Conquering the Non-Wetsuit Swim
Experience, Technique and Mentality!
Experience - Practice Swimming Without a Wetsuit
If you train in a pool then you probably do the majority of your swimming without a wetsuit
anyway. Many areas have a 50m pool which means half as many turns as a 25; if this pool isn't
convenient for regular training make this at least a once weekly option. Make open water lake or ocean swimming a weekly occurrence in your schedule and, in the weeks leading up to your goal race, take the wetsuit off for some or all of the practice. If possible, swim with a group in the open water to simulate how you will react to this situation - begin with swimming next to 1-2 people before you attempt to swim with a large group. Practice your race warm up, starts, both beach and deep water, and drafting other swimmers. If this is not possible, due to living in an area with no access, you can simulate an open water swim in a pool into by turning prior to the wall and swimming circles up and down the lane ropes. Include sighting objects on the edge of the deck (get creative! - if the pool is empty or you swim with a group of triathletes, ask if you can remove the lane lines and turn the pool into a mini-open water space).
Technique - Specifically, Body Position
For many novices (and experienced) swimmers, a wetsuit will improve body position in the water: legs/hips will ride higher and as a result more energy will be transferred into forward motion. You can anticipate this and focus attention on achieving better body position every time you swim. In a pool, stare at the bottom with a neutral, long neck, instead of looking forward at the wall (you can practice the difference in feel by swimming looking forward for half a length and then lowering your head for the second half). When you swim in the open water remind yourself to get the head back down after you sight; again, this can be something you practice in the pool as well with more controlled feedback, as you'll be able to judge your effectiveness against the black line on the bottom.
Mentality - Train Your Brain for Success
For some inexperienced swimmers this lower body position, without a wetsuit, can feel more like floundering, not smooth glide - which is a feeling that can be managed in the calm, isolated waters of a pool, but suddenly becomes closer to panic in the churning, crowded and dark waters at the beginning of a race. While it may take a little longer, remind yourself that you've had successful training swims without a wetsuit and you are prepared for this situation. Take note, in these practice situations, of how you've responded with a positive mentality. If you can create situations, in practice, that ease you into a race situation, then it will not seem so foreign or daunting on race day. If you are nervous about something, generally, in the open water, make sure you practice that element ahead of time both with and without a wetsuit.
As with all other elements of your training, skill work should be stepped up incrementally so that you notice the gains while challenging your weaknesses. Swimming without a wetsuit is just different, but if you break it down into experience, technique and mentality then you will
find you already possess the keys to focus your training and achieve your best non-wetsuit swim!
Based in Connecticut, Jeremy has been involved in triathlon since 1999. From 2003-2012 Jeremy was a full-time swim coach at nearly every level (swim camps, summer league, Club, HS, Master's, NCAA). He has coached multiple CT State conference champions, Team, School and State records. As a triathlon coach, over the past 8 years, Jeremy has guided athletes to their first finishes at every distance from sprint to Ultraman, as well as berths at 70.3, Ironman and Ultraman World Championships
LifeSport coach Jeremy Howard has been involved with triathlons since 1999, he has coached multiple CT State conference champions, Team, School and State record holders, Junior National, Nationals and Olympic Trials qualifiers. Contact Jeremy to tackle your first triathlon or to perform at a higher level. Find more tips on Twitter @LifeSportCoach