For many swimmers venturing out into the open water for the first time, there are many open water swimming techniques that play a huge role in the success of your swim.
As part of my own open water skills development over the years, I’ve been exposed to open water swimming clinics hosted by Swimming South Africa and learnt some hard fought lessons in races.
I have often been requested to share my knowledge with other swimmers and as a result I will be doing this in two ways. Firstly, I have chosen a few topics and will provide some insight based on my experiences in open water swimming and share a few secrets which may help you swim faster or more comfortably. In this series of posts I will cover various aspects of open water swimming by writing about a single topic at a time. It is difficult to put all practical skills onto paper and because of this I will also be hosting open water swimming clinics at the start of our South African summer, covering these topics and more, in person.
This week I take a look at Open Water Swimming Sighting Techniques.
Sighting In The Open Water
One of the most important things in open water swimming is knowing where you are and where you are going at all times. Taking an extra second to spot the right direction could save you a few seconds or even minutes by swimming the more direct route. Swimming off-course can waste a lot of time.
It is important that when you are sighting for buoys that you not only look at the buoy but also at potential landmarks or markers beyond the buoy that can aid in direction. A building, a tree, a hill, a mountain, etc are all examples of landmarks that can be used. By using something bigger or above the buoy, it is easier to spot and more readily visible than what the buoy is. When swimming in the ocean, sea swell often hampers your ability to always spot the buoy, this is where using other markers becomes critical. If you are swimming a loop course, it may help to swim the route the day before the race or parts of the course during your warm up routine and whilst doing so pre-plan your route markers. These small things can form part of your routine and take no extra time whatsoever, yet can save you time or give you a competitive advantage.
Having said this, here is a prime example of how it can make a difference:
Lifting your head to sight does slow you down. If, for every time you lifted your head to look for the turn buoy you lost half a second, which is very realistic because when you lift your head, your hips drop, you lose momentum and you naturally slow down. On top of this, if you sight every 6 strokes and you average 60 strokes per hundred meters, which is a low stroke count, you would sight 10 times over 100m. That’s 5 seconds (10 x 0,5seconds) per 100m you are losing by sighting. Over a 3.8km Ironman swim that is 3m10s and over a 10km race that adds up to a whopping 8m20sec!!! Moral of the story is, make sure you know where you are going and try limit how often you have to lift your head to look where you are going.
How To Do This
This is where the trick comes in. If you are swimming in a pack or group, use the other swimmers around you to guide you in the right direction. By swimming alongside them you can get your line from them and in stead of looking up you can look at them as you breathe normally to the side. You can quickly judge in the first few hundred meters which of the swimmers alongside you are swimming straight and which are not. Use the straight swimmers and you will have to sight less often, saving you valuable time and energy. Alternatively, if you have a second in the form of a paddler or a boat, encourage them to remain parallel to you throughout the swim, and ensure that they steer as direct a route as possible. This will also save valuable energy as you can again use them as a guide whilst breathing naturally to your left or right.
Summary Of These Open Water Swimming Tips:
Know the route that you are swimming
Look for markers on land to use as a guide
Avoid lifting your head too often
Use other swimmers/paddlers as a guide for direction
Enjoy being out in the open water, it is not as daunting as what many believe it to be. Get a few of the basics right, pick up a few swimming tips from people with experience and you too can be swimming like a seasoned open water swimmer in no time at all.