Jumping in the Thames or heading for the beach aren’t always possible when you’re training for a triathlon but there are some open-water swimming skills you can practise in the pool. By spending a few minutes every week honing your ability, you’ll have a head start at your next race even before the gun goes off.
Look around at a deep-water start and you’re likely to see people treading water upright and wasting valuable energy. “Instead of bobbing around with your legs beneath you, aim to tread water in a relatively flat position,” says coach and former-elite triathlete Richard Allen (www.richardallenfitness.com). Ask if you can wear your wetsuit in the pool: its buoyancy will help you to maintain a flat body position while you tread water with both arms out in front and both legs behind you. Once the gun goes off, bring one arm back to take your first stroke and you’ll be in a good position to propel yourself forward for a fast start.
End in sight
If swimming in a straight line during a race isn’t your forte, practise sighting every four to six strokes when you’re in the pool. If your aim is better, you can bring your head up to sight less often. “You may have trouble sighting buoys at some races, so it’s a good idea to aim for a bigger landmark such as a tree or building,” says Allen. Aim to lift your head out of the water to sight as your lead arm pulls down through the water.
About a buoy
A couple of minor tweaks to your stroke will help you to negotiate buoys efficiently. If there’s enough space in the pool, ask a friend to become a buoy for you to swim round. Allen suggests that you quicken your arm strokes and increase your leg speed as you round the ‘buoy’. “In a race, if there are masses of people turning around a buoy, it’s often quicker to steer a wide course around them all,” he says.
Follow the leader
“You can save time and energy by drafting a faster swimmer,” says Allen. Practise in the pool by simply swimming in the bubbles created by another swimmer and you’ll slip through the water with less effort. With a friend, take it in turns to swim behind each other and get a feel for staying on the heels of someone in front.
The mass start at the beginning of a triathlon can be quite intimidating, but you’ll be better prepared to deal with the churning water if you practise race starts with some friends in the pool. Line up close together then take it in turns to shout “go” as you become used to jostling for position. Once you are underway, put the other skills into practice too: swim on someone’s heels, sight every few strokes and turn around the corners of the pool as though they were buoys.