To Train For Open Water, or Closed Water—That is The Question.

Freestyle swimming is often analyzed to the very bone. Names like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have been the subject of countless replays while swimming instructors and coaches alike look on and preach of their impeccable technique. While these world-class athletes have undoubtedly proved themselves the very best in their field, it is worth wondering: what if they were not in a closed pool?

What if they were victims to mother nature’s unpredictable surges and wind storms? How would their flawless freestyle translate to white-capped waters and projectile rain drops? That’s the difference between “swimmers” and “triathletes.” Well, that and a couple more sports, anyway.

Where swimmers train for a controlled environment, triathletes train for everything from a placid lake to a wind-torn ocean. While swimmers develop a very consistent stroke designed for maximum efficiency through a water with no current, triathletes train to change technique from race to race, ready to cope with whatever water conditions happen to be present. Some triathlete variations include but are not limited to single-sided breathing away from chop, high hand recovery over waves, and short or compressed strokes when surrounded by others.

One particularly notable technique is bilateral breathing. Bilateral breathing is when swimmers consistently switch between sides to keep breathing while racing. Although some may merely play to their dominant side, it is of the utmost importance for triathletes to feel comfortable breathing to both their dominant and their less dominant side. Unforeseen water and weather conditions often dictate which sides triathletes can turn to to breathe, so it is exceptionally significant triathletes be able to use both sides.

Another specific technique worth noting is low-profile breathing. While this is fantastic for strictly closed pool swimmers, it isn’t always possible in open choppy waters. Many coaches refer to low-profile breathing as ‘one goggle in, one goggle out’ breathing, for those unaware of the term ‘low-profile breathing.’ One option for triathletes is to either breathe with a higher profile or to run your face slightly backward into your armpit to find a clean breath of air.

Swimming for open waters better prepares you for swimming overall. When you begin your training regimen, consider your ultimate goal and your current training technique. Although some may think swimming is just swimming, you can in fact take a number of steps to prepare yourself for specific circumstances.

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