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Translating Pool Technique to Open Water

For swimmers accustomed to the controlled environment of a pool, the wildness and expanse of open water can seem daunting. But, open water swimming opens up a whole new world of wet experiences. As an open water and pool swimming instructor and coach, here are some elements that I teach swimmers to help them translate their hard work in the pool to the open water.

1. Adapt Your Strokes

One of the first adjustments you'll need to make when transitioning from pool to open water is adapting your strokes to the new environment. In the pool, you're used to the smooth, uninterrupted surface of the water. In open water, however, you'll encounter waves, currents, and choppy conditions that can affect your stroke technique.

Focus on developing a more dynamic and adaptable stroke that can handle the unpredictable nature of open water. Experiment with bilateral breathing to maintain balance and symmetry, and practice sighting to navigate in a straight line without the aid of lane lines. You can even close your eyes for the number of strokes it takes to complete a length and see how many times you hit either lane line. If you keep hitting one side more than the other, that might mean your stroke is imbalanced and you need to find ways to align both sides.

2. Adjust to Different Conditions

Open water swimming presents a variety of conditions that you won't encounter in the pool. From changing water temperatures to strong currents and variable visibility, each swim can pose unique challenges.

To prepare for these conditions, gradually acclimate yourself to swimming in different environments. Start with calm, sheltered waters and gradually progress to more challenging conditions as you gain confidence and experience. Practice swimming in various temperatures and weather conditions to build resilience and adaptability. If you've never worn a wetsuit before, consider getting into the pool wearing one before trying it out in open water. The difference in buoyancy and range of motion can be shocking to some swimmers, and cause anxiety in open water, so getting a heads up on what a wetsuit feels like when you can put your feet down or rest on the wall can be calming.

3. Build Confidence

You should be confident in your abilities to swim a certain distance AND tread water before getting into open water. Remember that swimming multiple 25s in the pool, resting on each wall, isn't the same as swimming that same distance in open water. You won't have the walls and rest without being self-sustaining/floating in the water.

Practicing treading water in a deeper pool, and making sure you can swim longer distances non-stop will give you the confidence in your own abilities. You can also practice sighting in the pool, helping you adjust your strokes and breathing around your sighting strokes.

4. Find a pod and swim buddies

Open water swimming is ultimately safer with a buddy or in a pod of other swimmers. Consider joining an established group, or at least inviting a buddy to join you, and see if they want to join you first in the pool. Knowing what your swim buddy's stroke looks like, and whether they're a similar speed before getting into open water can help you plan the logistics of your swim, and decide on how you might need to adapt your own technique. For instance, if you and your buddy breath to opposite sides, you might want to always stay on the side that allows you to see your buddy on each breath. Otherwise, you won't know where you are in relation to your buddy, and that can cause unnecessary stress. If you're faster or slower than your buddy, one of you might consider wearing fins so you're able to swim side by side, rather than doubling back during your workout.

Regardless of whether you're a newer swimmer, or an experienced swimmer transitioning to open water, the adventure of open water is one you shouldn't avoid just because it's a new experience. Find a buddy, grab a Quackpacker, and join us weirdos out in open water!

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