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How to maximize open water swim sessions

Photo: Brendan Cleary

Ask the Coach: How can I incorporate speed work in to my open water swims?

— By Jessica Adam

Photo: Brendan ClearyOpen water swimming season is just beginning here in Canada. For many triathletes, these next few weekends will be dedicated to relearning open water techniques forgot Learning to improve your open water swimming with specific workouts can help you keep the speed you gain in your masters group at the pool over the winter. This can also help you focus any training you might be able to get in if your headed to warmer climates over the holidays. Many athletes think that just getting in the open water is enough, however being focused during these workouts can really make a difference to your swim split. Here are a few things to keep in mind during open water swimming sessions.

  1. Swimming with a group. Swimming in a group either in open water or a pool is one of the best ways to get faster. You will always push yourself harder through intervals when you have someone to chase or stay ahead of.  Having said that though, you have to know when to back off. Never race your warm ups, cool downs or recovery periods.  This is hard to do in open water when there are usually not as many stops but it is something to be mindful of.
  2. Drills. Don’t forget about them! They are still important to maintain your form and most can be done in open water just like the pool. Maybe even more important now that you are adjusting to a wetsuit and how that may change your stroke a bit.
  3. Short Intervals. There are many ways to perform intervals in open water. You just have to adjust to the fact there may not be any markers to tell you when to start and stop them. One of the easiest ways to do a short interval in open water and keep them consistent is to count your strokes. For example you could do 50 strokes “on” and 50 strokes “off”. If possible you could even set up a buoy line if you are allowed of course.  Another way is to go by landmarks. Dock to dock, or to the big pine tree etc. This is also good for sighting practice.
  4. Long tempo. What’s great about open water is that there are no walls and you can do solid long tempo intervals without any interruptions which of course simulates race day. Just make sure your whole swim doesn’t end up at this pace! This is what happens to many triathletes. They become really good at this one pace but lose some of that high end speed they worked so hard on over the winter.
  5. Open water conditions. Of course being outside may lend itself to many different kinds of conditions. You should try to swim in many of them such as waves, currents, rain etc always keeping safety in mind. You never know what race day will bring and it’s good to know you can execute a great open water swim given any situation because you have prepared yourself and you are confident!

Open water swimming isn’t just about getting used to your wetsuit.  There are still gains to be had and both physical and mental preparation to be accomplished.


Contact coach Jessica at www.lifesportcoaching.com