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Monday Motivation: Open Water Practice without Open Water

With the new year upon us, this week's Monday Motivation is going to be a little different. Instead of publishing a few pool workouts, I'd like talk about ways to incorporate open water training into your pre-season workouts.

Infamous Drylands

Most of us hate out-of-water workouts (hence, why we're swimmers), but adding some strength training on land now will pay off substantially in the summer. Open water swimming is more repetitive as a motion than pool swimming, as most swimmers switch strokes, do drills, use toys, and use the wall in the pool. You don't get the same rest every 25 or 50 yards/meters turning and pushing off in the open water and that means your shoulders, back, and glutes get tighter faster. Improving strength through resistance training, as well as increasing flexibility through stretching, will help prevent open water injuries from strain and fatigue.

What can you do?

Here are some ideas to add into your routine:

In-Water (Pool) Drills

Try to incorporate some aspects of open water swimming into your pool routine as well.

  • Dead Starts: start each rep by floating, not letting yourself push off the wall

  • Forced Sighting: force yourself to sight 2-3x per length, making sure to keep your face low in the water with "alligator eyes" while swimming a freestyle set

  • Miss-the-wall turns: try not to touch the wall during your turn. Some swimmers do this by flip turning 2 strokes early to ensure they can turn without their feet brushing the wall, while others try to swim a wide corner.

  • Backstroke recovery strokes: add 2-3 backstroke strokes into your freestyle length, simulating a quick shoulder stretch or feed

  • Mid-length flip turns: eliminate your momentum by adding a somersault halfway through each length to practice restarting from a dead stop. Some swimmers use flip turns in open water as a chance to stretch their back and glutes, so you can too! Find ways to have a quick luxurious stretch while turning in the pool (if depth and space allows)

  • Treading water: if you have a pool deep enough to tread water in, practice keeping your hands out of the water (simulating grabbing and opening your bottle) while kicking your preferred kick (most swimmers use egg beater kick) for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If you want to bring a small brick or weight to hold while you're kicking, remove your goggles or cap and put them back on, or even practice opening and closing your feed container, this is your moment!


Whether you're in the water or out, use breathing and mind-calming exercises to train yourself to relax (or stop panicking). Some of us (myself included) have some fear of open water swimming that is hard to simulate in the pool. For me, it's swimming under low bridges, or seeing creepy branches in the dark shadows of the water. Finding a way to relieve the panic building in your mind, whether from fear, nerves, or excitement, will be a game changer in open water.

Some of the ways I learn to calm my breathing:

  • 4 sharp exhales for 6 counts (light inhale, forceful and long exhale)

  • Counting to 4 for each inhale and exhale for 1 minute

  • "Sink into calmness" using a mantra, like "stroke-stroke-breathe" that you practice in the pool or while dealing with strong emotions (that one is mine, simulating what I think to myself while panicking in the water. Thinking about bilateral breathing and ONLY about bilateral breathing... just get to the next breath... prevents me from having other thoughts. #nothoughtsjustvibes

Meditating through Swimming

Side story: I'm pretty sure that I have attained nirvana while swimming. Once. I managed it one time. I was doing a 15 mile practice swim in perfectly warm water, and the weather was phenomenal. Despite the perfect conditions, I found myself getting tired and bored, so I tried thinking about anything and everything to find comfort and reprieve from the boredom, to no avail. I ended up focusing on having a consistent breathing pattern, and, for the only time in my entire life, focused entirely on just breathing. I was still swimming (and I'm assuming still sighting, as I don't think I hit anything), but for about 20 minutes until my alarm went off for a feed, I felt nothing, thought nothing, experienced nothing. I was jarred back into existence by my alarm, and had to return into being aware of my surroundings. I've never been able to replicate the experience, as I regularly sing, plan meals, analyze my stroke, complain, and think about whatever else is rattling around up there while I swim.

Taking a step back and thinking about swimming as a whole, it's just repetitive motion and breathing. Those two elements lay the groundwork of many meditation practices; try focusing on breathing during a longer swim the next time you go to the pool and see if you can eliminate all thoughts and feelings as a result of stroke repetition and breathing.

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