3 Keys Points for a Successful Open Water Swim



I know, it’s been a rough winter and the water is COLD but NOW is the time to build your swimming foundation so you are ready for spring, summer and fall racing.  Here are three things you should focus on in your training for successful racing: Technique, Pacing and Consistency.  


Technique -  Proper body position is key to an efficient stroke.  Why wouldn’t you want to go faster and further with less strokes?  Below are key phrases to focus on how to keep your hips up, body balanced and be more efficient in the water.


  • Swim Down Hill – Visualize you are swimming downhill when you swim, this can be achieved by pushing your chest down. This will help elevate your hips and legs.

  • Eyes Looking Down -   Your eyes should be looking down when your face is in the water.  The water should be hitting you on the top of your forehead.  If you are seeing your hands when swimming then you need to adjust your head position.

  • Fingers Facing Down  -Your finger tips should always be facing down towards the bottom of the pool or any other body of water.  This is the most efficient pulling pattern.  If your fingers are pointing out, in or your hand is crossing the centerline of your body you are inefficient and are risking injury.  

  • Coaching – Even if you typically swim by yourself,  it is good to get some coaching periodically to ensure your form is correct and you haven’t developed any bad habits accidentally.


Pacing : It doesn’t do you much benefit to swim fast with poor technique, this reinforces incorrect muscle memory and ultimately ends up with a slow and sloppy stroke that uses too much of your energy.  The key to swimming faster and more efficiently is the ability to have speed AND proper technique.    

  • Test Sets – Test sets are utilized to a) determine your baseline pace at proper technique and b) gauge the progress of your training.  A good pool test set may be 10 x 100’s with an interval that gives you approximately :15-:20R and allows for you to focus on form.  It is important to focus on form first during your test.

  • Descend Swim – Learning to control your speed and energy is important during racing – doing sets working on descending your effort and times can help you with this skill.  Descending can be incorporated into your test set where you swim 10 x 100 holding pace for 1-5 and descending 6-10 at the fastest possible interval with proper form.

  • Variable Swims – Oftentimes in open water races you have to sprint in the beginning of the race to get your position, fall into your pace for the majority of the swim and then sprint to the finish.  Variable swims get you comfortable with playing with you speed and learning to relax and bring your heart rate down after you sprint .  Sample test sets could be 15 x 100 -   1-3 FAST @ :15 rest, 4-12 @ Test Set Pace/Interval and 13-15 FAST @ :30R.


You need to be able to swim a 1000m to 1500m set maintaining good technique while holding or descending your swimming pace.  When you can do this you know you have begun to build a solid swimming foundation.  


Consistency - How do you build this foundation, simple, swim?   Be consistent; try to swim two to three times a week to build that solid swimming foundation.   Swimming is a very unforgiving sport – it takes months to get in shape and only weeks to get out of shape.

  • 10,000 hour rule – This rule definitely applies to swimming. The more you swim the better you will get, you will not only get in shape but you will improve your “feel” for the water

  • Get in the pool - Open water swimming and racing is different from pool swimming but you will become a better open water swimmer in the pool.  Most of your workout time should be in the pool

    • Stable Water Conditions: The ability to focus on improving your technique, speed and endurance is much greater in the pool workout as you will not have to focus on fighting waves and sighting.

    • Mix it Up: Pool swimming allows for you incorporate mixing strokes, kicking, pulling, using bands and other resistance devices to improve your strength and technique.  Swimming only freestyle can make your stroke stale – keep your muscles and mind challenged.


For more information on tools to be a successful open water/triathlon swimmer and racer check out Santa Barbara Multisplash at https://www.sbmultisplash.net/

We offer an array of  coached pool workouts, ocean workouts, ocean races, beginner open water classes, strength workouts and camps to help  take you to the next level.   Check out Santa Barbara Multisplash swimmer Ben Brewer winning the Semana Nautica One Mile Ocean Swim.


Mark Stori