Sight Like a Pro

In the open water, there are no lane lines and no line on the bottom (that we can see) so we need to lift our eyes forward to see if we are on course or not.  This is called sighting.  We want to pick our eyes up and see the point we are swimming for.  This point could be a buoy, a flag, a dock, a house, etc.  When choosing your sighting point, try to choose something that isn’t going to move but you could easily see.

How to Do It

There are two ways I like to do sighting when I am swimming freestyle.  The first is to lift your eyes above the water, turn your head to take your breath, and continue your stroke (EYES, BREATH, CONTINUE).  The other is to take your breath, turn your head forward to have your eyes look over the water in front of you, and then continue your stroke (BREATH, EYES, CONTINUE).  During both of these, you want to keep your core and glutes engaged (without arching your back) and don’t let your legs drop.

In most cases, I like to breathe first then sight and continue so I can make sure I’ve got that good breath but I have used the other way also.  You should try both ways and see which one works the best for you.  Of course, if you are swimming breaststroke or butterfly, you are sighting every time you take your breath so that is a bonus of the stroke itself.

What Not to Do

Do you remember when we talked about “Eliminating Drag in Your Freestyle Stroke”?  We found out that the higher you brought your head out of the water, the lower your legs wanted to sink so the more drag you created.  And now, I’m telling you to lift your eyes out of the water?  Yes, we want to have our eyes come out of the water to sight but not our whole head.  Keep as much of your face in the water while you are sighting as possible in order to minimize the drag component.

This is not what I want to see on sighting.  The swimmer’s head is fully out of the water and, even though we cannot see what is going on under the water, appears to be in a vertical position (or at least putting a lot of pressure on their back).



Here is a better example of sighting.  The swimmer is maintaining his horizontal position with just the eyes coming out of the water.  His power is still being propelled forward, through his sighting.



If you are swimming in the ocean or a choppy lake, you may need to bring your eyes up a bit more to see the sighting point but you can adjust that as you are swimming.  Just remember, we want to look for that next point: the buoy, the dock, the house, etc. but we want to do it quickly and efficiently and not have sighting take too much away from our stroke.

Of course, you’ll have to adjust your sighting for your particular needs and for race course conditions but start by playing with sighting in the pool:

  • Put some sighting sets into your workouts,
  • Look for a cone or a kickboard each time you sight, and
  • If you really want to have fun with it, have someone vary where the cone or the kickboard is placed each time you sight so you have to really look for it.

I like to hold up numbers for my swimmers while they sight and then have them repeat the numbers at the end.  This lets me know they got a good sight in and they really looked for the number instead of just moving their head.

How Often

One of the most common open water questions I get is “How often should I sight?”  Honestly, that is a personal preference based on how your swim is feeling that day.  Maybe you’ve swam the course before and you are very confident on it, sight less.  If your swim is spot on and every time you sight, you are exactly where you need to be, sight less.  If you are feeling out of control and you are not swimming straight, sight more.  If you start sighting and you realize every time you sight, you are off course, sight more.  There is really no magic number, just go with the flow and see how it feels.  You want to work down to the lowest number of sightings with the straightest and most confident swim you can do.

Trick of the Trade

The biggest secret to sighting is holding the image you just sighted on in your mind and then pointing your guiding arm to that point in your mind each time it extends into the glide.  Remember when we were learning to swim straight, we learned the recovery arm comes into the water and then extends out into the glide?  The sighting point is what your guiding arm is pointing at.  If you join the two points (the sighting image and the guiding arm) successfully, the next time you sight, you should be spot on the mark.  If you are off, adjust your guiding arms first and then perform your Head to Toe Assessment to see if anything else in your stroke is off.

The best part of this trick is that if you really get your guiding arm to stretch tall (without overextending) toward your mind image, you will also be reducing drag, engaging the core, and telling your body exactly where you want it to go in the water.  Just imagine, no more squiggly lines when you look at your swim results on your watch!

So, there you have it.  Now you know how to add effective sighting to your open water swim.  Go get ‘em, have fun, and let me know if I can help you in any way.  I can be reached at

Posted February 28, 2017