Open Water News

I swim a lot … but I’m not getting faster …?

Ten tips to beat The Swimmer’s Plateau

Do you swim a lot but have stopped improving? You’re no longer getting faster?

This is a common issue for swimmers of all levels of ability – learners, people who are training for an event and elite competitive swimmer – and is called The Plateau.

Even elite swimmers can hit The Plateau and despite training for hours each day, they are not recording faster times, sometimes they are even getting slower times than they have done in the past.

The solution is not training more. The solution is to train differently, even just small changes can bust The Plateau and get you improving again.

If you aren’t getting fast anymore, despite lots of swimming metres and hours, think about these ten tips to beat The Plateau:

  1. Make sure you are having fun: Swimming is fun, that’s just science. Swimming only works if you’re having fun. Moving fast through the water, diving in, feeling strong in the water. These are all 100% enjoyable. If you have hit The Plateau go back to doing the stuff that drew you to the water in the first place and have a bit of fun every time you dive in. Don’t get out of the water if you’re not smiling and feeling amazing.
  2. Ask someone to watch you: A coach or an experienced swimmer may be able to see something small that you can improve to help you through The Plateau. You might be making a small mistake, every stroke that is keeping you from improving. The trick then is to act on the advice and feel the difference.
  3. Change things: Change the way you train. Go to a different venue. Complete a different set of reps. Swim for longer reps, or shorter sprints. Do more backstroke, breaststroke or some stroke that you rarely use.
  4. Be Patient: Think positively and stay conscious and in charge of your body every single stroke. If you are just going through the motions, you are not maximising your potential to swim well and swim effectively. Every single movement of every part of your body is important. Feel your way through and stay attuned to how your body is moving through the water.
  5. Go to the physio: If you have aches and pains and niggling little shoulder injuries, go and get help, get a massage, get fixed up. Little aches and pains might disappear from your conscious mind when you’re swimming but they don’t go away and could be impacting on how you move.
  6. Do some dryland training: Change things up a bit and move your body in different ways. This can help you get out of the rut and break through The Plateau. Go running, cycling or head to the gym.
  7. Use some swim gear – Fins (flippers, paddles, snorkel) to get you moving differently and using your systems more effectively. What is really happening is you are focussed and making more of an effort with specific muscle systems.
  8. Just do sprints – Do some sessions of short sharp superfast sprinting. Maybe you have adjusted t the hard endurance training and the long-distance reps. Break through The Plateau by just going flat out.
  9. Swim with friends: Ask a friend to come train with you or find a group to swim with. Sometimes we hit The Plateau because we have made our swimming a isolated, lonely activity. Make it a social exercise and don’t be concerned if you are not as fast as other people.
  10. Take a rest: have a rest week away from the pool or the open water and get recharged and reenergised. Maybe you’ve been pushing it too hard. During your week off, do plenty of stretching and other activities.
Photo by Jennifer Polanco on Pexels.com

Living, and swimming, with MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

By Belinda Rogers

I have been living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 20 years now and although it has been life changing, I’ve made sure it hasn’t been life destroying.

My life is happy and active, even though I am now a full-time wheelchair user. I find it is less the MS that restricts me and more the obstacles that our society throws in my way that makes my life difficult. With the right equipment and support and true accessibility in our communities there is very little that I can’t do and enjoy.

And this is where MS Australia does so much excellent work in supporting people living with the disease, their carers and supporters, and in doing amazing research into the disease. Without MS working tirelessly on our behalf educating and advocating for us, life would be much harder for me and all the many others living with MS.

LINK: What is MS?


I love swimming and heading to the beach for the day. With more and more beaches rolling out accessible wheelchair beach matting and having beach wheelchairs available for use, this is easier and easier for me to do.

Accessible Beaches Australia has a directory of beaches near you that wheelchair users and people living with mobility challenges can access.

With the right wheelchair I can go bushwalking and spend the day out and about exploring with my dog. I have a wheelchair modified vehicle so I can retain my independence and make the most of going to new places.

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com


Just before Covid hit I was fortunate enough to win one of the MS Go For Gold Scholarships which enabled me to achieve a long held dream and do a self drive holiday for a month through the UK. And it was through the generosity of sponsors of the MS Mega Swim, amongst other fund raisers, that the Scholarship is made possible to so many of us each year.

MS hasn’t ruined my life, but it isn’t all adventures and excitement either. There are many days when I am laid low by crippling fatigue and pain, unable to move because of agonising muscle spasms or even unable to eat because of lancing facial nerve pain.

And there are the indignities of bladder problems as well to deal with. But again, MS Australia is invaluable in the support they offer with their MS Connect phone service. Any time you ring, you’re able to speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate person to guide you through the tougher times.

The MS Employment team is also available with excellent advice to help you navigate your rights at work and to help you keep working as long as you want to. I worked continuously from the time of diagnosis until retirement a couple of months ago.

Without the organisation behind me, the last twenty years would have been so much harder. But with MS working in partnership with me on my journey,  living with the disease has been less devastating than it could have been.

Please, consider making a small (or not so small) donation to our MS Mega Swim fundraiser. Our club, Melbourne Open Water Swimming Club, is participating in the MS Mega Swim 18-19 February 2022 to raise $$ and awareness to assist people like Belinda who are living with MS.

Click through to our MS Mega Swim page and give a little so people with MS can fully participate in activities many people take for granted…

Swimming – It’s a brain exercise

Sometimes swimming can make me feel really dumb. We think swimming is a great physical exercise and will make us really fit, right? But yes and no to that idea….

Because only people who can do it fairly well can get fit from swimming. The rest can’t get their breathing and rhythm together long enough to get fit.

Freestyle swimming (and the other strokes) is a brain exercise, a mental puzzle that you FAIL if you don’t stay focused and consciously thinking all the time. 

The puzzle is that your body must be in the high floating buoyant position to start with – that’s takes skill and an experience of your own centre of buoyancy. Then you have to master your breathing. Then all your body’s limbs and levers have to do what you tell them, when they’re told and while you monitor how they are doing it and you must be able to adjust with small movements and modifications as necessary. 

Even experienced swimmers can fall into the trap of ‘going through the motions’ and not concentrating on what they are doing. That’s when they FAIL at swimming.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

You need to mentally solve the puzzle to make it work for you. So here’s some mental tricks – some questions to ask yourself – that will change the way you manage your own body when you’re swimming. Get back in charge by thinking your way through it. 

  1. Freestyle is not arm strokes 

You might have heard the freestyle swim style called ‘overarm’ or ‘crawl.’ 

Stop thinking of freestyle as a cycle of arms – stroke after arm stroke. Just think about the stretch forward. Think about freestyle as just a stretch and pull. Forget about strokes and think stretch forward while you pull back with the other arm. 

Look forward to that reach forward because this is the fun gliding part of swimming freestyle, the rest is work. If you think of freestyle as an endless process of one arm stroke then next arm stroke etc you risk losing focus. Then you will run out breath for sure. 

  1. You don’t need air 

Breathing is important but try forgetting about it and you’ll swim easier. Think of it as unimportant, even though. in distance freestyle, you actually need more air so you probably will inhale every stroke cycle – so every right arm or every left arm and that’s OK.

BUT you can’t let it dominate your thinking. You have be confident both in your ability to breathe and confident in your ability to go for a few seconds without breathing. 

So – focus on exhaling. Forget about inhaling. Get your exhale long, steady and in control, then your inhaling will largely look after itself. The best way to exhale is via a steady stream of small bubbles out of your nose. The best way to inhale while swimming is via a large, deep, quick breath in through your mouth. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  1. Breathing and bubbles.  

If you are losing your timing or losing your breath, choose one side to be your favoured side for breathing and stick to it. Then look at your hands and label one hand the hand you move when breathing and the other hand is the hand that is stroking while blow bubbles. One hand/arm for breathing and one for bubbles. Breathing and bubbles. When you’re getting anxious or really pushing yourself in a swim, you fall back to calling your hands Breathing and Bubbles. This reminds your brain that you are soon going to inhale and to stop worrying. 

  1. Kick or don’t kick, make up your mind. 

I’ve written about kicking a lot over the years and I’ve coached a lot of swimmers with a bad kick and plenty with great ability to kick. Good swimmers can either kick very well, probably from a childhood spent in swim squad, or they hardly kick at all. Bad swimmers always think they are kicking but are probably just wriggling their legs around or making a cycling type of motion. That means a lot of splashing and movement without getting much go-forward at all.  

Kicking is a cardio activity so use it sparingly or not at all if you want to conserve energy over a long distance. Don’t fool yourself, if you don’t have a good kick, stop moving your legs around. Can you actually stop kicking? Do you have control over your legs or are they just moving out of habit? 

  1. It’s your body, so take control. 

Can you order your arms to do what you want them to do? And when to do it? What about your legs? Really?

Many swimming drills, like catch-up, 1-arm freestyle and others, are mostly about making you, your brain, take control of your body, your legs, your arms. If you can’t do the full range of swimming drills and skill exercises you are not in full control of your body. Everyone is either left or right brained. Everyone is better at controlling and working on the right or the left side of their body. But in swimming everything has to be balanced. You have to be able do exactly the same movements with the same strength on both left and right side.  

That’s one part of it but there’s more. You have to be able to tell your body when to move and when not to move. Sounds easy right? Most people can’t do it. Swimmers can do it. A good swimmer’s arms and legs never fall into an automatic cycle of actions, they are always in active control. 

Did you know that your arms and legs don’t have their own brains? Yes it’s true, that’s just science so they can’t be trusted with ‘muscle memory’ to get the job done correctly every time without you in control. 

Do exercises like catch-up, fingerdrag and one-arm freestyle regularly as a way of telling your body that you are in charge.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How to train to swim fast – 13 tips that will make you faster

Speed and time is the traditional metric for measuring swimming ability.

Yes, it seems a bit arbitrary but then again, no, it’s not.

Sure, we all want to swim a long way in a relaxed and sustainable fashion and that is great but all that is easier and more obtainable if you have developed the technique to swim fast.

Speed through the water is mostly technique with fitness thrown in as a bonus, not the other way around like many other activities. 

Swimming as a sport and industry has come to appreciate long-distance swimming only in the last 20-odd years. But speed and times have always been number one. A fast swimmer can transition to distance swimming pretty readily. A slow swimmer can easily get in trouble in open water events. 

Anyway, now is the time of year for plenty of events, triathlons, races etc so how do you train to build your speed?

Photo by Jim De Ramos on Pexels.com

13 tips to swim faster 

  1. Go to the pool. Yes, we love swimming in the ocean but it’s not making you quicker. Laps of the pool make you quicker. Interval training makes you quicker.
  2. Train fast to get faster: Don’t train at 50% or even 90% max effort – you can’t get faster doing that. You have to train at 100% effort. You have to swim faster than you have swum before to increase your speed in the water. If you are not pushing yourself to top speed in training, you won’t be able to go fast in a race or event. This might mean you have to swim shorter distances – down to 25m at a go – to really ensure you are pushing yourself to maximum pace. 
  3. Quality of metres, not quantity of metres, is what counts if you want to increase your swim speed. Lots of kilometres, swum relatively slowly is the training you do if you want to swim slowly for a long distance. If you want to increase your speed, do this: swim fast, rest, then swim faster, rest again, repeat. If you want to swim fast for a long distance in the open water, you have to mix things up. Swim fast intervals a couple of times per week at the pool then do one long swim each week. 
  4. Relax to swim fast. All this info is not designed to stress you out. You can’t grit your teeth and pull hard through the water and get faster. Everything has to be fluid. Your technique has to be better than ever before if you want to travel through the water faster than ever before. The water is unforgiving of bad technique. The water loves you if you do things correctly.
  5. Be firm in your core, don’t wiggle and snake through the water. Reach out in front until your elbows are straight. Be long. Develop a feeling of reaching so far with your shoulders and back that you are stretching yourself longer and taller. Maintain a firm spot just under your belly button.
  6. Get narrow and straight. Like a streamlined torpedo. Legs close together. Arms coming straight through under the water and straight back through the air, close to your body. That means high elbows.
  7. Rock, don’t roll. When you reach forward, rock using your abs in your stomach. Your shoulder will move forward and your other shoulder will turn so it’s out of the water, allowing your recovering arm to cleanly get back to the front for the next stroke. Your hips though need to stay fairly stable, not rolling from side to side.
  8. Faster stroke rate? Yes. Shorter stroke length? No. The best way to tire yourself out is to take lots of strokes. Every stroke has to count and be worth the effort you’re making. Don’t give up on your stroke halfway – keep pushing until your thumb flicks past your hip or thigh. 
  9. Your kick has to be pretty good. Keep legs close together, pretty straight and toes pointy. Your legs can undermine all your upper body effort. A good kick can even give you some go-forward speed but the first consideration is to keep them up behind you, at the top of the water. 
  10. Fingers get wider apart – The faster you swim, the wider apart your fingers need to be. You have to be grabbing more water.
  11. Elbows need to be high, forearms vertical really early in your stroke and your hand has to get ‘behind’ your elbow asap.
  12. Breathing – Your head can’t lift up to breathe if you want to go quickly. You need to keep it low and have faith that your speed will make a bow wave and a pocket of air behind it with the top of your head – if your head is low when you breathe in. One goggle in the air and one goggle in the water is the key.
  13. When you start to get it – it all clicks, you rise up just slightly in the water, there’s a bow wave, you can feel the rush of the water and you are superhuman. The water loves you and you will want more of that, it’s addictive. Ian Thorpe said: “Swimming is my art.” This isn’t endorphins flowing from physical activity, recent science has debunked a lot of that anyway. This is a technical masterwork you have created yourself by being relaxed, in control of your physical self and able to spend serious energy without things falling apart. You’re a junky. Be proud.  
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Should I use swim training equipment like flippers, paddles, pull buoys, boards etc …?

You want to improve your swimming so should you use equipment to give your training a boost?

You use equipment like weights and bands and machines and gloves and all sorts of other things in other sports so what about swimming equipment? Does it really make you better?

The answer is Yes …. and No 😊 haha, you knew I was gonna say that.

If you want to improve, there’s one piece of equipment every swimmer NEEDS and that is a pool buoy (sometimes called a pull buoy).

Pool Buoy

You use it between your legs to focus on your strokes, where most of your go-forward comes from. Plus you can hold it in your hands as a kickboard as well.

A pool buoy raises you into the correct body position. Don’t kick when using it, not even a little bit. Cutting out kicking means you won’t get puffed out and you can focus on the strength element of swimming – the upper body movements, the arm strokes. Make each stroke count, make each arm stroke long and strong. Use the pool buoy regularly if you are serious about swimming.

Mostly it should go between your thighs, but for more advanced workouts place the buoy between your knees and even ankles for a really good strength workout.

Flippers / fins

These are more controversial because although they are very useful they can become a negative training tool – turning into a crutch or even making your kick worse.

Good swimmers need shorter fins

The best flippers/fins for swim training are short and relatively stiff, not long and bendy snorkelling flippers. The long flippers can lead to too much bending at the knees and that’s a negative when you take them off again. The long flippers can help with ankle flexibility for learners but the goal for good swimmers is a small strong kick so shorter fins are usually best.

Firstly flippers/fins can help ease the pounding your shoulders take when you swim regularly, so that’s a positive, particularly if you have sore/injured shoulders or muscles in your upper body.

Secondly, they increase your leg strength and endurance if you exert some kicking effort when using them.

Thirdly they help with ankle flexibility – and this is all-important. Focus on the down kick and use them until your ankles start to ache.

Overall, yeah, give them a go but don’t use them all the time and use them properly, don’t put them on just to swim fast without trying hard.

The other thing flippers/fins do for swimmers trying to improve is raise their speed and their body position, so everything feels right. This is fun and a good learning opportunity. This is the feeling you want when you don’t have flippers on your feet, so feel it, then work towards it, but don’t be fooled by it.

Kickboard

Yes, you need to do some kicking and you can use a board or your pool buoy to assist. You don’t need a flotation device to practice kicking but it can help.

There’s two ways to hold a kickboard. Hands at the top and hands at the bottom. When your hands are at the top (front) of the board, your head is up, looking forward. This means you have to bend (arch) your back more to keep your feet at the surface of the water.

When your hands are at the bottom of the board, you can put your head down, look at the bottom of the pool and get into the correct swimming body position. You can even take an arm stroke to breathe on the side.

Paddles

Hand paddles can be large or small, and come with straps or without. Paddles can help developing swimmers learn to catch and pull the water more efficiently.

Swim training paddles – without straps and with straps

Paddles can help good swimmers get stronger and use their swimming as a strength workout. I like the paddles that have NO straps because you have to use a correct technique or they will fall off.

The problem with swim training equipment

All swim equipment can be overused and can lead to us not having a clear idea of where our swimming is at.

In short, use all these toys, some of the time. But swim with no toys every time. So, you might put fins on for part of your workout sometimes, but never for all of your workout.

It’s easy to use fins/flippers too much. Beware of the strain they place on your knees and ankles and the false impression they leave you with about how fast you are.

I like to always use the pool buoy for a few hundred metres in the middle of my training sessions, but I never use it in the warm-up when I am stretching and not straining anything or the main set, when I am focusing on swimming at ‘race pace.’

Paddles are an occasional add-on to give me an extra workout.

The only equipment you REALLY need are goggles, towel and speedos. Have fun everyone.

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