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Training Tips for Open Water Swimming

Swimming Drills

Training for your first open water swim and training in the pool? Focus on technique and speed with these swimming drills.

Swimming Drills for Technique

If you have read the previous swim training tips, you are aware that technique and efficiency are key components of an endurance event. They enable you to maximize energy for the task.

The biggest challenge in swimming is overcoming drag and resistance to generate forward motion. This is much more difficult in the open water because of the current, wind, and waves.

The more fatigued you get, the more important good technique becomes. Most of the power in swimming is generated from the arms moving from a stable, rotating trunk.

Use small fins (like Zoomers) when doing arm drills to help keep your legs from sinking down. Hand paddles can place a great deal of stress on your shoulders, so I don’t use them for any of these drills.

One Arm Drill: swim one length of the pool using only your right arm, one length with your left, one length using both and focus on moving your arms quickly.

Fisting: Make a fist with each hand as you swim one length. Then open fist (normal hand position) for a length. Repeat.

Catch-Up: Both arms start out straight in front of you.  As you stroke with your right, do not begin your left arm stroke until the right hand “meets” the left in front. Now do the same drill with your left.  Complete one length. Swim one length normally. Repeat.

Speed Drills

Instead of doing endless slow or same-pace laps during your pool workout, include intervals. You work a little harder. You have a specific focus for your main set. You force yourself to generate more power for a controlled amount of time and this will pay off in your 3-mile open water swimming event.

Warm up for 300m, then do 200m or so of technique drills (see above).

Need some examples of different freestyle main sets to try in the pool about once a week?

Descending Pyramid: 400m(30 sec rest), 300m(25 sec rest), 200m (20 sec rest), 100m (15 sec rest) x 2, 50m(10 sec rest) x 2.  (Main Set Total = 1200 m).

Ascending Pyramid: same workout, but start with the shorter distance and build up to the 400m.

Quarter Milers: 400m (30 sec rest) x 4-6.

Always cool down with at least a 200m.

If you’re used to hours of long-slow-distance in the pool, you’ll probably be amazed at how much harder you will feel like you have worked when you include the interval training.

Scientia est potentia. Knowledge is power.

Originally published July 5, 2013

About the author

Karen Kovacs

Karen Kovacs, PT, MPT OCS is a physical therapist and clinical director of Tidewater Physical Therapy‘s Gloucester Point location. She is an accomplished endurance athlete and is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach. These tips were compiled with the certified trainers of the Tidewater Performance Centers in Newport News and Gloucester, who are certified in working specifically with swimmers and train two elite swim teams in Hampton Roads.

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