Practice Sighting in the Pool for Long-Distance Triathlons

In order to become a more efficient open water swimmer, one of the major elements for success is to be capable of sighting. Sighting is the act of picking your head up enough to be certain you are swimming in a straight line toward your destination. You want to be swimming in that line as fast as possible.

Of course there are no black lines painted on the bottom of your local lake or the ocean floor. If you keep your head down too long, you risk swimming off course and adding more distance to your swim. If you lift your head too often, it can significantly slow your pace. To find the happy medium between lifting your head too often and not enough, you need to practice.

Many triathletes work on sighting skills during open water swim sessions; but few work on this skill in the pool. Some athletes don't work on the skill at all—I think this is a mistake.

It is important to work on building the technique and muscular strength in the pool if you plan on sighting efficiently on race day. Below is one workout intended to help you improve, or at minimum maintain speed, while using the least amount of energy possible. (Yards and meters can be used interchangeably.)

Warm-Up Set

300-1,000 swim, your choice of strokes (you can mix them up)
6 x 50 (25 kick, 25 drill) on a send-off time that gives you about 15 seconds rest after each 50 (This set is optional.)

Swim three times through the set below. Swim on a send-off that gives you an average of 5 to 10 seconds rest after each 25.

  • 4 x 25 - each 25 faster than the previous one
  • 2 x 25 - 12.5 fast, 12.5 easy
  • 1 x 25 - fast
  • 1 x 25 - easy, good form

Main Set

If possible, swim where you can easily see the timing clock when you breathe normally.

4 x 500:

  1. Swim at an aerobic pace that you consider easy to hold for 1.2 or 2.4 miles. Watch your pace per 100 on the clock. Rest 30 to 60 seconds.
  2. During the 500, do your sighting maneuver every fourth 25. Watch your pace per 100 on the clock. Rest 30 to 60 seconds.
  3. Swim without sighting—your normal pool stroke. Watch your pace on the clock. Rest 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. During the 500, do your sighting maneuver every fourth 25. Watch your pace per 100 on the clock.

Cool Down

Swim an easy 200 to 500

Total = 2,800 to 4,100

When you are doing the main set, it is important to take a look at what sighting does to your pace. Can you change the timing or technique of your sighting during the stroke cycle and make a difference in speed? Do this workout every few weeks to see if you can improve your pace while sighting.

In the weeks before race season begins and in the heat of race season, practice sighting during some portion of your warm-up or cool down routine at least once per week. Doing this simple drill may have you swimming faster while using less energy on race day. You may also find that you have less neck and upper-back soreness after races.


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

Related Articles:

Lessons From the World's Best Swimmers: Part I

Lessons From the World's Best Swimmers: Part II

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