The off season is the perfect time to work on your swimming technique, but - depending on where you live in the world (and perhaps how you feel about diving into icy, cold water) - working on your open water swimming isn't always possible during the cooler months.
So, we've asked former British elite-level triathlete and NOWCA (National Open Water Coaching Association) Director, Rick Kiddle, for his best advice on how to approach swim training during off season...
Hi Rick, it won't always be feasible for athletes to get out in open water during the off season, so how's best for us to approach swim training at this time?
The off season is a great time to work on measuring where you're at with your swimming and to monitor progress. So, when looking to put this 'monitoring' phase into practice, you should consider two factors:
1. An initial 'self-measurement' should ideally always start in the pool. Use ‘benchmark tests’ as precursors to any new training programme as these will give you a point of reference for progress in terms of your speed, fitness and technique.
2. Consistency is key. When looking to either get fitter, faster or improve the stroke, you need to swim regularly and consistently. Shorter, faster sessions of around 20-30 minutes are the way to go, and look to fit these into your schedule every day if possible. This way you don’t burn out but you do begin to improve your 'feel' and efficiency in the water.
An additional consideration is to find somewhere you can do these sessions in a way that doesn't impact too greatly on your lifestyle, particularly in relation to time and cost - it can get expensive hitting the pool every day, so consider how you might be more time and cost-efficient.
And what would be your top-three pieces of advice for athletes looking to make the move from the pool to open water during the off season?
Once you've spent some time working on your technique and consistency in the pool, it's time to consider heading outside (almost inevitably into colder water) and this brings a few challenges...
1. Moving from the pool to open water can be a daunting prospect, especially in colder months. Water temperatures drop so you need to decide if it’s safe, where to swim safely and if you're interested in cold water benefits.
2. Acclimatising will make this a smoother and safer transition. As with the measuring and monitoring at the beginning of your pool sessions that I mentioned previously, it's worth using the same concept of getting in as regularly as possible to get used to the lower temperatures.
3. Don’t get caught up with swimming long distances every time you swim. Do this occasionally to build confidence in your endurance, but the main focus should be on efficiency at this time of the year.
Additionally, look to find a loop where you can return to set yourself time and goals. From May onwards, NOWCA provide a free 400m time-trial at various participating venues every week.
You've gained plenty of experience of swimming in open water as an athlete over the years, so what pieces of advice would you have for an athlete who has had issues with finding the correct kit?
Getting your kit right is essential and, this may seem obvious, but finding a suit and goggles that are right for you will make all of the difference.
So, find a good-fitting wetsuit and use the old adage of 'try before you buy'.
When it comes to goggles, press the goggles to your face so they suck and don’t fall off. The strap is there to hold them in place and not to create a seal. If they leak or fall off, find another model that doesn’t. In my opinion, mask goggles seem to be much better for comfort and vision.
And if you're still not sure what's right for you, an open water coach will have the experience to help.
In your role as a triathlon coach, what tips would you have for someone looking to master the tricky skill of 'sighting' in open water?
When it comes to the washing machine of the swim in triathlon or the beginning of an open water race, it can be easy to forget the value of sighting. Use a counting system in your head while you swim and aim to breathe every two strokes.
So, on the breath in, you keep the extending stroke arm close to the surface while you rotate your shoulders forward and breathe. Try not to lift the head and over rotate.
As you bring the other arm through extend it forward under the surface and do what we call ‘crocodile eyes’ by looking forward but not lifting the head too high. This can then be done multiple times to see where you’re going and not tiring out.
Above all, practice in a pool.
And what would be your advice for swimming in packs during a race? How's best to position yourself at the start of an open water swim race or triathlon?
My best advice would be to never start at the back, no matter how slow you think you are. There’s always someone slower or more daunted by the start than you.
Try going to the side and possibly pick a swimmer who you can slipstream behind.
If possible (and there's a theme developing here), it's worth practicing this in a pool if you can - work on finding the right distance behind their toes without touching them. Additionally, there’s also a benefit to swimming to the side, slightly back and by the hip of the person you're following.
Finally, what's your favourite open water swimming venue?
I love the sea but because of where I live it's not always possible to get out into the sea, so my favourite place has to be London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming, as well as any new water I haven’t swam in before.