Pool Your Talents

The majority of your swim training may take place in the pool, but it can still improve your open-water skills


Posted: 4 June 2010

We've all committed open-water swimming sins. And no, that doesn't mean the undignified fisticuffs at the start of a race, but offences that are entirely our own fault: aiming for a swan instead of a buoy; forgetting everything we know about technique as soon as the wetsuit goes on; or starting too fast and finding after 50m that we're unable to catch our breath. You can easily avoid such mistakes by practising these pool-based sessions.

Jump in

"As land-based animals, it's unnatural for us to swim, so the more familiar you can become with water the better," says Team GB swimming coach Sean Kelly. Using one or two of your swimming sessions every week as recovery time after bike and run sessions will
teach you to swim efficiently and, of course, the more time you spend in the pool the more confident you'll become. "Aim to make the swim as easy as possible," he says.

Try this now:

Don't focus on how fast you swim, but how much effort you put in. "If your time for 1500m is 30 minutes, but you can make the swim easier on yourself, you will benefit during the bike and run legs," says Kelly.

Energy efficiency

The next step to swimming more efficiently is lowering the number of strokes you take per length. "Take as few strokes as you can and use your legs as little as possible," says Kelly. "Try to glide on each arm and think about the forces that are hitting you from the front.
As you move through the water, make as small a hole as possible by stretching out and staying streamlined."

Try this now:

Count your strokes every length and become familiar with how your most efficient pace feels so you can transfer it to the open water at your next race.

And relax

Staying relaxed is another useful technique in your
bid to become an efficient swimmer. "If you look around any pool, you can spot people who are nervous and uptight when they're swimming: they will be grimacing," says
Kelly. The result is that the muscles in the face, neck and shoulders tense up and stroke efficiency plummets.

Try this now:

Smiling is a great way to release tension,
so the next time you're in the pool, grin (not to the extent that you look loopy) and relax your face, neck and hands as much as possible.

Breathe easy

If you're struggling to inhale enough oxygen to power your working muscles, you're probably not exhaling properly. "It's vital that you breathe out forcefully when your head is under the water, so you can properly fill your lungs when you breathe in," says Kelly.

Try this now:

Don't wait to breathe out until you turn you head to inhale. "Blow out the whole time that your head is under water, so that when you breathe in you fill your lungs," says Kelly.

On sight

Sighting is an essential skill in open-water swimming, but one that many triathletes struggle with. If you prefer to breathe on the right, when your left arm goes into the water, push it down and glance up before breathing to the side.

Try this now:

If you're toward the middle or back of the pack in a race, aim to sight every eight to 10 strokes.

Suits you

Even without a wetsuit, humans are buoyant in water. "You don't need to change
your technique when you're swimming in a wetsuit, but the extra buoyancy will allow you to leave your legs trailing behind you more."

Try this now:

In the pool, use a pull buoy to simulate the buoyancy of wearing a wetsuit.

Beat It

If you want fresh legs for the bike - and we all do - kick
your legs using a two-beat kick. "For every two-arm cycle you would normally do a six-beat kick," says Kelly.

Try this now:

Swim a length and count how many kicks you usually make per two-arm cycle. "Now try swimming with a two-beat kick," says Kelly. "If you can mostly use your arms, that will help the bike and run."

Join the draft

Many triathlons forbid drafting on the bike (using another rider to shield you from the wind), but no such rules exist in the swim leg. If you swim 'on the feet' of the triathlete in front, their wake will pull you along a little. Just don't forget to sight, too - the swimmer in front might be veering off course and you don't want to go with them.

Try this now:

Train with a friend and take it in turns to swim on each other's feet.

Take heart

In the bike and run sections you can take in air whenever you like, but when you're swimming you can only breathe at a certain point in the stroke cycle; that breathing pattern is a skill you'll have to learn.

Try this now:

Once a week, swim harder than usual so you're forced to develop an efficient breathing pattern. Try swimming a hard 100m 10 times, with a short rest between each 100m.  

Sean Kelly is a GB swim coach and Speedo ambassador. For more on Speedo training aids, visit www.speedo.com. 


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