We have collected some sample open water workouts from some of the best local open water swim coaches around. Check these out, and if one works for you, memorize the essentials of it, or print it off and bring it with you to the lake. You can even put it in a Ziploc bag, carry it inside a sleeve of your wetsuit, or attach it to a buoy!
#1: The Nick Rabinovitch workout
Title: Stroke Balance
Audience: Beginner through Advanced (all levels)
Total distance: 2-3 loops – or 1600-2400m
Intro: This is a great workout for beginners to help their stroke feel smoother, easier and more balanced. For advanced swimmers, this is away to return to some important fundamentals that will help with swimming straighter in open water where there are no lines or lane ropes as visual cues.
Balance comes from 3 major components – breathing, kick, and pull.
- Warm-up will focus on the breathing. In fact, all warm-ups in swimming should include a focus on breathing. Depending on your ability, do 250-800 (~1/3 to a full loop) front crawl breathing every 3 strokes.
- focus more on exhaling on strokes 1 & 2, than on inhaling on 3. This may feel like you are exhaling more than you are inhaling, but that perception is normal and good.
- Try to make the exhale relaxed while your face is in the water, almost like you are sighing. Do not purse your lips to blow out.
- Balance the amount of roll you do to either side. Breathing every 3 also forces you to breathe to both sides. Many people have a dominant side and roll more to that side. If you can, have someone watch you and provide feedback on whether your roll is balanced. Also, your shoulders should roll WITH your head when you breathe.
- After warm-up, is kick. Depending on ability, do 250-500 broken into 50s by the buoys of “kickstart” drill. Kickstart is when you start from the buoy with just streamlined kick, but bring in your normal pull after a short distance (~5m) and continue full stroke to the next buoy. Repeat this drill for each buoy over the distance. You should finish at the 500 buoy where you cut back across to the 0 buoy.
- Streamlined is hands straight out in front, focused on a flat, horizontal body position – legs NOT dragging down.
- Kick should be a tight, small but steady kick, with little knee bend.
- Pay attention to what your legs do when the arms begin. Kick should stay small and tight, and not open up to a wider kick.
- Pay attention to what your legs do when you breathe. Kick should stay small and tight, and not open up to a wider kick. Many people, especially runners, will scissor kick or wide-kick to balance their stroke when they turn to breathe. Their upper body is off balance and they use legs to counter-balance. This wide kick causes increased resistance and slows you down. Your kick should be streamlined at all times.
Note: Triathletes typically don’t need or want to use their kick much during the swim, and save their legs for the bike and run. This is fine, but they still benefit from keeping their legs streamlined and balanced. The kick can be very light, but still small and steady.
- Combine breathing and kick. Swim the 300m straight line from the 500 to the 0 buoy trying to combine elements of the first 2 sets. Think about your breathing – exhale on 1-2, inhale on 3 AND on keeping your kick small and steady.
- Pull – wide entry. Depending on ability, do 250-500 stopping and restarting every 50-100 (every buoy or every other buoy)
- Before you start from each buoy over the distance, look at the next buoy start by pointing the top of your head at that next buoy. Keep visualizing that next buoy as you swim and have your right arm enter the water just to the right of where you visualize the buoy and left arms enter just to the left of where you visualize the buoy. You will probably need to readjust your direction each time you sight (life your head and look).
- Many swimmers, experienced ones included, overreach on their entry. This means their right arm enters straight above or to the left of their head, and/or the left arm enters straight above or to the right of their head. This can cause a slight side-to-side motion when the overreach in even, or a drift to one side when it is uneven. Instead, your arms should enter directly above or slightly outside the shoulder, not your head.
- If you find that you consistently drift to the left, you are probably overreaching with your right arm, and need to enter wider with that arm. Conversely, drifting to the right probably means you overreach with your left. Adjust your entry as needed.
- As you get better at swimming straighter (more balanced) you can sight less often. Sighting can burn more energy and slow you down if done too often. However, making sure you swim straight is very important to efficiency. Sight as often as you need to swim straight. Working on your balance can reduce that need.
Optional advanced drill: Jedi swimming. This is basically just swimming with your eyes closed. The point is to take away the visual cues that let you correct any stroke imbalance you might have. Swim anywhere from 10-30m with your eyes closed straight toward a buoy. Stop and open your eyes. If you have drifted left, you probably overreach with your right and need to enter that arm wider. Or, if you drift right, it is the opposite. Repeat this drill as needed until you are swimming relatively straight. Be careful with this drill – avoid doing this when close to other swimmers or if there is debris in the water. Use your common sense.
- You should be at the 500m buoy again. Swim the last 300m trying to combine all 3 elements. In your mind, switch your focus between breathing, kick and pull. You may be only able to do one at a time, but as you practice, it will come more naturally until you can do all 3 at once.
#2: The Emily Epp Workouts
As a teenager, Emily Epp swam the English Channel solo in 2017.
Practice 1: Sighting Practice at Gyro (Beginner to Intermediate)
Sighting is a short lift of the head to get your eyes enough out of the water to see ahead of you. It should happen just as one of your arms extends fully forward over your head, and can be conveniently associated with a breath cycle.
Sighting too frequently can disrupt your body position and your swim speed, and can even make your neck sore. Sighting too infrequently can cause you to slow down and drift off course, increasing the distance you need to swim.
After a 300m warmup swim to the 0m buoy, you will practice sighting for each buoy of the loop, which are 50m apart.
- Swim through the first 2 buoys (marked 50m and 100m), sighting every 3 strokes.
Were you able to do this smoothly, without loss of swim speed? Did you stay fairly straight? Did you lift your eyes out of the water enough to see the next buoy? Were you able to sight equally well after a left-sided arm stroke and a right sided arm stroke?
- Swim through the next 2 buoys sighting every 6 strokes
Ask yourself the same questions. Were you still swimming straight or were your drifting off target significantly. Were you always drifting to the same side? If so, there may be a mechanical reason why. You may need some one-on-one swim coaching.
Finish the loop varying your sighting frequency, depending on how straight you are swimming. Practice sighting after both left and right sided arm strokes. Do a second loop for further practice exactly the same way if you feel you need the practice. And practice your sighting further with every open water swim.
- Practice sighting on a more distant object, such as a tree, a building, or a mountain peak or valley.
Sighting for more distant objects keeps you swimming straighter, especially if you cannot see a far shoreline or marker buoy that is hidden by waves or swells, darkness, bright sun, or fog. Where possible, try to see what distant sighting points are most helpful before you get into the water (you can usually see them much better when you are standing up and on land).
- Swim straight by using other cues
If you are unable to see straight in front of you due to excess glare, bright sunshine, or large swells, you can still chart a straight course using other cues. 1) Notice the sand ripples below you (if you are in shallow water)—they will tend to follow the contour of the shore. 2) Alternately, if the sun is very bright, notice where in your field of vision it is, and keep it there. For example, if the sun is in front of you, but slightly to your left, keep it there, and perhaps even notice if your shadow is staying consistently in the same place. And 3), if you are swimming in a pack of swimmers, consider the direction that most of them are going—chances are that it is where you need to go as well.
Practice 2: Endurance/ speed change (Beginner to Advanced)
Having the ability to shift gears in open water swimming is important, both to adapt to race conditions (such as trying to catch onto another swimmers’ draft or to deal with increasing waves and swells), and to improve endurance and fitness.Warm up
During an easy warm up swim of 300-800 meters, establish a regular breathing cadence and a reliable sighting pattern, locating the sun and any necessary sight points on land. If you are new to the Gyro Swim Loop, make a note of where the Loop buoys are—they should all be about 50 meters apart
After your warmup, return to the 0m buoy. Then swim at an easy pace to the first (50m) buoy, before accelerating a little harder to the second (100m) buoy, then sprint to the 3rd (150m) buoy. Then return to the easy cadence that you used initially. Repeat this all the way around the arc of the loop.
Were you able to keep your breathing under control in both the accelerative and the decelerative phases? And you were still able to sight sufficiently well and swim straight?
3) Build set
Finally, for an endurance challenge, once you’ve hit the flat side (swimming back from one end of the arc to the other (from the 500m buoy to the 0m buoy) parallel to the beach), build speed throughout the 300m distance.
Swim another loop, repeating the drill above, or just finish off with an easy loop as a cooldown, perhaps with one build segment to full sprint for 50 meters. Depending on what you are training for, you can always do another loop to solidify some of your learned skills. Have fun