One of the biggest issues open water swimmers have is developing the ability to swim straight. Without the sides of the pool or the line on the bottom, most swimmers get lost and lose track of where they are swimming. Truth is, we get spoiled by the lane lines in the pool and we don’t need to think about swimming straight. Think about your last swim, did you lose track of what you were doing and run into the lane line or the side of the pool? If so, you probably won’t swim straight in the open water without learning how your body guides you in the water.
To start thinking about how your body moves forward in the water, we first have to think about the parts of our body that tell our body where to go. In your horizontal position, your head and your lead arm are the body parts that are in the front. From now on, I want you to think of your lead arm as the part that is pointing your body to your goal. That goal can be as far away as a dock, a house, a buoy, or as close and simple as the other end of the pool. Every time your lead arm goes in and reaches to the extension of the glide, think of it pointing you to the current goal. Your lead arm has now become a guiding arm.
In open water, you want to use your sighting to see where your goal is and then hold that goal in your mind and point your lead arms to the goal you just sighted. As you point your arm, rotate your body, and stretch your whole body to the goal. When you sight again, get that same goal in your view and see how far off you are. Adjust your swim from there and point the lead arms, body, and rotation to the goal. If you are pulling to the right, check your right arm for the entry and the pull and make sure the left lead arm is not entering, crossing the midline, and pointing the body to the right. You can do the same adjustments for pulling to the left.
The other aspect to take into account when talking about swimming straight is the rotation. Yes, the rotation moves the body from side to side but you want to make sure the body is pushing the power it is generating forward toward your goal and not just moving it side to side. We will talk more about this topic when we discuss generating power.
Eyes Closed Drill
A great drill to do in the pool is an eyes closed swim. Please only attempt this drill if you have a lane to yourself or you and your lane partner can take turns starting and swimming the length of the pool. You should also know an average number of strokes you usually take to get to the other side of the pool. I prefer to do this drill with a catchup stroke so one hand is always above the head. That way, you won’t hit the wall with your head. Never attempt this drill when circle swimming.
For the eyes closed set, start right over the line on the bottom, get a set picture of the other side of the pool in your mind, close your eyes, aim your lead arm for the picture of the other side that is in your mind, and keep track of how many strokes you can do without hitting the lane lines. Don’t forget to keep track of your average number of strokes to get to the other side so you don’t bang into the side of the pool too hard.
If you are having trouble with your right arm crossing your midline, think of that arm pointing for 1:00 on the clock (where 12:00 is directly in front of your head). If you are still not in line with your shoulder, go to 2:00. Similarly with the left, you want to think of going to 11:00 or 10:00. The reason for this is that your body is used to crossing your midline so that is where it thinks your 12:00 is. By widening the arm, we correct to 12:00 and right in line with the shoulder.
When swimming, pay attention to each side and see if one side seems stronger than the other. If so, back off on the power for the strong side and work some single arm drills to get the weaker arm closer to the strong arm. Then you can slowly increase the strength on the strong side as the other side catches up. A good balanced stroke with guiding lead arms which pushes the power forward is the key to a straight swim.