Open Water Swim Training

Open Water swim training can give you a great advantage when it come to Ironman Triathlon. So many athletes neglect this form of swimming and prefer pool training. However in any Ironman Triathlon race you will hev to swim open water so it is best to practise it as much as you can.

Practise with other experienced athletes before competing in an open water triathlon.. It can be a daunting experience to swim in open water. Triathletes who have many years experience often have apprehension in their first early seasons preparation swims in open water, this is perfectly normal.

Weaker swimmers who are practised at swimming in open water can beat faster pool swimmers by being confident and good at navigation. The ability to draft behind a faster swimmer can save energy and allow you to finish in a quicker time. Anyone can beat a swimmer who is slightly better by being more confident and concentrating, the second you do not concentrate you can easily go off course. Drafting in swiming can give you extra time in an Ironman Triathlon race as this is the only section where drafting is allowed.

The difference between a nice warm swimming pool and open water is comparable with crazy pitch & putt and a championship golf course similar but not specific. In an indoor pool you can see where you are going, often able to stand up, use the black lines to swim in a straight line. Compare this to a large expanse of water, cannot see the bottom sometimes not even your hand in front of you and have to navigate around a route. Swimming pools have no wind (unless outdoor) no big waves no currents no floating debris and no buoys to swim around. You have to learn to swim in different conditions to learn personally. Continuous swimming in open water can be tiring because there are no ends to stop and turn.

In open water you have sometimes weed to contend with and jelly fish if swimming in the sea. Even in a wetsuit you can get cold swimming outdoors.

There may not be a current but a head wind can make it difficult and top drift can push you off course. Every time you make one wrong stroke that takes you off line it takes at least another one to get on track .If you only swim an extra 3% in 1500m you have covered an extra 50m which for a swimmer taking 30 minutes is an extra 1 minute wasted effort.

Swimming of the three sports in an Ironman Triathlon is the event you can waste the most amount of energy not going in a straight line.

Fresh water always seems colder than seawater at equal temperatures. In our experience the sea can be 5 degrees lower and feel the same as fresh water.

Indoor swimming training tips for Ironman Triathlon. Tread water then start swimming to get use to deep-water starts and turning around in preparation for swimming around buoys in open water. Get use to turning at the end either treading water or doing a u-turn without touching the end. Aim for a point and swim diagonally across the pool rather than up and down.

Learn to look up every 6-14 strokes aim for your water bottle at the opposite end or a clock. Swim water polo style, or doggy paddle keeping your head out of the water it uses different muscles and can cause fatigue. Learn to look up every 6-14 strokes aim for your water bottle at the opposite end or something else like a clock.

Another drill to do is if you have a friend swimming try the following at your swimming pool. Swimmer A swims one length as fast as they can. When they turn at the end and have to look up to see where Swimmer B has placed a plastic drinks bottle. Or agreed object any where along the width so Swimmer A has to swim back to that point. While swimmer A recovers while swimmer B repeats what A just did.

Swim at busy times get use to swimming around others and wavy conditions, the more you do this the easier open water swimming will seem.

Some pools have wave machines use this as practise, some adventurous triathletes try and do lengths when the fun sessions are on, they are wavy and lots of people to swim around.

Once you have accomplished sighting then venture to open water with a friend.

Open Water Warm-up

If you are unable to get in and warm up before an event or the thought of getting in to warm up then out again puts you off. Jog gently for 5-10 minutes then do 10 arm swings forward 10 arm swings back with each arm 10 shoulder shrugs back and forwards. 10 punches alternate with each arm. Learn forward and imagine your are swimming turn your head to mimic breathing to make sure your swim hat is not rubbing on your neck, do this for 30 seconds. You are now ready to start.

Open water swimming

Look for safe entry and exit, once you enter you can make the water cloudy masking debris holes and the uneven bottom below.

Discuss what you plan to do first with your friends try 2 small laps rather than one big lap, it is much harder to do mentally another lap and builds up mental toughness. Stop after first lap discuss briefly. How good were you at sighting and repeat if you all feel confident and not too cold to proceed.

Do not stand up when exiting until you can touch the bottom with both hands on several swim strokes because you may be swimming over a shallow bar.

It is quicker to swim than to try and walk in water up to your knees.

One-piece Triathlon suit can be worn under a wetsuit the material should be quick drying. Race clothing moves with you and can stop neoprene rubbing on your skin.

It should be comfortable not too tight or lose. Any excess movement will cause chafing. Triathlon specific clothing is designed to be quick drying so you can swim bike and run in same outfit.

Large goggles give much better visibility and can reduce anxiety and reduce claustrophobia experienced wearing a wetsuit.

Use Anti fog to stop swim goggles from steaming up. The warmth given off from your face and the cold-water temperature cause this to happen. It is important to fit your goggles on no more than a minute before you get into the water otherwise the air inside warms up and when you have contact with the cooler water they steam up.

Swimming in a large expanse of water can make you insecure with fear, this is perfectly normal. The temperature may change when you swim from a shallow to a deep cold section so prepare for this to happen. Swimming even in a wetsuit into a cold wind can make you feel colder.

Wetsuit swimming for Ironman Triathlon

When swimming in a wetsuit most people swim quicker because you are more buoyant. To gain the most from wearing a wetsuit aim to keep your swim strokes long. Part of swimming without a wetsuit is keeping afloat so with a wetsuit you should aim mainly at forward propulsion

It is what you do under the water to move you forward that counts.

How to put on a wetsuit

The following tips are listed below by Ironmate to help you put on a wetsuit and reduce the risk of damage. It can take up to 15 minutes to get a wetsuit to fit properly.

Put on your wetsuit properly you do not want it to leak.For easier fitment and faster removal use a product called bodygilde, or baby oil as Vaseline can destroy the glue used to join the seams on the wetsuit or the stitchingaround the neck nipples and under your arms.

Also use a lubricant around the wrists and ankles; this helps with a much quicker removal of the wetsuit. You can remove your wetsuit much quicker when you have just exited the swim, the longer you allow water to seep out the harder it is to get the wetsuit off.

Putting on a triathlon wetsuit

  1. The body should be dry.
  2. Use soft gloves to avoid cutting the rubber with your nails.
  3. Nails should be evenly cut and not sharp, damage can still be caused by wearing gloves.
  4. Pull on the legs as high up the body without straining, ensure no folds or air pockets and no creases behind the back of the leg as this will cause chafing when kicking in the swim.
  5. Pull up wetsuit from the waist and remove any space or air pocket from the groin area. Some athletes get a taller person to actually lift them from the waist to ensure the legs are in and the groin are a snug fit. The wetsuit should be 5-14cm above the anklebone for easier removal also neoprene around the ankle inhibits flexibility when kicking.
  6. Close one hand or clench fist and put one hand in at a time so as not to damage the inside of the suit with your nails or accidentally pull a finger back.
  7. When you are putting on your wetsuit make sure that that your clothes worn underneath are neither crumpled or zips are flat so they do not cause rubbing.
  8. Before zipping up the suit make sure that the suit is over both shoulders. Then push both shoulders back, not out and get a fellow competitor preferably with the same style suit or a friend who knows what to do to zip you up. Make sure that you do not have folds at the back of the knee this can cause chaffing.
  9. Allow 10-20 minutes for the first time you do this and 10-15 minutes before an even if could take you less but you want to get the fit perfect and then concentrate on the swim rather than something rubbing.
  10. If you are able to practise in a swimming pool wash out the suit thoroughly as the chlorine can destroy the seams.

Things you need to know about a Triathlon specific wetsuit

  1. You will often feel more buoyant so you could over roll more when breathing this you want to avoid. Forward motion is required not sideways resistance movement.
  2. The wetsuit will help you glide by being more streamlined and buoyant so use this to your advantage by doing long slow strokes, a comparison would be cycling down a hill you can push a bigger gear.
  3. Wearing a wetsuit often the recovery phase is minimised due to less flexibility in the shoulders and concentrate on this so you can recover fully ready for the next powerful stroke.
  4. Wearing a Triathlon wetsuit will feel tight almost claustrophobic to some people. On dry land and you may get hot putting it on, once in the water after practise you may not even notice you are wearing it.
  5. On hot days do not put on your swim hat until you have completely fitted your wetsuit as you may get too hot and over heat unless of course it is a cold day or you are concerned about the cold water.
  6. Less kick is needed to keep you buoyant, often shallow kicking is the best option.
  7. A swim session in the pool wearing your wetsuit is advisable before your triathlon in familiar territory but you will need permission, as some swimming pools do not allow you to use a wetsuit in public session. Often though a Triathlon club may have permission for their training sessions.

How to stay relaxed in open water

Think positive staying calm uses up less energy.

If possible walk along the edge of your open water swim and recee the course it will seem a lot shorter.

Wear a neoprene hat and ear plugs, this prevents heat loss from the head and cold water getting into your eardrums or alternatively wear 2 swim caps one to keep the heat in the other to keep the cold out.

Alcohol will lower your resistance to the cold so refrain from drinking any in the 48 hours before cold open water swimming.

Never train alone and let people know on dry land how long you will be and give them a signal if you are in distress i.e. one hand in the air. Swim together practise swimming behind at the side and overtaking.

Wear a brightly coloured swim cap not black or navy to make you visible to other users of the water i.e. wind surfers and swimmers.

Don’t panic take deep breaths and try to relax.

Once acclimated to cold-water swimming then use only one thin swim cap in training, by the time you get to compete in open water wearing a thicker neoprene hat will make you feel more confident. Build up the time you go into cold water will help when in a race. Cold baths and showers help with initial shock. Tap water is a lot warmer in the summer so you may need ice cubes in your bath to chill the water for 5-15 minutes before you take the plunge in the summer.

Start off with cold baths of 2-5 minutes building up to 5-12 minutes lying. Best to warm up slowly afterwards by drying and putting on some warm layers this helps you adapt much easier than having a warm bath or shower afterwards. In a Triathlon there are no warm showers once you have exited the swim.

Cold showers and sitting in cold bath waters help but there is no substitute for being totally immersed in water.

Land warm up for cold-water swimming with general gentle arm swinging. In circular motions 10 forward 10 back windmills on either arm. Do this for 5 minutes before getting into cold water this gets your body ready for swimming. Some swimmers prefer to splash water over their face and feet just prior to getting in to acclimatise to the temperature.

Cold-water warm up after land exercises enter and swim for 1-3 minutes with fingers wide apart this gets arms moving quicker without creating fatigue (this is like cycling in a easy gear) then 1-2 minutes swimming with fingers together ready for the main set or competition. Warming up all depends on the water temperature an individual preference and what each competition allows.

Cold water constricts blood supply when you try and swim this will have the opposite effect. Start off swimming slowly and build up your pace.

Avoid the following pitfalls

Concentrate all the time as soon as you fail to think about taking the correct route you will almost certainly deviate.

If you find yourself short or out of breath due to the cold, slow down or stop. Focus on your breathing even changes your stroke to breaststroke or backstroke until your breathing gets back to normal. Caution though does not make sudden powerful movement changes as this could cause you to cramp if the water is cold.

If your swim goggles fit do not tighten them up more for your open water swim this may cause them to leak. When wearing 2 swimming hats put goggles on after first cap when you put on second swim cap. If they come off you do not lose them.

On a cold day put your swim hat on at least 10 minutes before to conserve heat and help keep you warm.

Know the course beforehand you may not plan on leading but you do not want to follow someone in front who is also lost, remember it is far more difficult to ask for directions!!

Learn to breath each side to avoid waves and be able to monitor landmarks buoys and other swimmers so you know where you are at all times.

How to keep warm

Eating and drinking something warm before to warm up your inside helps. Experiment with what works and hour long before you can do this without causing you discomfort in the important swim. Hot chocolate, tea, coffee, porridge microwave bananas or soups all have worked team ironmate members. Some athletes even have hot carbohydrate drinks.

Put on your swim caps before starting to get into triathlon wetsuit two correctly fitted caps should stop water getting into your ears. Cold water can get into your eardrums this makes you feel cold and distract you from swimming so earplugs can be used. Some long distance swimmers use them while others prefer not to.

Unable to warm up in the swim gentle jogging and arm warm up exercises warms up your core temperature.

Wetsuit Tips

Put on your wetsuit 20 minutes before the start, taking clothes off to put on suit can make you cold on a cool day.

Depending on water temperature usually a full piece wetsuit is worn alternatively a shortie or sleeveless long john is sometimes used. Full wetsuits provide more warmth but can be more restrictive and claustrophic also take longer to remove compared to a shortie wetsuit, which can literally be removed in seconds.

Wetsuits provide buoyancy, No gaps in body or arms stops water moving thru suit.

2-5 ml in thickness. Usually the thinner section panels allow for more shoulder arm movement while the thicker leg panels help with buoyancy and warmth.

The thicker the material then generally the more buoyant they become.

Fit is vital, good range of motion, not too tight so you cannot breath.

A windsurfing wetsuit will keep you warm but will not give you range of movement and are often too tight around neck for breathing when swimming front crawl.

Always use lubricant i.e. baby oil or body glide a wetsuit specific lubricant.

Vaseline can destroy neoprene wetsuits so use instead baby oil, non-protelum or vegetable oil in a spray can.

Rub this around wrists and ankles and neck will reduce chaffing and help with easier removal of wetsuit.

Earplugs keep out bacteria and cold water.

For effective sighting always use objects like tall trees brightly, coloured buildings or shapes exactly behind your intended target this makes it easier to swim in a straight line. So if the suns glare stops you seeing the next buoy you have a target on the horizon to aim for until you get closer. Swims are often out and back or in a square or circular shape so during the swim you will have the suns rays reflected from the water which could blind you. It may be fine to see with the sun behind you but soon as you turn back and as the sun rises in an early morning swim you cannot see where you want to aim for. Using tinted swim goggles can help.

Clothing for Ironman Triathlon

One-piece Triathlon suit hybrid can be worn under a wetsuit or for a pool based swim Triathlon. The material should be made for quick drying.

Race clothing can also stop friction between your skin and the wetsuit.

Comfortable not too tight or lose. Any excess movement will cause chafing.

Quick drying so you can swim bike and run in same clothing.