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Confident Open Water Swimming – Part II

Confident Open Water Swimming Tips Catherine Sutton Run Tri Bike Magazine

Confidence comes with competence, and there three core competencies in open water swimming: sighting, strength and endurance, and sustainability. Let’s explore each component – what it is, when competency is achieved, how to develop skills, and extra tips for success. In this second installation, we look at strength and endurance training for open water.Β Β 

Objective: Gain proper muscular strength and endurance to successfully churn through open water.Β 

Key Results: Physical ability to power through currents and reach a landmark goal. Energy conservation for next efforts. Fatigue and injury reduction. Confidence in open water swimming capabilities.Β 

Importance: Develops upper body strength to enable long distance swimming. Increases core stability for balance in the water. Improves power transfer from upper body through core with strong rotation.Β 

Focus: Incorporate both strength work with equipment and endurance work with bodyweight to create well-balanced muscle quality. General exercise prescription is 2–3 muscular conditioning sessions per week, utilizing a total body and core intensive approach. Build lean and agile musculature by focusing on higher repetition counts, lower weights, and light recovery intervals. Build power with plyometric and speed work to boost anaerobic threshold, and therefore, overall endurance.Β Β 

Development: These subsets of muscular conditioning provide a simple but solid base of work across the board. Here are some excellent exercises, along with main benefits and sample routine ranges.

Confident Open Water Swimming Tips

Strength Training

Lat Pull Down – strength in major back muscles and catch-pull capabilities. (3–5x 12-15reps @ 60% max)

Cable Back Row – strength in traps/rhomboids for shoulder stabilization. (3–5x 12-15reps @ 50% max)

Front-Lateral-Back Raises – strength in deltoids for shoulder stabilization. (3–5x 12-15reps @ 40% max)

Muscular Endurance

Plank – total body endurance for balance and solid streamline. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/15” rest)

Rotating Side Plank – rotational core stability and power transfer. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/15” rest)

Superman Repeats/Holds – low back stability and endurance. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/15” rest)

Core Specific

Tuck Ups – tucked leg abs crunch for basic core strength. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/30” rest)

Pike Ups – straight leg abs crunch for basic core strength. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/30” rest)

Flutter Kick – straight leg abs flutter to develop kick from core. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/30” rest)


Burpees – explosive power and driving streamline. (3-5x 30-60” intervals w/30” rest)

Water Polo Drill – ability to swim with head above water. (8-10x 25y intervals w/25y recovery)

Sprints – speed in water and building anaerobic threshold. (8-10x 25y intervals w/25y recovery)

Extra Tips

  • The exercises listed above can be mixed and matched in supersets. For example, try pairing a 30 second plank with 30 seconds of pike ups for 5 sets, followed by 3 sets of 30 seconds of burpees and 30 seconds of flutter kicks.Β 
  • Aim for 30 – 60 minutes of muscular conditioning sessions 2-3x per week during the season, and 60 – 90 minutes sessions 3-4x per week in the off-season.
  • Provide more recovery time after really intense strength training bouts and sessions.Β 
  • Make sure to refuel within 30 – 60 minutes to restore glycogen and protein levels for muscle repair.
  • Some types of yogic practice are considered muscular endurance training, while incorporating flexibility work. Try substituting a vinyasa yoga class to β€œfeed two birds with one scone.” 

Happy Swimming from Coach Cat!

Publisher’s Note: Part I of Confident Open Water Swimming by Coach Catherine Sutton can be found in our July/August issue that you can subscribe to and receive by clicking HERE.

Catherine Sutton Run Tri Bike Magazine

Catherine Sutton, MS is an endurance sports coach who believes exercise is a holistic healer and triathlon is the ultimate public health fitness initiative. Having grown up as a super active child into an aquatic athlete and eventual triathlete, she continues to discover how consistent, effective physical activity aids us on the path of happiness in mind, body, and spirit. Catherine has a MS degree in Exercise Science, holds coaching certifications by USA Triathlon, US Masters Swimming, and American Swimming Coach Association, and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer aspiring to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Along with triathlon training, Coach Cat loves to spend time with her partner, exploring Vermont, hiking, kayaking, and skiing, and enjoying the gifts of New England.