When it comes to swimming in a lake or the ocean, every women's triathlon swim training program should incorporate a few key elements; and if you're new to open water swimming, you'll need to do so on a regular basis. It's much more difficult than swimming in a pool, and you need to prepare properly. Like they say, it's not practice that makes perfect—it's perfect practice that makes perfect.
Also, open water training can enhance your pool skills. Open water swimming is to pool swimming what trail running is to road running. It's an opportunity to practice in the great outdoors and enjoy a challenge in a new and fun way.
Doggie Paddle, T-Shirts and Water Polo
What do these three things have in common? They all help women build the functional strength they need to swim in open water. Since women aren't quite as strong or as hulk-like in their upper bodies as men, these techniques help build the strength necessary to pull gracefully through the water.
In the pool, perform 5x100-yard swims as a warm-up. Alternate laps between the doggie paddle and the breast stroke. Then try swimming 200 yards—longer if you have the strength and stamina—with a T-shirt on. Swim another 200 yards without the T-shirt, and a third 200 yards with a T-shirt and paddles. Finally, perform four to five 25- or 50-yard water polo stroke swims (head-up swimming), and pretend you are staring straight at the next buoy in your open water race.
Incorporate Pull-Ups, resistance bands and physioballs into your workouts. These exercises and training tools help women develop upper-body strength, which will quickly improve their swimming technique. Perform Physioball Jackknifes to build core strength; Resistance Band Pull-Downs to build shoulder and lat strength; and Pull-Ups to improve swimming stroke power. If you can't do a Pull-Up, try Assisted Pull-Ups to start building strength.
Invest in a Wetsuit
Purchase or rent a wetsuit designed for swimming—not surfing. Swimming wetsuits offer excellent flotation. If you're fearful of the open water, it's comforting to know that once you're in a wetsuit, you could just lie on your back and float to the finish if need be.
Practice in Open Water
No black lines on the bottom, and no lane markers in sight. What spells freedom for some is scary to others. Your swim training should help you discover which camp you're in. Practice your head-up strokes, siting skills (just like in the pool) and, for extra fun, swim with four or five other people. Replicating the course or race experience is as much part of your practice as making the distance.
Tanya Maslach is the founder of GOTRIbal, an organization created to empower and connect women through the journey of endurance sport. Visit her blog at everydayfor60.wordpress.com.