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Swim Club Blog: Open Water Observations Part 1

The Endurance Store Swim Club provides you with simple swim training plans throughout the winter months. The plan runs October to October and is completely free. We only ask that you pre-register so that your training plans can be emailed directly.

Registration is free and you may unsubscribe at any time from the Swim Club and stop receiving updates. Overview of the swim plan be seen below, but before you start you need to complete a test to set your swim paces, then register and download the sessions. GO HERE to register for swim club.

Our open water coached swim started last week and after watching some of the swimmers who attended, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of the common errors we see. I was personally coaching the intermediate 1 group from the bank and noted several swimmers struggling with the choppy water, due to incorrect arm recovery above the water.

Conventional pool technique encourages a high elbow recovery with the arm entering the water close to the head in a spearing action. The problem with this in open water is if it’s rough early contact with the water can cause resistance: it can feel as if you’re constantly hitting a wall as the hand enters the water. The solution is to enter the water further in front of the head with the arm almost fully extended. This way the arm clears the rough water and enters unhindered. Momentum is therefore achieved and the stroke requires less effort.            

In sea swims you’ll often have a swell which makes things even more interesting. An arm which enters the water close to the head is more likely to cross the body’s centre line. In a pool this can cause the body to twist from left to right but in the sea the swell magnifies this fault and knocks the swimmer from side to side. The result is a slower speed and excessively fatigued trunk muscles which are trying to keep the body aligned in a straight position. By entering the arms later and wider more purchase is achieved in the water and the swimmer is more able to maintain an aligned body position.

A high elbow recovery with the hands dragging close to the surface will also cause problems. Arms fatigue in a wetsuit regardless of the standard of wetsuit and a high elbow recovery will cause excessive muscular fatigue during the recovery phase. The low hand recovery will catch rough water and cause unnecessary resistance. The answer? Swing the arms wider or 'throw them over' and enter them later and straighter. You’ll achieve the necessary momentum in your stroke, swim faster and use less effort.

This therefore raises the question of whether a conventional swim stroke should be used by triathletes when swimming in a pool. In our opinion the answer is an unequivocal NO. High elbow recoveries usually cause the swimmer to overbalance in the water as unless the person has come from a high level swimming background they don’t have the skill to keep the body balanced or aligned.

Nick Thomas is a level 3 BTF coach and lead coach at Manchester Triathlon Club. He used to be pretty good at triathlon and twice raced Ironman Kona. For more details of our coached open water swim GO HERE

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