Open water swimming offers an opportunity to improve sighting skills and increase swim strength and endurance. Unfortunately, if you aren't careful, it can erode the great technique and swim fitness you worked hard to build over the winter. All too often, eager open water swimmers lose some of the quality of their pool workouts.
Set a goal for each open water swim. Goals can be technique, time, or distance focused.
Technique: Take the work you've been doing in the pool and bring it to the open water. Warm up with the drills you have been practicing in the pool. This will set up proper form for your main work set. You can also end your swim with drills to refocus on great technique.
Sighting Skills: Dedicate time to work on efficient sighting. Learn to be comfortable sighting at various speeds. Do you combine your sighting with breathing? Breathing often is important in distance swimming and should be combined
with sighting. Watch this video I have posted on my Vimeo page, Open Water Sighting Skills, demonstrating the various ways to sight without interrupting your stroke rate.
Do specific work for a specific time or distance. Keep your open water swims simple and incorporate interval based workouts. Unless you have a recovery swim planned, get in some solid efforts out there! A GPS watch enables you to set an alert based on specified time or distance. Hit the lap button at the start and end of each effort for specific swim pace data, valuable for tracking your progress. No watch, don't fret! Do simple Fartlek style swims by pushing the pace between designated landmarks.
Transforming a pool workout into an open water workout can be simple. Using a watch, you can take a 20 x 100yd main set into the open water for a solid swim. For the sake of simplicity, we'll choose the 1:30 interval (swimmer can do a 1:15/100yd and rest for :15, then repeat) for this example. Set your watch for a time alert to beep/vibrate every 1:30. Start the watch and begin with a typical warm up including drills. The watch will beep/vibrate every 1:30 while warming up, this is a good signal to switch drills. After you complete the desired warm up, begin the 20 x 1:30 set. Start #1 as the watch signals a 1:30 interval. Wait :15 and swim a hard from :15 - 1:30 until the next beep/vibration. Rest for :15 (tread water or swim easy) and begin #2 (swim hard 1:45 -2:00) and so on. If you want to get specific data about pacing, hit the lap button every time you start and stop a hard effort. After the main set, complete a cool down revisiting specific drills. The above example can be adapted for any length of time/distance ranging from sprints, middle distance, to endurance swimming. Every watch is different, so make sure you practice with your set up before swimming. You may decide you like the distance setting better than the time setting.
Stay honest with your swim workouts, each swim should have a goal. For time or distance goals, wearing a GPS watch in the open water offers great data and feedback. Remember to check in with the pool every week or two, as it keeps you honest with your pacing. Gone are the variables of currents, tides and wind. Pool swimming times are more easily compared than open water swimming.
Stay safe. It's always a good idea to swim with a buddy. Wearing a brightly colored cap and a Safer Swim Buoy will help make you more visible in and around the water, but you still need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Additional safety steps include wearing a Swim It and a RoadID, both very easy to swim with!