3 Swim Drills for Better Triathlon Sighting

Lissa Latella headshot.jpg

Lissa Latella co-owns SwimBox swim studio with her husband, Dominic. Still "madly in love with the sport," Lissa contributes to the Endless Pools blog because, she says, "I'm excited to share all of the ways Endless Pools has allowed Dominic and I to work with clients in a way unattainable at your standard pool."

If you’re a triathlete, thinking of becoming a triathlete, or just love open water swimming, this one’s for you! As a majority of our SwimBox clients are competitive triathletes, we work on many drills in our Performance Endless Pool to prepare them for the unpredictability of open water swimming.

The Endless Pool is perfect for open water training, including the focused work of these 3 open water drills. First, the pool gives us complete control over the swimming environment – that isn’t something you’re going to get anywhere else. And as in real open water, you never hit the wall; that's because, with the Endless Pools swim current, you swim in place.

The Tarzan swim drill demonstrated in the Performance Endless Pool at SwimBox swim studio
The Tarzan swim drill exaggerates the head posture required for sighting during open water swims. Lifelong swimmer Lissa Latella demonstrates this drill in the Performance Endless Pool at her SwimBox swim studio in Fairfax, Virginia. 

1. Tarzan Drill

We like to start with Tarzan Drill. And don’t worry, this doesn’t require a loincloth! Tarzan Drill helps you gain the strength and endurance to fully lift your head to sight in the open water. This is an exaggerated movement from what we eventually want your sighting to look like, but it's the perfect place to start getting used to the movement.

Start by lifting your chin out of the water and keep your eyes looking forward. Make sure to keep your hips as high up towards the surface as you can, as lifting your chin very easily can cause your hips and legs to sink.

It seems like we’re asking you to bring your head way out of the water, and that can’t possibly be what we’re looking for. Well, the majority of the time, you’re absolutely right. But when there are large waves, or you’re having trouble finding a buoy or sighting the course finish, the ability to lift your head this high, while swimming, will help you keep your efficiency up and your swim times down.

The Alligator Eyes open-water swim drill demonstrated in the Performance Endless Pool at SwimBox swim studio
The Alligator Eyes swim drill requires your head to be significantly lower in the water than the Tarzan drill. By developing better sighting with these drills, triathletes and open water swimmers can improve efficiency to shorten their swim times. 

2. Alligator Eyes Drill

Next up is Alligator Eyes, which is a much lower-key version of Tarzan Drill, and closer to how you'll want to sight in open water.

Start by swimming your normal freestyle, and then lift your head slightly, looking forward, just so your eyes have breached the surface of the water. Your nose and mouth should stay under the water. When you want to take a breath, simply drop your head back down to its normal position and breathe to the side, just like you would during your normal freestyle.

Once you switch from Tarzan to Alligator Eyes, you’ll feel just how hard you had to work to lift your entire head out of the water compared to just letting your eyes breach the surface. Your head weighs a lot, so we want to keep it as low to the water as possible when open water conditions allow it.

Yes, as I mentioned before, there are times where you’ll need to lift your entire head to properly sight. But most of the time, you’ll be good with the Alligator Eyes technique, and you’ll save a ton of energy by doing so.

Even though it might not always seem like it, the water is your friend! So you need to work with it as best you can to keep up your energy and maintain your efficiency during open water races and triathlons.

Two open-water swimming drills compared from underwater in the Performance Endless Pool at SwimBox in Fairfax Virginia
Here you can see the extreme differences in just how much of your head stays underwater in Tarzan (left) versus Alligator Eyes (right) swim drills. These drills are part of SwimBox's three-step progression to improved sighting for triathletes and other open water swimmers. 

3. Rolling Sight Drill

The final step? It’s what we call a Rolling Sight, and that’s the most advanced form of sighting we like to see with our triathlete clients.

A Rolling Sight is exactly the same movement you made in Alligator Eyes, only you’ll keep your eyes out of the water for a much shorter amount of time in between breaths. It’s best to start out with more sighting as you’re getting the hang of this, so begin with taking 3-4 strokes, then lift your eyes out to see. Next, put your head back down and take 3-4 more strokes. Then repeat.

The most important thing to remember is that the Rolling Sight is not meant to be a clear sight. You want it to be more of a glance in front of you to make sure you’re staying on course. The goal is not to be able to clearly pick out all of the details of what you can see, but just to vaguely make out the buoy in front of you, or the treeline, or whatever guidepost you’re using to keep moving in the right direction.

2 Tips to Train for Variable Conditions

My favorite part about teaching and practicing all of these drills in our Endless Pool is that we can change the current's speed without letting our clients know. This is exactly what’s going to happen in the open water.

After all that, do you feel really advanced practicing for your next triathlon or open water race? If so, take a nice long swim in the Endless Pool and have a friend come in every few minutes to create a wake in the water. We do this with the help of a kickboard to make waves and splashes that get in your face and mouth.

I know this sounds mean, but we’re just trying to help! Having the luxury of practicing in uncertain conditions will best prepare you for the real-world conditions of open water swimming.

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