Improving the quality of your open water swims

Note that I am a Polar ambassador and their product is mentioned in the blog post

Do you find open water swims a nice experience, but lacking the focus, speed and overall quality you get from swimming in the pool? If your answer is yes you were in the same position as me early this summer and wondered how I could improve the quality of my OW swimming. This is what I found out.

Like mentioned above I liked to swim outdoors but knew the quality was not as good as in the pool. The HR measuring I got from the Polar OH1 sensor in pool gave me data showing I was working really hard in my pool sessions hitting 170 BPM or more. In the OW I struggled to hold it higher than 150 BPM. After IM 70.3 Haugesund I had a long stay afterwards with my main build up for Norseman. The only pool in the city had closed down for the whole summer and my only option was swimming outdoors. I had to figure something out.

This is a typical HR curve in a good pool session. Pushing close to maximum effort.
This is typical HR for my OW swim sessions. Very steady and low and maybe a jump towards the end if I find the motivation to push. As for the performance improvement of an OW session like this compared to the pool above it is miles apart. First one really good and second slightly better than nothing.

My biggest issue in OW swimming was my lack of reference. I had absolutely no clue of the duration or speed I was swimming at, which is something that is impossible to miss in the pool. If your mind starts to wander and you lose technique, focus and effort you will notice it in the pool immediately. If you lose the technique, focus and effort outside, nothing really happens. Your speed slows down but you don’t really notice it. I don’t get the immediate feedback that you have to get your sh*t together.

In order to get a reference, I used my beloved Finis Tempo Trainer. It is a small piece of plastic you put under your swim cap with three functions.

  1. Give a beep XX times each minute. That’s useful for keeping a certain stroke rate.
  2. Give a beep each XX sec. The mode I use the most for keeping my target 50m times in the pool
  3. Give a beep each XX:XX sec – a more accurate version of mode 2 if you need to divide a second.

The plastic piece is in my opinion overpriced compared to its function but one of the absolute best investments you can do to improve your swimming. It is as useful as a power meter in cycling.

This little piece of beeping plastic retails at $59.99. It is a robbery compared to its functions but an absolute bargain compared to its usefulness. It did wonders for my ability to pace correct and push harder for longer.
On our way back to Oslo we had a few days in Hardanger which is among the most beautiful places I have been. But how to get in quality swimming here? I used the beeper set on 1 minute and swam hard for 7 beeps (8 min), turned and swam back. Without the beeper I would for sure stop earlier to see how long I had been swimming. By the time I felt it had gone 8 minutes, it most likely would have said 2 minutes and 37 seconds since my feeling of time is completely off when swimming in OW.

My second reference was distance. In lack of the indoor pool, I found myself an outdoor “pool”, aka the lack nearest where we stayed. In my case, the “pool” was roughly 300 meters across, which was about the average length my Polar V800 GPS watch said after swimming it 10 lengths or more (ended up at anything between 270 and 330 meters which is about how accurate the GPS is in water). When I swam hard I used 4 min on one length and 4:30 when swimming easy.

With that, I had both time and distance. Coach Carson Christen adjusted the training sessions to fit my 300m “pool”. Then it was easy to set 300, 600, 900, 1200 or 1500 m set on the plan. We could also put more refined sets on the plan with the help of the tempo trainer.

A rather hard session which I did with good quality – Without the reference in the distance and time, I would never be able to keep up the focus to swim that hard for soo long.

An example is swimming 75m hard/75easy x 2. Then I just put my tempo trainer to beep each 1:00 min and go hard until the sound of the beep, swim easily until the next beep before repeating the process. Swimming the very mentally (and physically) challenging 1500m MAD set the tempo trainer was a huge help, even it the only thing it did was giving a beep each 1:00 min. I knew it took roughly 4 min to cross the “pool” and I held the effort hard until the first beep and then continued the hard effort until the next beep, and then I was halfway and only needed to push hard for another beep before I had the last minute remaining. Then I did the same mind game 5 times. It is obviously a way to trick your brain to have reachable goals. For me it was a tremendous help to keep my focus and work on what I should work on, swimming hard with a good technique.

This was my 300m pool – a very nice pool but hard how far you have gone and how long you got left.
We had a lot of nice swimming experiences together this summer, and for the first time I combined it with really good quality as well.
If you live in Oslo and want the best of two worlds I cannot recommend the 50m outdoor pool at Sørenga enough. It gives you a clear reference in regard to distance but not a clear reference in regard to the sighting. That means that you have to learn to swim straight. The need of a wetsuit is a bonus and the bouys outside of the pool is perfect to practice sighting. Note that I recommend using neoprene sock no matter how warm it is to avoid cutting your feet on the shell that crows on the wall.

While I also have a lot of tips to improve your OW swimming skills when swimming outside, and how to improve your OW swimming skills in the pool those will have to be subject for another blog posts.

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

Én kommentar til “Improving the quality of your open water swims

  1. According to my swimming experience, Finis TT is a good product, but a little big and single function. I use COUNTU Tempo as my daily swimming metronome, which is easy to use, smaller and can work as timer and lap counter also.

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