Why is my Open Water speed not transferring to the Pool?
Many got back to us about the recent ‘Why is my Pool speed not transferring to Open Water’ article and felt they suffered from the opposite phenomenon. Always happy to oblige and point out what might be happening when you make these comparisons and how you might improve them or be less stressed by them. As always before you read too much into this please be sure you are comparing like for like. Are you really faster in Open Water? Did several of you/your teammates accurately measure your last race course/event, river or local lake facility and get a true and fair time for ‘x’ KM? Which then proved to be quicker than your best ‘x’ KM time trial in the pool? Was there a current involved which left you with a flattering result? Strong winds assisting?
I find a 100m in a wetsuit to be approximately 10secs quicker than not in a suit. I am consistently 7-8mins slower over 5km when racing in a swim suit (FINA approved Open Water suit, ankles to neck, textile) compared to a full wetsuit. But 100m of what exactly? We cannot just leave that there. If you were lucky enough to be in a 100m long pool this comparison, depending on the quality of your turns, would be quite different if in a 25m/yards pool with poor turns.
So, for the most part we are going to investigate as if we are in a non-wetsuit OW swim. Saltwater is also a consideration so again in the interest of fairness we should exclude that factor when making comparisons. Floating around drinking coffee in the balmy waters off of Dig Me beach in the run up to Kona can be quite surreal and should be considered when making comparisons between swim performances. So rather than equipment or environment, as best as possible we should just address stroke and mechanics as reasons for the discrepancy.
1 Tempo and turns– To be fair, pool based swimming training and racing is a whole lot more than just swimming now. For instance, the effectiveness of the legal 15m of underwater kick means that often different swimmers win the same events at World Champs in the different length pools used for racing. The 25m ‘short course’ best times are significantly quicker than the 50m best times. Someone with great turns beats the swimmer with average turns in the 25m pool but won’t in the 50m pool length given similar swim speeds. Turns are a huge part of any pool race. Without a fast turn, any swimmer will not be competitive in a race. Equally if your turns are not great then not turning is going to leave your swim velocity unchanged and so keep you swimming significantly faster in OW than in the pool. As mentioned if you could find a 100m long pool you might find your OW pace similar. Perfect your turn and add 15m of dolphin undulation technique and your pool pace will move ahead. Linked to this & probably the most important thing in terms of pure stroke mechanics in OW over the pool is that for most tempo is higher in open water leaving you faster than in the Pool. Higher due to the lack of push offs contributing with fewer opportunities for a brief streamlined push and glide off the wall to take a brief respite. Also, there is likely to be less leg kick as we swim more economically with possibly the bike to consider so we shift more to the arms.
2 Drag and body position– this is artificially helped by the suit and/or sea water when in the open water. If your tight ankles point the toes down just a few degrees or the knee sends the lower leg up creating drag compared to the hip lifting the whole leg straight up then your forward propulsion is going to be seriously hampered. You possibly suspect this as you are faster with a pull buoy. Water punishes us severely when immersed for minor issues with streamlining. Saltwater and or a wetsuit will cover up a multitude of sins. If you do not perfect your technique for the pool then your pace will suffer. If you do improve your technique to improve you pool pace then this will only enhance your OW pace further. Win Win.
3 Mindset–I feel swimmers are braver when it comes to Open Water racing. Not just due to the physical barrier of a wetsuit protecting you and your body but that does offer a sense of invincibility to some. Many feel ready to do battle in the throng of open water. The benefit of a wetsuit might suggest why some swim starts get so aggressive as swimmers feel invincible! Even without a wetsuit though there is a different mindset to Open Water swimming. Standing on the starting block about to race a 1500m in a Long Course 50m pool is quite daunting. Jumping in for the Henley Mile on the River Thames and racing just the 1 length to the mile rather than 30 I attack this from the gun much differently compared to the pool event. It is a very different psychological effect on how you approach your swim. At our Saturday morning lake session which has a 1km loop I notice the difference in attitude and approach. Most of our swimmers who join us for this swim and our pool sessions quite happily knock out 4 laps whereas a 4km ‘session’ in our local 50m pool brings a very different response. Be a little braver when in the pool.
4 Breathing Pattern.I breathe every 3rdto the best of my ability in training. I like it, I like the rhythm, the balance, inspecting the surroundings on both sides of the London Aquatic Centre. Bilateral breathing stops my arms getting lazy and being ‘thrown back’ to the front of the stroke clumsily with my head returning from breathing. I know it builds a better technique that will keep me straighter on race day. Having persevered in training with this, on race day, I drop to every 2nddue to the extra effort. For many this would be the equivalent of another 7-8 breaths over 25m i.e. the difference between breathing every 2ndor 3rdstroke. That is a whole lot more air that you might just make better use of in Open Water compared to your pool swims.
5 Drafting – so it is possible to benefit from drafting in OW and the pool but unless working Pool Based OW skills you are unlikely to be at the hip or right on the feet of the swimmer in front during a 6x400m mainset. If you are, you are unlikely to be making friends. The benefits of drafting are well documented and if you do it well in open water it is going to have you travel at speeds you would struggle to replicate in the pool. You can be towed at faster paces or left with a lower HR at your usual pace. Either way you will be faster. There is a towing effect in the pool when going behind someone with a 5sec gap (usual protocol) but not nearly as much. I recall sitting in at 3rdor 4thin the lane and coasting to times I would be working hard at when leading. Be careful what you are comparing and how.
6 Adrenaline of the race experience. At my first IM event in Lake Placid 2003, the National Anthem played as the mist cleared and 2000 people were treading water in anticipation of the day ahead. The hairs were up on the back of my neck, the butterflies churning. It was a spell binding moment. When the race started I was shocked at the pace of the start. It made no sense to be working this hard so soon in the day but for the first 1km of the swim I was amazed how aggressive and how fast the start was. Did it last, no, things calmed down but not until much later. Unless being cheered by a packed gallery before you start your next pool based time trial it is going to be hard to get this excited about a swim.
If you are faster in OW compared to the pool then these are some of reasons but it is not the end of the world. You should be faster on race day in an OW environment, that is what you train for. All of your highly tuned skills coming together delivering your best performance. All aspects of technique, drafting, the possible wetsuit addition, the adrenaline and finely-honed sighting techniques should leave you swimming at your highest swim velocities. There is after all a reason why most world records are set during races.