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by David Miner

June 4, 2019

Try these as you prepare for your next open water event

Open water swimming has no lane lines and lane ropes, and it’s hard or impossible to see the bottom because the water typically isn’t as clear as pool water. These can all create challenges that you must overcome to be successful in your open water endeavors.

The best way to better your open water swimming skills is to swim regularly in the open water. While you’re out there, take time to really improve by incorporating some important open water drills. These drills can help you fine tune your open water skills and be ready for your next event.

Swimming-Straight Drill and Eyes-Closed Drill

This drill helps you swim straight. In the open water, note your starting position and then swim with your head down for 20 to 30 strokes and stop. Note where you stopped in relation to where you started. Did you swim straight or veer to the left or right? Complete this three times to get an idea of whether you’re able to swim straight or you’re veering to one direction.

If you tend to veer right, you’ll want to sight more to the left, because the buoy you’re looking for will most likely be more to your left. In addition, you’ll know that you need to work on balancing your stroke so that you begin to swim straighter.

Another drill you can do to help you swim straight and get you more comfortable swimming in an environment where you can’t see the bottom is the eyes-closed drill. Practice swimming in a pool with your eyes closed. See how far you can swim straight and which way you veer. See how many strokes you can take before you open your eyes. Work on increasing the number of strokes you take with your eyes closed while swimming straight. Just don’t swim so far that you run into the wall at the other end of the pool. You should only do this drill with a coach supervising and if you’re the only swimmer in the lane.

Head-Up Drill

This drill helps to improve your sighting. In the open water, swim for 10 to 20 strokes with your head out of the water, looking straight ahead. Keep your head completely still and focus your eyes on a fixed point, such as a swim buoy. The goal is to decrease the number of “head-up” strokes being taken, which, over time, turns into more of a sighting drill. Eventually this will become more natural and allow you to learn to lift your head and sight without swimming with your head up for longer periods of time.

Buoy Turn Drills

This drill helps improve your efficiency while going around buoys. In the open water or a pool, anchor a swim buoy to the bottom. If you don’t have access to a swim buoy, you can use a large balloon or inner tube or hook together a few foam noodles. In the pool, you can remove lane lines and set up buoys for a mock course to practice sighting, going around buoys, and swimming with a group.

Practice swimming normal strokes around the buoys. Practice going around the buoys on both sides. Practice the rudder turn, which is holding your right arm (going around the buoy on your right shoulder) straight out in front of you as you approach the buoy. Stroke with your left arm only using your right hand/arm as a rudder to steer yourself around the buoy. Repeat this with your left arm as the rudder.

A more advanced turn is the corkscrew turn. This takes practice, so don’t try it for the first time in a race. As you approach the buoy, make sure your leading arm is closest to the buoy as you get even with it. Take a hard stroke/pull with that arm and flip onto your back. Execute one hard backstroke stroke with the opposite arm and then flip, in a corkscrew manner, back onto your stomach taking another hard stroke. Continue swimming to the next buoy. This turn allows you to keep your momentum up along with allowing you to change direction quickly as you go around a buoy.

Find whichever turn works best for you and practice it. Practicing your efficiency swimming around the buoys can save you time and energy in a race.

Pick-It-Up Drill

This drill helps to improve your concentration and your ability to change speeds during a race, such as during the start, at the finish, if you’re trying to reach a group of swimmers, or drop a swimmer.

In the open water, start off by taking 25 strokes easy and then 25 strokes fast. Practice this several times and then change it however you like. Work up to 25 easy, 25 fast, 25 easy, 50 fast, 25 easy, 75 fast, 25 easy, 100 fast.

Practicing these drills and getting out into the open water on a regular basis will significantly improve your performance, confidence, and comfort level in the open water. With spring here and summer right around the corner, there is no better time than to jump in and get started.

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  • Open Water


  • Drills
  • Training