Coach Bob’s tips for Swimming “The Crossing” in Style

  1. The transition from training in a pool to training (or racing) in open water is tough waves, wind, sun, and especially cold water takes some getting used to. One simple thing to practice in the pool is breathing to both sides (bilateral breathing) once every three strokes. While it takes about 8 to 12 workouts breathing to both sides to get used to it, it makes your stroke more even and more uniformly powerful.  
  2. After you get used to breathing on both sides, throw in a workout once every two weeks where you breathe to your non-preferred side for a majority of the workout. “WHY?” You ask… You are going to encounter open water races where the wind and waves are blowing straight into your mouth for at least part of the race. It is far better to be able to breath away from the oncoming wind and waves under these sorts of conditions. 
  3. A simple tip to improving your open water swimming in a pool is to close your eyes for 8 or 10 strokes (12-14??) Periodically and swim blind. This will dramatically improve your ability to swim in a straight line in open water. (Don’t run into others in your lane, do it when you have a lane to yourself!) Learn to “feel” rather than watch yourself swim straight. There are no lines on the bottom in open water and no lane lines - closing your eyes and learning to swim straight gets rid of the zigzag swims that add 100 to 200 yards to every mile. 
  4. Biggest mistake seen while watching open water swimmers train: the same hand speed from the front of your stroke to your finish. After the catch at the front of your stroke your hand should speed up, especially from your shoulders to your hips. You are stronger in your pull from your shoulders to your hips so apply more and more pressure (hand speed) as the hand passes underneath you. Your mile time will drop like a rock after you work on this for a few weeks. 
  5. Second biggest mistake open water swimmers make while training in a pool is too much head lift. While you practice your bi-lateral breathing also practice breathing with one-half of your lower goggle in the water. Over-rotating your head and the head lift that usually accompanies it causes your butt to drop and interrupts your stroke. When you get to rough water, yes, you will probably have to rotate your head more but your swimming, even in open water will be faster for it. 
  6. When you start training in a lake, river or ocean: ALWAYS TRAIN WITH A BUDDY! Have your athletic club put up a white board or start a club Face book page where open water swimmers can exchange open water training locations, dates, times and abilities! “Sanders Beach, 12 noon, Saturday 6/14, 2 mile swim, fair swimmer”. Get to know the open water swimmers at your club! 
  7. When open water training - learning to swim straight - Tip One: Pick a fixed object ABOVE the waters surface to swim toward. Flagpole. Colorful building roof. Rock formation. Always pick a fixed landmark to swim toward that is at least 10 degrees above the waters surface. Buoys or objects on the water’s surface can rarely be seen when swimming. If you’re swimming towards a buoy - pick a landmark above the buoy (a stationary landmark - not a boat!).
  8. When open water training - learning to swim straight - Tip Two: After you’ve picked a stationary object above the waters surface to swim toward practice swimming towards it with more and more strokes between head lifts to sight on the object. Start out with 10 strokes between glances (head lifts) then work up to 15, then 20. Even our 10 to 12 year old open water swimmers quickly develop the ability to swim straight for 24 to 30 strokes between looks. Remember: every head lift tires you out and slows you down.  Lifting your head to look is like lifting a bowling ball out of the water! Practice less looking. 
  9. Open water Wetsuit Fit. While there are a number of well-built wetsuits on the market for open water swimming, there are many more that are just horrible and make open water swimming no fun. If you buy a suit on-line make sure they will take it back if it doesn’t fit! Three things to consider; first, make sure the range of motion in the arms allows for no binding of the suit in the armpit. Second, make sure that there is no pressure on your throat adjacent to your Carotid Arteries (soft part of throat on either side of your windpipe). This can cause Carotid Sinus Reflex, bad, bad, bad! Three make sure the fit allows for a snug fit along the spine. 70% of your heat is lost through your spine and head.