I am often asked by swimmers about taking their first strokes out of the pool and into the open water and here are a few things to consider around the open water environment, the equipment and the swim stroke. In Part I we covered the Environment and Swimming Equipment and today we are going to look at some of the key areas around swimming technique.
“Preparation is just as key as the event and familiarisation with the open water environment and your swimming equipment will help you maintain control of your experience on the event day “
Andrew Mackay – Boost Coaching
There are many areas of the stroke that you may need to adjust and I am just going to touch on a few key ones.
Kick – So many swimmers put on a wetsuit and then stop kicking – the kick places such a key part in balance, lift and propulsion of the stroke. Working on a nice even tempo 6 beat kick (3 kicks per arm stroke) will help control the lower half of your body and can reduce the fish tailing effect of just removing your kick completely. Rarely do I see a non-elite swimmer successfully implement a two beat kick without it creating addition drag, hence my recommendations to work on a sustainable 6 beat kick. Learn more about kick technique
Sighting – Without a black line to follow in the open we need to navigate successfully around a course. When you lift your head to sight, you don’t have to breathe too. The higher you lift your head the lower your body sinks in the water so make it a quick action. Practice this in the swim pool to develop your technique – watch the video and learn more
“ The fastest way between two buoys is in a straight line”
Mark Watson – State New Zealand Ocean Swim commentator
Arm Turnover – is important in the water as a slow arm turnover gives the open water elements the opportunity to move you in the direction it wants you too. If you can maintain the turnover through each arm stroke you will maintain better forward momentum and minimise your displacement.
Ability to adjust/adapt – in the pool environment you can almost guarantee that every time you take a stroke that you will be able to go through the same technique – your ‘perfect’ technique can be applied stroke after stroke. In the open water a swimmer has to roll and adapt to undulations of the waves and chop.
Breathing pattern – you may turn your head to breath and find a wave in your face so you have to put your head back down and breath a stroke or two later. Keep relaxed and you will be able to do this and ensure that you have a very controlled exhalation and inhalation as a rapid breathing technique will not keep you relaxed – learn more
Stroke pattern – bigger waves or a swell in the water may require you to pause your stroke until you drop back into the water and continue swimming (probably most relevant for the Sand to Surf event). Smaller chop or waves coming toward you may require you to punch through the water. So keep your stroke relaxed so you can easily adapt to the environment that you are in at that time.
‘Zen Swimming’ – getting a feel for the environment can also play a part in your swimming experience – the more you practice safely in a variety of conditions the more at one you will become with the water. You then stop fighting the water but you relax and settle into what you can control. For example If you feel the water lifting you can then pick up the stroke rate and kick, which can help you gain forward momentum, and then relax and settle back into your stroke pattern as you drop off the back of the swell/wave.
Have a read of Jon Muller’s “The Zen of Swimming” which is a quick read for people wanting to learn more about swimming and provides a great overview of swimming, helpful tips and insights to an enjoyable swimming experience.
As Jon says “Having fun is a vital component of success in any sport” so get out there enjoy the open water and have fun practicing these techniques and then utilise the State New Zealand Ocean Swims to challenge yourself to do the best that you can on the day.
Good luck with your swimming!