We're back for races and coached sessions at West Reservoir this week, so here's Fix's Robert Popper with some essential tips for open water swimmers...
For those of you who will be enjoying the swim sessions at the West Res this summer, here are a few open water-specific tips to help you get the most out of your time in the water:
1. Make sure your wetsuit fits well before you get in the water. Your arms, shoulders and neck should be free-moving without much restriction, and the rest of the wetsuit should fit super-snug, feeling like a second skin. Take some time to pull the fabric of the wetsuit (in small sections, a couple of cm at a time, not in big, enormous stretches or else you might tear the material) up from the lower legs into the upper legs, then from the upper legs into the belly, then from the belly into the chest. Now you should have a little more room in the shoulders and neck, and feel like you can breathe a little better, also be able to move your arms more freely.
2. Start out slowly when you first get in the water. You need to warm your body up slowly and gradually, ease into the session. Believe it or not, jumping in, swimming fast and over-exerting yourself at the start doesn't actually warm your body up in a useful way, and might just make you light-headed or disoriented. A little gentle swimming, in the first few minute of the session, will actually warm you up more effectively.
3. Remember your pool-based technique that you have been working on all winter. Good, balanced front crawl technique is actually the best way to get you swimming in a straight line in open water. If you have been doing drills to make your kick small and streamlined (rather than scissoring out to the sides or creating a lot of turbulence), then that same streamlined kick will help keep you balanced and straight in open water. If you have been doing drills to extend your body as long and straight as possible, from your toes to your fingers, rotating evenly on both sides all the way up through your spine, then that will definitely help keep you balanced and straight in the water. If you have been doing drills to keep your hands entering the water straight in line with your shoulders, and your hands pulling in a straight line under your body all the way through to the end of each stroke, then that will certainly help keep you in a straight line in the water. Some people might find it odd, but I actually recommend doing a few technical drills like you might do in a swimming pool, at the start of an open water session.
4. Sighting is really a last resort. Looking up to see where you are going can be useful in preventing you from going off-course, but try to lift your head as little as possible, and do it as infrequently as possible. If you follow the advice in the point above, and you have actually got pretty balanced, extended, straight front crawl technique, then you might be surprised to see how little sighting you need to do. Some people, when they first get into open water, will sight very frequently, because they are nervous and unsure about swimming in a straight line in open water. But, every time you lift your head to the front to look where you are going, you disturb your breathing, your stroke timing, your rotation and your whole body position in the water. Trust in your technique more, and instead of sighting every 2 or 3 strokes, see what happens if you extend that out to once every 6 strokes, and perhaps eventually to once every 12 strokes. If you can, you will find it much more conducive to swimming smoothly and strongly throughout your session.