Swim Tech Video: the black line drill

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With the start of the open water swimming season just days away, and triathletes reluctant to leave the warmth of the pool until they have to, here’s a drill session from Dan Bullock to help set you up properly for the wide open spaces. Remember, there are no black lines in the open water!

The ability to swim in a straight line is essential in open water. Without the straight lines on the pool floor, the lane ropes or poolside to help guide you, or at least subconsciously keep you straight, you could be adding significant additional distance to the actual race.

I am often asked how to swim faster in the open water. The first response is always to just swim the necessary distance. Adding distance to the course is obviously going to hinder you and is generally brought about through:

  • poor navigating,
  • relying on drafting someone else who has poor navigating skills, or
  • swimming with an off-balance stroke that keeps you from swimming in a straight line.

Over a standard-distance ‘triangle’ course with three 500m straights between buoys, I can see how someone might easily add 150m to the race distance – given the results of some our pool tests. A 10m drift within 100m is not much (I have seen more!) but for a strong swimmer, going at a good pace, you can see how you might add 2:30 to 3:00 over 1,500m. With shorter distances between buoys or multi-loop courses you might fare better since the distance from buoy to buoy would be less, but you are still throwing away free time.

For those really struggling, one of the drills we practice throughout the year is as follows.
If you can get a lane to yourself, practice swimming in the middle of the lane keeping the black line you often find on the bottom of the pool directly beneath you.

Set your spine on top of the line, elbows wide of the body but keep the hands on top of the black line. A good catch, fingertips down and send the water backwards so you react and go forwards. A very slight sweep through the stroke will keep you moving forwards with little lateral pressure on the body forcing snaking. A sweep that is too wide or too far across the body will encourage snaking.

Try a few of these strokes with your eyes closed. If you continually drift you should get your stroke checked out by a coach, as something will be off balance.