11 Tips On Becoming A Fearless Swimmer

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  • Published Aug 2, 2011
Learning to embrace contact is important. Photo: Delly Carr/

Swim Blind, Swim Straight

Swimming in murky water triggers the fight-or-flight alarm for two reasons: You can’t see and you are suffering cold shock.

Let’s deal with vision first. You rely heavily on sight to know where you are going and to gauge body position and speed. When you look into murky water, this input is snatched away and you get disoriented. You know this will happen on race day, so prepare for it. Teach yourself to swim without visual cues.

A swim tether will help you develop your ability to swim blind in the comfort of a heated pool. The tether will keep you from swimming into lane lines and other swimmers. Attach it around your waist and anchor it to a starting block or handrail. After a short warm-up, swim easily to get the feel of the tether, then close your eyes for a few strokes. Stay in your circle. It may be hard to keep your balance at first, but with practice you will adjust. Don’t proceed to the next step until you can comfortably swim for at least 30 strokes with your eyes closed.

Next, position yourself over a fixed object on the bottom while still tethered. Swim 20–30 moderate strokes with your eyes closed. Now open them: Are you still in the same place or did you veer off? Which way did you turn? Swimmers tend to pull harder on the side they favor for breathing. Bilateral breathing can help you swim straighter, so try it. If that isn’t enough, try pulling extra hard with your left hand (if you favor your right) every 10 strokes and see if that keeps you on your mark. Experiment and keep practicing so you can stay on your mark with your eyes closed for at least 30 strokes.

When you get into open water you will be dealing with cold water and limited visibility, so take it slow. Wear your goggles and start by looking underwater for a few seconds and staying in your mental circle. Then lift your head, take some belly breaths and when you feel calm, repeat. Slowly increase the amount of time you look underwater. When you feel entirely comfortable looking underwater, swim five strokes, then pause. Add strokes when you are comfortable. Return to a state of calm during each pause and try to stay there when you are swimming. Make this process part of your open-water warm-up.

Eventually you will be able to swim the race distance in comfort, but it will take several open-water sessions to get there. Be patient and don’t rush the process.

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FILED UNDER: Swim / Training

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