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Open Water Swimming- Tips and Technique- By: Jasper Blake

“Spot This”

By: Jasper Blake

One of the most crucial aspects of open water swimming is the ability to stay on course.  Trust me, I am notorious for finding myself well away from the action in some races.  I usually notice my inability to navigate at the beginning of the season when I am still shaking the rust off.  Open water swimming is a great deal quicker in numbers.  It’s always better to stay in the pack and stay on feet, you will move faster and save more energy.
I would like to take a step back however and suggest that one of the most valuable things you can learn to do is to swim straight.  A balanced stroke and bilateral breathing can really help you master the straight line.  The straight line concept is not as easy as it sounds.  Just for fun try this little bit of excitement next time you are in open water.  Find a spot in the middle of your desired swimming hole away from the shore and boats and other potential obstacles.  Aim yourself towards a desired target, close your eyes and take 100 strokes.  Don’t cheat!  You really have to keep those suckers closed and see what happens.  It is a good test to see how straight you can actually swim and believe me when I say it may be the most fun you have all year in the open water.  I used to do complete circles and end up exactly where I started, I would like to say this is a sign of genius but it is not.
By now you have likely discovered that you don’t swim perfectly straight so you need to spot to keep you on target…there is no sense swimming farther than you need to.  Spotting is extremely important to keep track of where the competition is and so you can adjust your speed or direction if you need to.
Spotting is a tricky little move, you need to maintain momentum but also crank your head out of the water to take a look.  Here are a couple of tips to help you sneak a peak without losing momentum.
First and foremost know this; when you lift your head up, it usually means your bum drops and when your bum drops you go slower.  Spotting should be done as quickly as possible and as infrequently as you can get away with.  Your eyes are the things that actually give you feedback and thank goodness they are on the upper half of your head so there is no need to lift your head all the way out of the water, practice lifting just enough so your eyes see what is happening.

The head lift can be counterbalanced by a slightly stronger kick at the moment of lift.  To counteract the inevitable bum sag, give a quick powerful kick in the rhythm of your normal kick and this will keep your body level helping you maintain speed.
Make sure you are having a look to both sides of your current line of travel so you can keep an eye on what the competition is doing.  Incorporate your spot into a breath.  It’s easier to have a quick look then turn your head to the side and take a breath; it helps you stay in the natural rhythm of your stroke.
Don’t always trust the feet you are following.  Make sure you know the buoys you are supposed to be going around.  If the feet you are following are going in the wrong direction then take action and get yourself back on track.  Spotting for buoys is just as important as spotting for the competition.
Learn to feel the water.  If you are in a pack of confident swimmers, chances are they will go in the right direction.  Spotting can drain energy and definitely slows your stroke down so if you are with a group pay attention to what is happening in the water.  Learn to feel what people are doing by the currents and bubbles they make under the water.  Bubbles caused from kicking are a good indicator as to where the group is and where the group is going.
Practice spotting in the pool by doing head up drills or incorporating sets where you have to do a quick spot.  The pool is a great place to practice because you can refine techniques based on time and efficiency.

So go ahead young Jedi and spot away and if you are indeed a Jedi you need not spot at all but instead you may use the force.

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