A guide to open water swimming for the beginner : I can’t see the buoys or swim in a straight line


During the last blog we looked at our first expedition into the open water environment and discussed how to best approach this first adventure. Now you are hooked and have visited an open water venue on several occasions, this post is for if you want to take your open water swimming to the next level. The first thing that most people say after they have been initiated is ‘’I cant swim in a straight line’’ followed by ‘’How do I look for the buoys’’ so in this short blog we are going to look at different sighting, turns and the different drills you can practice to help improve on these.

Sighting

Sighting can be a tiring and monotonous process and is quite often not focussed on enough during training. Sighting itself is a relatively easy skill – you quite simply will lift your head forward to give yourself an opportunity to look for the buoys and ensure you are going in the right direction. You have to get this just right, lift your head too high and your legs will drop causing more drag, lift your head too little and you wont see a thing, so play around with this movement and find what best suits yourself.

How often should I sight?

The answer to this question will be different depending on the person asking the question. Some people are able to swim relatively straight in the water once they have orientated themselves and sighting every 12 – 18 strokes is something they can get away with. Whereas others snake so much through the water that if they don’t sight every 6 – 8 strokes they could end up off course.

Play around with how often you sight, this a good way to see whether you will be off course considerably if you don’t sight frequently. You can do this by aiming for a buoy or object in the water, line yourself up and swim 20 strokes without sighting and see where you end up! If you are on the other side of the lake, frequent sighting will benefit you.

Activities

Activity 1 : This can be done in a pool or open water – Swim 10 strokes head up, 20 strokes normal and repeat 5 times then rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the same set 5-8 times. As you get more confident with this increase the amount of head up strokes you do. This set can also be completed with fins.

Activity 2 : This can be completed in a pool or in open water – Head up sprints – sprint 25 metres or 20 strokes head up swimming, rest for 20–40 seconds and repeat 10 times. As you get better at this increase your repetitions. Remember to keep your eyes looking straight ahead and limit your head movement as much as possible!

 Turns

So hopefully we can now find the buoys and swim in an almost straight line, now we have to get around the darn things! There are different ways to do this and some are more advanced than others;

Rotating point turn – This is the fastest way to take a turn and allows you to get tight to the buoys as well. As you approach the buoy, try to stay as close to it as possible. When you are at the centre of the buoys, rotate towards the buoys onto your back, using the arm closest as the pivot. When on your back keep yourself as flat as possible and within the same movement you will continue to roll onto your back with your free arm pointing your body in the direction of the next buoy – This is to be completed as one fluid movement.

One Arm turn – This is the most common way of turning the buoy – when approaching the buoy you will change to single arm swimming using the arm closest to the buoy, you will pull hard enough on this arm to allow your body to rotate around the buoy.

• Breaststroke - Very simple but effective for the complete beginner. Changing to breaststroke allows you to navigate the buoy in a calm and collective manner.

These are the three ways I coach, there may be other ways out there to attack the buoys, but these are the ones I have found to be most effective.

So there we have it – two simple skills that will help you take your open water swim onto the next level!
During the next and final post we will be looking at specific open water sets you can complete to further advance your open water swim.

ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT POOL SESSIONS ARE AS IMPORTANT AS OPEN WATER! For that reason the next blog will also include some example pool sessions.

Happy Swimming

Richard Watts
About me

Rich has been involved in swimming since before he can remember and performed at a national level up until the age of 18. He started coaching at 17 and now at the age of 27 he owns and operates The Swim Guru. His passion for swimming is second to none and he is now training to compete in triathlon and open water swimming events for next season. Richard has an outside of the box approach to coaching and teaching and is always inventing new, intuitive and effective ways of teaching and coaching swimming from the pool to the open water.

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