How do you know where you are going in open water swimming? By sighting. Sighting, or sometimes called spotting, is being able to pick your head up and look where you are going without disrupting your stroke. Yes, you could stop and look around (and may have to if you get off course) or switch to breaststroke, but practicing sighting will get you there a lot faster.
To sight, take your side breath, then turn your head to look forward and try to spot the buoy or in the pool a predetermined location. Your head should go back in the water before your next stroke begins. Think like an alligator, ideally just your eyes should be out of the water when looking forward. Now depending on the water and the distance you are sighting, you may have to alter this slightly. For example, I tend to lift my head higher when sighting something much further away.
When I sight a long distance, I with only sight every 10 breaths or so. But when I do sight, I will come up for 2 or 3 breaths in a row to reorient myself. On shorter distances or when I’m close to a turn, I will often sight every breath or even every time I reach the same side.
Hint: If the buoys are on one side of you, breath to that side. If they are big enough, you may get a good glimpse of them without lifting your head at all.
Ways to practice sighting:
1. Tarzan: This one is tough on your shoulders so don’t do it too much. Swim with your head all the way out of the water facing forward (or mostly forward). I idea here is to teach yourself to keep your hips and legs up higher in the water even when you lift your head.
2. Alternative sides & sight every breath: Example 3 strokes breath & sight, 3 strokes breath & sight other side.
3. Sight every breath, but breath every 2 strokes. This way you practice sighting on one side. Then, switch and practice the other sighting. (P.S. if you are still only breathing to one side, start working on fixing it now. The payoff in open water for breathing and sighting on both sides is huge!)
4. Practice in open water! If you doubt me, see my last blog post.
(P.S. If you ever wondered- can I get away with wearing one of the cheap short sleeve wetsuits from the sports store in a triathlon…yes you can. The pic is of me in said wetsuit. Works just fine. Don’t worry about investing in the expensive ones until you go up in distance.)