Can You Swim Straight?

I remember my first open water swim race pretty well, mostly for the fact I was in the only one in a Speedo. While waiting on the beach I was wondering why everyone else was wearing wetsuits; I realized shortly after the gun went off.... COLD... But the other thing I was completely unprepared for was swimming straight. No black line to tell you where to go!?!

Let's first determine if this is a problem, imagine if you swim a 2000m race, and by the end your watch says you swam 2200m (a little high but not uncommon in my coaching experience) how much time are you adding? At 2:00/100m pace puts you at an additional 4:00 plus probably another 1:00 of figuring out where you are. So 5:00 additional minutes in what should have been a 40:00 race is now a 45:00 result. Its a BIG deal!

How to test for it? Best place is in a lake with a partner. Have one partner swim out about 25 strokes, then the other swimmer closes their eyes and attempts to swim to the first partner without sighting or opening their eyes for 20 strokes to avoid running into each other. Then just see how close you are. On a calm day you should be aligned with your partner.

What causes you to swim off alignment? In my opinion there are couple of problem areas.

  1. Breathing Balance - When you breath, we often use our extended hand to balance our bodies rather than pull ourselves forward. This means two things, one our head position, posture and body position are probably all failing to some degree additionally one side of our pull will be stronger than the other. This is intensified if the athlete breaths on one side only. 
  2. Asymmetrical Pull - Using our hands to balance the body or pulling with different patterns with each hand, will cause each pull to have a different component of pull directed side ways rather than back, changing the body's alignment. 
  3. Crossover or Head Movement - Any motion that is away from the rotational axis causes a reaction through the body, closing the shoulder off and crossing the recovering hand over the center line will shift our body one direction. Lifting the head or moving the head during a breath or pull will again cause the body to switch directions.

How to fix it?

  1. Sight Often - Sighting before you are off line allows you to adjust your direction before its a problem, ball park is every 10 strokes. The best advice is try to keep your sight within the natural rhythm of the stroke and minimize the amount of movements you need to do.
  2. Balance Drills - The focus on posture, breathing alignment and rotational balance are often forgotten, there is so much emphasis on meters and pull with paddles without developing the base skills first.

Reminder to send us some videos of you swimming and let us help you!

Mike