October 29, 2020

Triathlon Open-Water Swimming Tips by Mark Kleanthous

Swimming in open water is very alien for most people. Beginners, experienced triathletes and the elite all sometimes get nervous from open water swimming.

For the majority of most people it is almost impossible to sink when wearing a correctly fitted triathlon wet suit. Just try to dive down in 1.5m swimming pool wearing a wet suit, then try and touch the bottom. Being relaxed in a wetsuit will give you the biggest improvements in performance. It is perfectly normal to become nervous, your mind is telling you to not swim in open water to avoid going into the unknown.

Two important principles for open-water swimming success:

Practice swimming in open water. Firstly do not venture out too far. Stay close to the edge where you can easily get out of the water. Try and float on your back in a swimming pool and see how much effort it takes, then repeat with a wetsuit on and you will soon realize how easily you float without any effort. You will have considerably more confidence in open water once you have experienced the art of floating.

Never swim alone and always swim close to others. Make sure you have already discussed an emergency action plan and you know the address of the entrance for emergency services to arrive THE BEST safety decisions are always made before you get into the water.

Here are three how-to tips to gain comfort swimming in open water:

Swim in all different conditions; calm day’s windy days, dull days and bright sunny days. Learn to love and experience what Mother Nature decides to throw at you. Frequency of open water swimming builds up self confidence.

Before you venture into open water, practice in a pool breathing on both sides. Learn the water polo style of looking ahead. If possible, swim is an adjacent lane to an aqua-cise or fun swim session and the pool will have more waves than normal. This will better prepare you for open water swimming.

Sighting or correct navigation is easy to learn. Find out how often you need to look up before going off course. You may need to look up every 4, 6 or 8 strokes. The more you swim in open water the less often you will need to look up and still swim in as straight line. If you swim 2 metres in the wrong direction you will at least need to cover another 2m to get back on track. Use 2 points as reference, a buoy and a tall building or tree directly behind the buoy. Make sure when looking up to sight, you kick a little more to keep your body vertical in the water and avoid the legs sinking.

Mistakes to avoid:
-Only start swimming in open water only when YOU are ready, not when others are ready. It is much better to wait a few extra weeks for the water to warm up then try and swim in freezing cold water and lose any confidence you have. Taking the plunge too early can set you back months.
-Avoid swimming close to rocks, weedy areas,  boat traffic and harbour walls where there is no place to exit the water.
-A wet suit can make you over confident, and will not prevent you from drowning.

Mark Kleanthous is an open water swim coach and has his own lake for individual coaching. He has competed in more than 450 triathlons and has competed as an elite and recorded some of the fastest T1 & T2 transition times overall. Mark Kleanthous has competed in triathlons for 30 consecutive seasons and crossed the finish line in more than 450 triathlons including 35 ironman events. He is the author of The Complete Book of Triathlon Training and is a full time sports and nutrition coach. Mark can be contacted via his web site www.ironmate.co.uk.

Master the Swim by Mark Kleanthous

There are many things you can do in a swimming pool to prepare yourself for open water swimming.

If you improve your technique you are more likely to swim in a straight line. Anyone planning on open water swimming should first practise straight line swimming in a pool.

Any imperfection of stroke technique, like pulling your arm across the body will send you off course every single stroke. Most swimmers benefit from a faster stroke rate when swimming in open water, just like mountain biking on a rough road. A quick but efficient stroke during open water swimming is essential because you need to be able to adjust your stroke to the conditions, if you’re unable to do this you’ll have a slow laboured stroke.

An average triathlete takes 1.2 seconds to cover 1.0 metre so every metre that is inefficient, you have wasted at least 2.4 seconds going wrong and correcting. During an open water swim triathlon if you deviate you will also bump into other swimmers who are going in a straight line, this will slow you and other swimmers down wasting even more time and energy.

1- Avoid drills that cause you to glide, as this should be avoided when open water swimming. Do not try and slow your stroke down during pool swimming in the belief that this will mimic wearing a wetsuit in open water. Swim with fingers open during the warm up and cool down and at any time you are getting fatigue and your arms are aching or you feel your stroke is slow and laboured.

2 – Swim with your head out of the water polo style during every other work out.  Aim to practise this for half of each length for at least 20% of the total distance of the water polo style segment. This is a very time efficient and demanding work out. If you plan to cover 2,000m in training then you need to incorporate a total of 400m, half length sprints then half lengths water polo emphasis. Recover for half the time taken and repeat. Many triathletes slow down to recover during a competition because they failed to practise this during pool swimming training.

3 – At least one session a week swimming in a pool should involve either treading water in the deep end or during the recovery. No standing in the pool or tumble turns or pushing off from each end. Start floating in a star fish shape away from the edge and make sure you u-turn at each end without touching the sides. During open water swimming you will be constantly swimming and there will be no ends to push off or places to stand up during a swim.

Mark Kleanthous has competed in more than 450 triathlons and has competed as an elite and recorded some of the fastest T1 & T2 transition times overall. Mark Kleanthous has competed in triathlons for 30 consecutive seasons and crossed the finish line in more than 450 triathlons including 35 ironman events. He is the author of The Complete Book of Triathlon Training and is a full time sports and nutrition coach. Mark can be contacted via his web site www.ironmate.co.uk