters summer and the number of people taking to the open water increases. Here are my top tips to prepare for your open water swim this summer.
– Make sure you actually swim in the open water. Sounds obvious but I have talked to a number of swimmers this season who have done all their training in a pool, none in the open water and then turned up to their event. The ‘unknown’ open water then only adds to the already strained nerves on the day. Certainly train in the pool for part of your program, fitness groups are terrific to push you along and the controlled environment that a pool provides is an excellent place to work on technique. Ideally you will have swum in the same location your event is being held. If not try and match the water, if your swimming in a lake event find some open fresh water to swim in, if it is a salt water swim find an ocean location to train in.
– Swim with a buddy, it makes all the difference for your first open water experience if you have someone to share the experience. They can provide confidence and safety is also a consideration. If you haven’t swum in the location before make sure you do the basics, check the weather, tides and ideally ask a local about possible hazards.
– Get the right equipment especially wetsuit selection is really important and can make a big difference. Try before you buy. A wetsuit should fit snugly but shouldn’t feel like it is squeezing your chest nor should it restrict your shoulder movement. Best to get expert advice when getting your first wetsuit. Goggles should be comfortable, provide good vision and most important they should not leak. Try them on before you buy. Stick the goggles to your eyes without putting on the headband. If they have a good seal they should stay there when you take your hands away.
– Navigation; Remember you are not swimming in a pool so there is no black line to follow. It is important to review the swim course and look for objects around the swim course than you can easily see from the water. Doing this pre swim research can save you a lot of time during the swim. Many an open water swim race has been lost or won purely on navigation skills.
– Warm up; The human body is clever, it will function just fine without a warm up. However it is much easier to begin a swim when your muscles already have an increased supply of blood and oxygen. Also you will most likely have pre swim nerves, movement helps control your nerves and release tension. Just look at any elite open water swimmer or triathlete, you can be sure they will be warming up before a big event. You may not be allowed to get in the water before your swim, a dryland dynamic warm up will work just fine.
If you utilise these tips you will be well on your way to preparing properly for your first open water swim. The golden rule on the day is don’t do anything, wear any equipment of eat any food that you haven’t already tried previously. If you have any comments feel free to post them or e-mail me with questions firstname.lastname@example.org