If you’ve ever tried open water swimming, you know it is drastically different than swimming in a lap pool. Even if you spend hours training in a pool, multiple days a week, you can still find yourself unprepared once you hit open water.
We’ve rounded up five mistakes many swimmers make in open water that hold them back, and how you can avoid making them yourself.
1. Not practicing open-water swims
As we mentioned, open water swimming is much different than swimming in a pool. Your normal pool workouts are still important for improving your form and building strength, but they won’t quite prepare you for the open water experience. If you can, try to practice a few times on the actual open water course prior to race day. This will help you acclimate to the water temperature and practice your sighting.
It’s also important to practice in a non-stressful environment first so you can really get a feel for the water without worrying about the competition aspects. Familiarizing yourself with the course and water beforehand can also help to calm your nerves on race day as well.
2. Starting a race too soon
Try to resist the urge to charge into the water as soon as the starting gun goes off. Even though it’s a race, rushing to be first in the water can actually prove to be a disadvantage in open water swimming. Especially for swimmers who are new to open water swimming, an aggressive start can be overwhelming. Pushing and fighting your way through the pack to find space to swim can ultimately slow you down, where you may find you get a quicker start if you give yourself a little breathing room by holding back for thirty seconds or so.
You can also opt to line up on the edge of the crowd to allow yourself a little extra space. This can provide you with a more direct line along the course with little interference from other swimmers.
3. Not establishing the right sighting cadence
Without lane lines to help keep you swimming in a straight line, it’s easy to veer off-course when swimming in open water. Sighting, or regularly looking up from your stroke, is a tactic open water swimmers use to stay on course. However, it’s important to establish the right cadence for sighting—many swimmers will sight either too often or not enough.
Sighting too often can put pressure on your hips from the repeated motion of lifting your head to look around. Not sighting enough can lead to swimming off-course, which wastes energy and can impact your race and stroke. The key to swimming a smooth and efficient open water race is to establish the right balance between keeping your head down and looking up to stay on course.
4. Skipping a warm-up
Some swimmers make the mistake of skipping a warm-up before an open water race, because they think it will conserve their energy. Instead, opting out of a pre-race warm-up can actually set you back, especially in cold-water races. If you acclimate your body to the water temperature beforehand, you can avoid the shock you would experience jumping in for the first time, which can cause your muscles to seize up and make for an inflexible race.
A ten to fifteen-minute warm up will use minimal energy, and will greatly impact your performance for the better. What’s more, a warm-up also gives you the chance to make final tweaks to your goggles and other gear, and can take the edge off any pre-race jitters by giving you an idea of what’s in store.
5. Not testing your gear
Since open water swimming presents a different environment than that of a pool, you’ll want to make sure you have all the appropriate gear and equipment beforehand. By testing it before the race, you can also determine any adjustments that may need to be made to ensure you are set up to give your best performance.
When you practice your open water swim, wear the swimsuit, goggles, cap you plan to wear during the race for at least three or four workouts prior to the race. You’ll also want to bring along your SaferSwimmer Buoy. This will help you to envision how everything will look and feel during the race. Keep in mind, as you’re choosing a suit and goggles, the water temperature as well as the time of day you’ll be swimming the race so you can adjust your goggles for the angle of the sun.