If you're one of the thousands of people who'll jump into the water this year to try your hand and legs at the growing sport of triathlon, the thought of open water swimming may loom large in your mind.
To help prepare for the transition to your local lake, reservoir, or ocean, noted swim coach Michael Collins offers these tips on helpful pool practice:
1. Close your eyes: Swim 8 to 10 strokes in the pool with your eyes closed, then sight above water. This will help you learn to swim straight without using the bottom of the pool as a guide.
2. Get off to a fast start: Practice a few sets of fast starts, followed by settling down to a more relaxed pace. This simulates the quick starts typically found in open water events as participants angle for position before settling in to their paces.
3. Dolphin it: Practice dolphin dives (pushing forward off the bottom in a series of short dives to propel yourself through shallow water) in a shallow pool to learn to get in and out of open water venues more quickly than running through the water. Make sure never to dive in from the side of the pool, but rather practice short dolphin dips from a standing position once in the shallow water.
4. See what you can see: Practice regular sight-breathing in the pool, lifting your head up to look forward in rhythm with your breathing. Start by looking up every eight strokes, eyeing a target past the end of the lane (a window, deck chair or small building will do) and gradually work up to more strokes between sight-checks. Sight-breathing in the pool also will help train the muscles you need to lift your head.
5. Be efficient: Make it a goal to lower your stroke count per lap in order to swim more efficiently. Try a clinic, workshop or lessons for some new perspective.
6. Put the rubber to the road: Try out a brand-new wetsuit in the pool before using it in open water. Even with a wetsuit you already own, wear it for a few pool practices before a race. The pool provides a safe and comfortable environment to adjust for the way the wetsuit changes your feel for the water and body position. However, check with the manufacturer first to make sure the chemicals in the pool won't deteriorate the wetsuit material.