Yes children can learn to swim in the sea

What is old is new again and there’s nothing older than kids learning to swim in the open water. For generations parents have taken their kids to the local pool for swimming lessons. Now the outside open air, the space, social distance and the healthy salt water are appealing to parents looking for swim lessons for their kids.

And the kids are loving it.

Children who learn to swim in the sea are not fazed by the smallest wave, seaweed or jellyfish. They learn to love the outdoors and be a just a bit more resilient to the challenges of the natural environment. Very soon, after just a few lessons, the kids are asking when can we go back to the beach for swimming?

Learning swim skills in the open water

Relaxing and enjoying yourself is the number one item on the learn to swim agenda. Swimming only really works when you aren’t freaking out, scared or panicking. So learning to love the beach and all the flora and fauna is important.

Human bodies float just a bit easier in the salt water so getting that all-important high horizontal body position is just a bit quicker for the children swimming in the sea. You have to be able to float before you can swim so this step is achieved faster in the ocean than in a pool.

Blowing bubbles under the water is the next step and this means learning to live with a bit of water occasionally getting in the nose and mouth. For kids who are sensitive to chemicals like chlorine this can be an issue. But the salt water is healthy and getting used to sea water in and around your face is important for water safety. If you fall off a boat or jetty, you want to be confident of being able to swim back, not in shock from the strange feeling of water on your face.

At Williamstown Beach we set up floating marker buoys for the kids to swim around, so we can do ‘laps’ just like at the pool.

In addition to freestyle we teach breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, survival backstroke, sidestroke, swimming under the water and treading water.

But more than that – in the sea we can teach straight swimming and group swimming more easily from the beginning, while kids are still developing their stroke technique. We also teach sighting, surfing, diving under waves and dealing with the chop and rough water. Kids learn about currents, rips, tides and sea creatures.

In just a few classes kids who have never before been comfortable in the open water are loving the whole experience and they are already showing signs of more resilience.

Even small kids learning the basics can do it in the sea. We are teaching kids as young as 6 in groups at the beach. These kids will enjoy the water for a lifetime. They are learning to love the great outdoors and be safe at the beach.

If you are interested in your kids learning to swim at the beach, follow this link to our booking page for information about our Junior Dolphins for under 10s and Junior Dolphins LEVEL UP for Over 10s groups.

How to swim in rough water

This post is five tips for swimming in rough water

by Coach of Open Water Swimmers Jason Bryce

You can swim in the pool but when you get to the sea, woah! It’s a different story. You look out from the beach and there are waves, it’s choppy, you can see the wind is pushing the water into currents and you wonder how you’re going to be able to deal with that. If you don’t think these things, then you’re in danger of being just way too overconfident and ignoring the reality of swimming in the sea.

It’s harder, challenging,  more of a workout, there’s risk – and it’s heaps more fun when you get confident.

First of all everything you learn about good freestyle and practice at the pool is tested in the open water but everything you learn about freestyle has to be put into practice in the sea.

When the water is moving around and the waves are crashing into your face, yes things are going to be messy but the more you can keep your technique tight, the better, faster and easier things will be.

Here are five things to work on to make open water swimming in the rough water a bit more manageable:

9am OWS Skills group
  1. Some stretching before you dive in is advisable because you may have to deal with forces that push and pull you around in ways that you don’t normally deal with. You’re going to be arching your back more than usual to see where you’re going and you may have to lift your head higher to breathe in, so stretch your back and move your neck around a bit. Your elbows need to higher in the rough water to clear the waves, so stretch those arms behind your back or hold your elbow behind your head.
  2. You need a higher stroke rate than normal. And you need to kick more than you might otherwise in smooth calm conditions. An you have to make sure that you never, ever stop kicking. You have to keep moving forward and in charge of your own direction. Keep your speed up and don’t settle for bobbing around in the water like a cork because that means a loss of control and could make you a bit seasick as well. So yes, when you start an open water swim in rough conditions you know you are going to be getting more of a workout and you’ll be using more energy.
  3. Focus on your technique and trying to do everything (as much as possible) correctly. Sometimes swimmers say things like: “You just have to crash and bash your way through.” But that is understating what they themselves are doing. They are staying strong in their core and maintaining a stable platform for their levers to operate effectively. Yes sometimes you will crash through a wave and sometimes the wave will roll over you completely but whatever happens you have to remain long, straight and ready to start your next stroke and keep kicking. Keep your legs close together while kicking, don’t do big kicks, keep them relatively small and fast. Hold your body as still as possible. The idea is to cut through the water, the chop and the waves, not get thrown around by them. So that means a you need a nice tight straight body position, not a loose core that’s not supporting your arm movements and kick.
  4. Each arm stroke needs to enter the water with intent. Your arm recovery (when it is in the air moving back to the front) has to be quick, real quick. Spear your fingers in first, followed by your arm and grab the water nice and high, way out in front of you. A faster stroke rate doesn’t mean missing out on a powerful catch at the start of every stroke. This is the most important part of the freestyle. You need to be powerful at the front of every freestyle arm stroke, Push forward with hand after entering the water then use plenty of effort to grab the water with your wrist, hold your elbow high and pull through with real muscle strength from biceps, back, shoulders and triceps.
  5. Breathe in more often, even every arm stroke. You don’t want to be worried about your breathing and you don’t want to left with no air so breathe more often. You can make this part of a really strong freestyle if you focus on pulling hard and straight with the arm that strokes while your head is down. As long as you keep things even, balanced and straight,  this galloping style of freestyle can work for you in the sea.

How to train for open water swimming events

How do you train for an open water swimming event or the swim leg of a triathlon?

There is a lot of similarities in training for open water swimming and training for distance freestyle like 800m or 1500m events but, of course, we are adding on the challenges of the ocean or a lake. 

So first, you need to take it seriously (and still have fun taking it seriously).

That means you go for a swim, in the pool or open water, no less than three times per week. And you should be working up to swimming at least 2km each time you swim. And that’s 2km of quality swimming, pushing yourself and raising your heartbeat. If your heart rate is not elevated, you are not training, you’re just moving your body (which is good) but you’re not getting much stronger, fitter and ready for a big event.

Second: Training for distance doesn’t mean just going for a long swim. Do intervals of fast swimming as well as a long weekly swim. A good schedule might be two hard training sessions plus one long swim per week (minimum). And of course this is a minimum, the more swimming you do the better.

Here is a sample pool training program for distance freestyle and open water swimming:


Warm Up – 20 secs rest between reps

400m slow mixed
3 x 100m fly / back / 50 free
50m breast
3 x 100m fly / breast / 50 free
50m back

Skills

Pool buoy: 2 x 200m pull FAST (thighs) 20 sec rest
100m kick – free kick / back kick  
200m 1-arm backstroke / 1-arm freestyle  

Main Set

6 x 100m free @ 1.55
             

Cool Down

8 x 25m @ 45 sec
200m SLOW
 

What are the differences between open water freestyle and pool freestyle?

Now you’re doing all that, you can start thinking about what open water freestyle is about. It’s different to sprint freestyle for the pool. You could be doing thousands of strokes in a distance event so your technique is much more important.

A small inefficiency will be repeated thousands of times, so great distance swimmers are often the swimmers that get everything right. Here are the main elements to a good distance freestyle technique for the open water:

  1. Use a slightly higher arm recovery when swimming long distance and in the open water. Stretch out at the front and catch the water. Get your forearm vertical as soon as possible.
  2. Maintain a long, straight body position and use long strokes. In distance freestyle, minimise the number of strokes, longer the better. Measure your SWOLF (Swimming Golf) score which is your time in seconds plus your strokes over a set distance – lower the SWOLF score the better.
  3. Keep a high elbow position when swimming. That includes during the pull (under the water) and the recovery (out of the water).
  4. Use a two-beat kick for long-distance swimming. Fast kicking is not needed and tires you out. Two beat kick means two kicks per stroke cycle. Don’t worry too much about counting kicks, just slow it down and don’t too many.
  5. Learn correct breathing technique. Keep head low, don’t turn from neck, turn from abs. Hold yourself up with your front hand. You need to breathe more in the open water and distance freestyle events so get it right. Keep your head low even when inhaling.
  6. Maintain a neutral (straight and low) head position. This is important. Your head is heavy. Keep it low and your neck and spine straight.
  7. Keep fingers slightly open and hands relaxed. Tension will wear you out and you won’t last to the finish.
  8. Practice sighting – Lift your head slightly and look forward while you are still exhaling and before you turn to breathe in. This is very important – Look BEFORE you breathe in, while you are still exhaling bubbles from your nose (mainly). Don’t lift your head to look around and breathe in at the same time.
  9. Practice swimming straight – When your arm enters the water it needs to stretch and point to where you are going, then come back in a straight line until your thumb flicks your thigh or hip upon exiting the water. Do not do an S-shaped stroke under the water – this will send you off in the wrong direction.
  10. Get acclimatised to the water you will be swimming in. Ocean water is often colder than the pool so get used to the colder water temperatures, even if that means just taking a cold shower in the morning.
  11. Swim with a buddy or in a group and practice drafting behind or next to another swimmer. If you can position yourself behind the feet of a swimmer or next to their hips, you are inside their bow wave and will benefit from their wake of moving water that trails behind them.

When swimming long distances, every stroke needs to keep your momentum up and not be a wasted effort. Here is a great video of Mack Horton recording one of the fastest 1500m ever swum. Every stroke is long, powerful and deliberate. He is thinking his way through the race. From the surface, he looks slow, but under the water you can see how his technique is catching a lot of water and pulling it a long way. He doesn’t need to raise his head when breathing, he knows there is a pocket of air behind his bow wave.

Breathing for open water swimming:

Many distance swimmers breathe every stroke. They get into a rhythm and use their front arm to hold them up as they inhale. In the open water you need to inhale more often than you might in the pool. 

HOWEVER: When training you still need to use bilateral breathing and spread out your breathing-in to one every three or four strokes, at least some of the time. This helps you develop a balanced stroke and manage your breathing so you have an easy, long exhale. 

Come for a Pier to Pub training sesh or record a Virtual Pier to Pub time with us at Williamstown on 3rd January. Book here by selecting the 10am 3rd Jan Swim Around the Poles group.

Check out the Open Water Swim Calendar for Victoria.

Temperature guide for cold water swimming

Want to have a go at open water swimming? Check out this temperature guide.

Spoiler alert: You can do it. You can acclimatise to the cold water, with wetsuit or without. Soon the pool will be too warm for you and your body will be thanking you for having a go.

Right now, Port Phillip Bay is about 12-13C in the water.

Here’s a typical timeline of a cold water swim at this temp:

* 1 minute: Walk in slowly, thinking: “No I can’t do this.”

* 5 minutes: Standing in waist deep water, thinking: “I def can’t do this. Can I turn around and get out without being noticed?”

* 8 minutes: Dive in, start to swim: “OMG, how do I breathe?”

* 10 minutes: Just start to breathe normally (sort of).

* 15 minutes: “I think I’m doing it.”

* 20 minutes: “I feel amazing and I’m not really all that cold. haha.”

* 25 minutes: “I’m awesome and I’m feeling things and bits I haven’t felt for so long.”

* 35 minutes: “OK now I’m starting to feel cold again.”

* 40-45 minutes: Getting out – “No I don’t want to get out, let’s do it again.”

* 10 minutes after getting out: “Yeah I’m cold, where is my thermos? My jumper? My ugg boots? How do I dress myself again?”

* Rest of day: “You can’t tell me nothing, I swam in the cold ocean today.”

Before you leave home, check the weather conditions and the water temperature. It’s easy to google the water temperature for your local area. You can look up Seatemperature.org or bom.gov.au for your local ocean water temperatures.

Any temperatures below about 18 C is cold water swimming.

This Guide to Safe Cold Water Swimming gives you a general picture of what to expect at low temperatures and some safety tips.

And here is a quick temperature guide to swimming in the sea:

Cold water swimming temperatures in centigrade/Celsius:

  • Mid 20s degrees: warm enough for everyone
  • 22C: Warm in Victoria, but a bit nippy for northerners from NSW and Queensland!
  • 20C: You might like a wetsuit for longer swims but not necessary.
  • 18C: Time for a wetsuit unless your swim time is quite short. FINA and Swimming Australia say wetsuits (not swim-suits) are mandatory in OWS events under 18 degrees.
  • 16C: FINA and Swimming Australia rules say no event can be held in water under 16 degrees.
  • 15.5C: This is really cold and you will need time to recover from swimming in water of this temperature. You can’t leave the water and expect to be able to drive a car, for example. Swimmers who want to qualify for an English Channel attempt must swim for two hours, without wetsuit in water that is 15.5C or less.
  • 10C: This is cold for everyone, including those who do cold water swimming every day. Limit swims to 45 minutes and don’t attempt without a wetsuit at very least.
  • 8C: Do not enter the water for more than a very short period of time – max 30 minutes – for the most experienced swimmers.
  • 5C: This is called Ice swimming. Please seek medical advice.

cold water swimming temperature guide infographic

What about swimming in rivers and lakes?

Freshwater is often colder than the sea so approach rivers and lakes with care. Plus freshwater doesn’t have the same buoyancy as salt water so swimming can be a bit more tiring. The sea water keeps you afloat more easily than water in the pool or freshwater in rivers and lakes.

Safety in the open water:

The golden rules from Lifesaving Australia are:

  • Swim in a group, never swim alone
  • Don’t stray far from shore
  • Shorten your swim time in winter.

Also: A thermos of hot tea is your best friend. You will get colder when you get out of cool water so what you do after a swim is very important. The warm summer months are ok. You can hang around in the sun and get dry quickly. If it is a cool day, you need to get out of your wet gear, get warm and monitor yourself.

Weekly pool training guide for swimmers

Breaking news: You have to train to improve.

You want to get better, fitter, stronger right? You want to swim further, more confidently and not lose your breath after a short distance right?

You need to take your coach with you to the pool, at least once per week …

Sure you can go to the pool and swim 100 laps, good onya – you have done some aerobic exercise – and you will feel great afterwards but you won’t be improving, getting stronger, fitter and more capable of amazing swim achievements.

Even if your goal is simply to be more confident and swim for a couple of easy relaxed kilometres in the open water, the training guide will help you and it is just $5.50/week, no contracts/commitments, no BS, no fine print.

I also cover some pretty D&M swimming issues in this email, so well worth the price of a Regular Soy Macchiato ($5.50). 

WOW Pool Sesh comes in Lane 1 or Lane 2 versions plus an email with the latest deep and meaningful swim issues for you to contemplate.

The real key is to improving and getting stronger in swimming is anaerobic training that uses sugar stored in your muscles because the aerobic system is overwhelmed.

You do that with High Intensity Interval Training only, there’s no other way to do it. You need time limited fast reps, like these WOW Pool sessions. 

Maybe you have seen people at your local pool with a printed training program in a plastic sleeve – and aren’t they just awesome swimmers?! They are probably one of the many smarty pants who subscribe to my weekly WOW Pool Sesh email which arrives in your inbox on Monday afternoon. 

Actually they might not be TOTALLY awesome – yet – because there are two WOW Pool training guides, a Lane 1 version and Lane 2 for developing swimmers.

So whatever level you are at, click on the blue button, send me an email, message me or grab me by the collar and talk to me about subscribing to the WOW Pool Sesh weekly training guide.

Get in touch with me to find out more and subscribe to the WOW Pool Sesh weekly email.

jason@williamstownopenwaterswimcoaching.com.au

Learn to swim easy, relaxed freestyle with coaching and stroke correction

Anyone can learn to swim, at any age and starting from any level of ability. You can’t do it by yourself however. plenty have tried and this is a sure-fire way to to fail and feel like you can’t do it. You need an experienced teacher or coach to guide you through the steps to easy, relaxed swimming.

Swimmers who can swim freestyle easily and in a relaxed way for many laps, even many kilometres in the ocean or pool, have not achieved this by themselves. They have been taught, probably from a young age, by coaches and teachers. They have trained to achieve a good feel for the water, an high body position and an efficient stroke.

Good swimmers are not necessarily the fittest people in the world, but swimming can make you very fit indeed. A person who has learnt how to swim properly can keep that knowledge and skill for life and swim easy, relaxed freestyle whenever they jump in the water.

Step One is learning to breathe like a swimmer. This is very different to how runners, cyclists or other athletes manage their intake of oxygen. A quick deep breath in, followed by a long slow exhale. You need to practice this skill and be shown how it is done and learnt. Many children learn this skill at children’s swim lessons without even knowing they are learning to breathe like a swimmer.

Step Two is learning how to manage your body position and keep afloat in the water. Not everyone can simply lie on top of the water without effort. It depends on your body, for example, most women find floating easier than most men. You need guidance how to do it and maintain your floating body near or at the top of the water.

Step Three is kicking. Your legs can be like anchors, weighing you down and slowing you down. Good kicking is not exhausting, but some kicking keeps your legs high and behind you as you travel through the water. If you are not doing it properly, you can sink and get tired very quickly.

Step Four is efficient strokes that catch the water and pull through in long straight lines that push you forward easily and allow you to breathe regularly and effectively.

If you are interested in learning to swim, improving your freestyle (and/or other strokes) and achieving an easy, relaxed technique, get in touch with Coach Jason or book in to swim lessons, squads or stroke improvement groups here.

Cold water swim group in Melbourne

From Saturday 1 May 2021, there is just one supported swim group at Williamstown Beach each week – the 9am Saturday Cool Water Winter Swim Group.

This is not a class or lesson, you set your own distance, pace and time in the water. I set up a 600-700m swim course in the no-boating zone and provide on-water support with a boardy or kayaker keeping an eye on you and the conditions around you.

The course will be a big square or triangle stretching from the shallows to the deep water around the yellow poles at Williamstown. You can swim the entire course any number of times or stick to the shallows.

Cold water winter swimming in Melbourne at Williamstown Beach

When you get out there will be hot tea and watermelon. Please BYO snacks for a picnic. You can’t leave and drive away straight after getting out of the cool water. There are warm showers nearby.

Why would anyone want to swim in the cool water?

Because this is an amazing experience that will make you healthier, happier and smarter! Seriously. The cold water improves your circulation, your immune system, gets blood flowing through your brain and boosts your endorphin production and mood. This thing is addictive.

And it’s particularly good for you if you are at an age where you are saying things like “age doesn’t matter, it’s just a number” and “I’m young at heart.” 

Here is my guide to cold water swimming from last year. There’s plenty of science about cold water swimming and articles to read about how good it is for you but yes there’s risk and you should not try it by yourself.

Also you nbeed to start early – in Autumn before the temperature gets too low and keep it up at least once per week in order to get acclimatised to the cold. Your body will change, your white fat will change to brown fat, you will possibly lose weight and you won’t need a jumper quite so often. You won’t be turning the heater on quite as much.

So this is the need-to-know information for our cold water swimming group:

1) Meet near carpark behind WSLSC by 8.45am
2) You can hire a wetsuit from me for $20 if you need one.
3) I also have booties, swim gloves and thermal caps.
4) Maximum swim time is 60 minutes at the moment because the water is 16 -17C and this time will be reduced to 45 minutes when the water is 12 -13 C.
5) For people not wearing a wetsuit, the maximum swim time is 45 minutes.
6) You can’t leave straight after swimming. You definitely can’t drive a car straight after swimming in cold water.
7) You can share my tea (BYO cup) and watermelon and/or bring some snacks for yourself or our picnic table.
8) Bring a warm towel (or two) or even a blanket, maybe a chair, but standing in the sun, or going for a run is the best way to get your body temp back towards normal.
9) I have thermal blankets if necessary, there are warm council showers if you feel like it.
10) You can tell your friends and family you have found a new healthy drug called cool water swimming, you’re getting addicted and you don’t need rehab…. 

MID WEEK RESET – SUNRISE SWIMMING

Inspired by a ABC TV News story about a group of “oddballs” in Perth  I decided to jump in the cool ocean water on Wednesday at sunrise. Why not? Can’t hurt and it might be a fun way to break up the working week. Which for me is largely sitting at a desk typing on a computer.

I half expected to be on my own this morning but there was no shortage of swimmers in the sea, even before the sun appeared. And yes this is a good swim, not a real long swim, but well worth the effort. I swam about 1.7km with couple of others. Most the other people who turned up to join me completed about 1km, while some jumped in for a relaxed 200m dash.

Thanks everyone who turned up to swim with me on my return to physical exercise and the water.

And thanks to Sheryl Crowe and The Beatles.

Mid week reset – sunrise swimming

Paul Benson’s beautiful photo (above) makes me want to run and jump in the water, so I’m starting a Wednesday mid-week reset swim at Williamstown Beach. I’ve been inspired by these oddballs (their description) from Perth who have found something awesome to recharge their personal batteries every Wednesday:

This is NOT a CLASS or a SQUAD.

This is just a simple ‘meet-up’ of like minded oddballs.

There’s no booking or money. People can swim 10 metres or 10,000 metres, it’s all up to you. I’m not providing coaching, a safety team, wetsuits, caps or anything. I’m having a go myself and inviting you to try this midweek reset thing with me.

Cool water is well known to improve your mood, once you get in and out again, and being a in a group makes it all better.

MEET: In carpark behind WSLSC at western end of Williamstown Beach.

TIME: 6.30AM

Invasion Day Swim and Bush Tucker Breakfast 26 January 2021

What better way to mark the Australia Day holiday (26 January 2021) than an Invasion Day swim and bush tucker breakfast, featuring johnny cakes, pancakes and vegan burgers.

We paid respect to the traditional owners and recognised the elders of country. We held a traditional smoking ceremony and then we jumped in the ocean! This was a great day out for everyone involved.