For some swim events, any stroke is fine, as long as you finish: breaststroke and front crawl have the obvious advantage that you can see where you're going.
An effortless efficient stroke is the key to an enjoyable swim. Just a few sessions with a coach (for example with OSS swim squad) can revolutionise most swimmers efficiency in the water.
OSS sessions are led by coaches trained by Dan Bullock from Swimfortri. Dan is a talented coach, swimmer and triathlete and recommends the following three key areas to helping you swim faster, smoother, longer and more efficiently through the water:
- Lengthen your pull: the further distance the body travels per stroke means fewer strokes needed to complete the swim distance. You must catch the stroke properly and have your body travel over your hand rather then have your hand slip under your body. Keep fingers together and push your hand past your hips before it exits the water to end the stroke.
- Pay attention to your legs. The ideal swim position is horizontal: if you are swimming with your head up your legs will drag low in the water behind you. Tuck your chin in underwater and kick lightly to achieve a good body position underwater. But don’t rely on your legs to keep your afloat or propel you forwards, the legs do neither very well. Even the best leg kick in the world can only add a tiny proportion in forwards propulsion compared to that generated from the arms.
- Rotate. Start to swim on your side, especially the upper body, this will lower your frontal area of resistance, bring into play the stronger muscles of the back for a stronger pull and automatically lengthen your stroke.
At least the same distance as you'll do on the day. Do a few practise swims without stopping and holding on to the edge so you get used to continuous swimming.
One mile = 1610 metres.
- 65 lengths of a 25 metre pool
- 48 lengths of a 33 metre pool
- 33 lengths of a 50 metre pool
Generally, though, the fitter you are the more you’ll enjoy your race so there’s no reason to ease off when you hit your target.
Dan Bullock from Swimfortri recommends the following:
- Your training plan has got to be realistic – if you can’t easily fit it in around work, the pub, the dog etc. it will fall to the wayside.
- Two to three sessions in the pool each week should be sufficient.
- Vary your sessions to keep things interesting as well as making sure you condition yourself properly. Interval training (short distances at speed with rests in between) should be combined with endurance training (a long, steady, continuous swim), as well as sessions where you spend time focusing on your technique.
- Set yourself relevant tests, for example swim one session without ever touching the wall, or in another lift your head out of the water once every length to look at the point you’re swimming towards.
- It’s not necessary to do your main training in open water, but it’s definitely advisable to build some open water sessions into your plan.
Not a lot. In fact, when you don't have to turn around every 25 metres you can get into a rhythm which makes swimming much more enjoyable. Many people find they can swim 3-5km straight off when they get into the outdoors, according to Simon Murie from SwimTrek.
But unlike a pool there are no lane ropes and no walls to push off from, all of which ensure that extra distance is covered. Wind can make water choppy and rough, which takes a bit of getting used to, and chillier water will reduce your swimming speed.
The biggest thing for most people is getting used to the look of natural water (it's green - and there are no lines on the bottom!). Just expect a sense of surprise the first time you feel the squelch of mud under your feet or look down and find you can't see the bottom. Keep breathing normally; focus on the sky above you or the silky feel of fresh water, and you'll soon relax into it.
Not if you prepare. Many events ask competitors to wear wetsuits, which can be rented for the summer season for around £50 from online companies and tri stores. Some can be hired for the day at events, but it’s always wise to swim in a wetsuit before the big day as it changes your swimming position.
Read the OSS guide to choosing a wetsuit here.
Triathlon suits are recommended as they are more flexible and easier to swim in. However surf wetsuits and shorties are allowed. Tri suits make swimming easier (and swimmers faster) by adding buoyancy and speed.
Lakes are at their warmest in August and September but their temperature depends on the sunshine and recent rainfall. If you wish (and are allowed) to swim without a wetsuit, take time to acclimatise by swimming outdoors in the run up to the event.
Find out about sea temperatures throughout the year here.
Getting into the outdoors is the best way to get ready for an event.
There are a few ways you can do this:
- Join OSS Facebook and find more experienced swimmers happy to take you for a first dip – many will do so when asked (although it should be clear they do not take legal responsibility for you – join a paid session with a lifeguard if you are looking for that).
- Join OSS Social swims – these are peer swims (again, no risk assessments or lifeguards, with every swimmer taking responsibility for themselves) that are organized spontaneously around the country all year. Find out about them on OSS Facebook.
- Use the OSS swim map or Wild Swim and a more experienced friend to find a place near you for a safe open water swim
- Join one of the many triathlon groups that train in open water over the summer – see our list. Organisations like Swimfortri run tri-specific sessions during the summer that cover the challenges of racing (mass starts and marker spotting) as well as those of open water swimming (wetsuits, getting your head under).
- Join an open water group if you feel that swimming with others would make you feel more motivated, secure and, of course, sociable! They tend to meet from May to October and there’s a list at the back of Kate Rew’s Wild Swim which is a good starting point.
The first minutes of triathlon swims are notoriously hectic as swimmers surge forward in a scrum, swimming over the top of each other, arms clawing at legs, legs kicking in faces, as everyone scrambles to get into some open space. It can be hard to take regular breaths in the mayhem, which together with the sense of urgency and inability to put your feet down, can start to incubate panic.
To control panic before and during the swim:
- Get some experience in deep brown (or green), open water before race day. Swimming without pool lines is disorientating if you’re not used to it. Join other OSS members for one of the social swims listed on OSS Facebook or join one of the open water triathlon training groups.
- Be strategic about where you position yourself:
- If your drive to be a triathlete is purely about fitness and fun, then separate yourself from the pack and take your place at the back.
- Only start at the front if you’re fast enough to stay there. The last thing you want is people swim-sprinting out over the top of you.
- Clever competitive types take sides. At the edge of the scrum you avoid the melee and are well positioned to move to the front as soon as the pack starts to spread out.
- Occupy your brain with other thoughts. NLP practitioners often talk of the ‘happy place’. If there is an image that you find calming to think about, do so while pressing your thumb and forefinger together. Over time, pressing your thumb and forefinger together will, by association, take you to this place, and it’s easy to do the exercise in the water.
- Make sure you’re used to swimming in a wetsuit. They can feel constrictive at first and affect your stroke. A few long distance open water training swims in neoprene will reassure you that, once you’re through the first uncomfortable moments, you have no worries about doing what is asked of you.
- When the race is underway, act like a native New Yorker. Zone everyone else out, identify a course and aim for it. As others alter their courses you might need to adapt your own, but stay positive rather than reactive, and therefore in control.
- If you get kicked accept it’s not personal, and if your goggles get knocked just roll on to your back and readjust.
- Always remember that the pack will dissipate within minutes. ‘For me, the triathlon is a long race of many parts and these are merely the first moments. If I can enjoy the swim I’ll be in the best frame of mind for the bike and run legs.’
A more efficent technique will enable you to travel further with each stroke and swim longer distances. Dan Bullock and Tri247 have produced these videos for advice:
See the next page, 'Outdoor Swimming'.