Improving Open Water Sighting Efficiency

Ryan Woodruff, Lynchburg YMCA

I am an Open Water swimming enthusiast. It’s fun, interesting, and brings a different dimension to the sport. For swimmers new to Open Water, one of the biggest curveballs is “sighting,” which is lifting your head to peek forward over the water to get your bearings from landmarks or buoys. Efficient navigation is important to avoid swimming farther than necessary but most swimmers are very inefficient at sighting when starting out. The keys to doing well are:

  • Avoid picking up your head higher than you need to.
  • Figure out how often you need to sight in order to stay on course. Less is better IF you stay on course.
  • When you do pick up your head, bring your whole body up by engaging the legs a bit more intensely than before and tightening the core.

Here is a set to test how well you are doing sighting:

9 x 200 free @:30 rest

#1 – no sighting – just swim at a moderately strong pace

#2 – sight once every 8 or 10 strokes. Try to keep your overall effort close to #1, and see how close your time is to #1.

#3 – sight once every 4 or 8 strokes, again at the same intensity. Check your time.

Repeat for #4-6 and #7-9.

The closer together your times, the better and more efficiently you are practicing your sighting.

UT Open Water Preparation with Coach Tyler Fenwick

From Instagram @utcoachfenwick ・・・ Tennessee Open Water practice this morning! Prepping for Nationals at one of our favorite venues in two weeks! #Tennessee #GoVols #MiromarLakes 

Editor’s Note: The Swimming Wizard’s goal is to publish at least one set, practice, or idea EVERY DAY for all of 2016! To keep it interesting, we need your help! Click here to help us achieve that goal by submitting one of your sets!

Creative Open Water Training Tip #1 – Timed Feedings

Ryan Woodruff
Head Coach, Parkland Aquatic Club


Open Water races impose unique demands on an athlete physically, mentally, and strategically. Many swimmers do not have readily accessible open water to practice for these unique conditions. Here is a technique you can practice in your pool to help prepare your swimmers.

Swims of longer than 5k often necessitate that athletes feed (take beverages or food for hydration or calories). Designated feeding stations become strategically important like NASCAR pit stops – the athlete who takes on fuel most quickly and efficiently can pull ahead, and those who pit stop poorly fall behind.

Time your swimmers on a 50 that includes a feed. Try 5 x 400 build to fast last 100, and feed on the last 50. Get that split. Give immediate feedback during the interval rest.

Pool Open Water Workout

Ryan Woodruff

Today our Open Water Nationals group did a version of the following set in the pool (SCY) in preparation for the 5k in 1.5 weeks. The aims of the set are to 1) Acclimate the swimmers to tight pack swimming with frequent limb collisions, 2) practice drafting at high speeds, 3) rehearse front end and back end speed that are needed to compete in elite OW races, and 4) simply get in a good distance set. Here is the set:

4 x 50 @ :40 Fastest possible average, swimming 4 swimmers wide in an 9-foot lane.
3 x 100 @ 1:20 fastest possible average, swimming 4 wide
3 x 200 @ 2:20 ascend, swimming in a drafting line, front swimmer rotating to the back after each repeat
6 x 500 @ 6:10 hold steady and strong pace, swimming in normal practice formation, 5 seconds apart, with front swimmer rotating to the back after each repeat.
3 x 200 @ 2:20 descend, essentially the reverse of what was done on the first 3, same draft line and swimmer rotation
3 x 100 @ 1:20 fastest possible average, swimming 4 wide, try to beat times from early in the set
4 x 50 @ :40 fastest possible average, swimming 4 wide, try to beat times from beginning of the set

Easy 200

Follow-up Open Water Skills set:
3x through:
3 x 200 @ 2:20 sight once in every lap
3 x 100 @ 1:20 practice feeding from poolside water bottle on 2nd 25 each time

400 smooth warm down

Solo Distance Training Set

Anonymous Submission

Here is a progressing series of sets I use to train for long distance open water racing.


Week 1 –

   Day 1 – 4 x 500 first 100 fast, 50 easy, balance at race pace 3 min rest between reps

  Day 3 – 5 x 500 first 100 fast, 50 easy, balance at race pace 3 min rest between reps

   Day 5 – 6 x 500 first 100 fast, 50 easy, balance race pace 3 min rest between reps.


Each week I start back at 4 reps but increase the distance by 100 total per rep and increase the fast part by 50 per rep. so Week 2, Day 1 would be 4×600, 150 fast, 50 easy, balance at race pace Week 3 Day 1 would be 4×700, first 200 fast, 50 easy, balance race pace. and so on. I do this for a 5 week cycle. It is important to focus on going really fast for the first part of each rep and returning back to race pace for the balance of each rep. The goal of these sets is to improve ability to swim long distances at a fast pace and to get used to going out fast. In open water swimming this will help you to get out with the front pack and free from the crowds. As you can see I do this set three times a week. On days 2,4 and 6 each week I do sprint and technique work.