Ocean swimmer Lexie Kelly and escort paddler Megan Monroy at the 2017 Naples Island Swim, Long Beach, California.

Bill Lauritzen, an American educator and swimmer at Xiamen University in China, writes, “You may be able to pick up the snake, but you don’t know which way it will twist.”

Very true.

In the same way, open water swimmers can race or challenge themselves in open bodies of water around the world, but they know to expect the unexpected. Wind, waves, currents, tides, marine life from sharks and jellyfish to dolphins and whales, sun’s glare, fog, lightning, boat traffic, pollution, flotsam, jetsam and physicality from competitors can come and go across, against or with the course of an open water swimmer.

So how can open water swimmers, whether they are channel swimmers or competitive swimmer prepare for the unexpected?

The first is having a mindset to accept whatever may come or arise in the open water. Stay focused, stay calm, stay the course.

The second is training in systems that are unpredictable or that have no patterns. For example, swim in the open water when it is windy or wavy – do not always train under tranquil conditions.

The mental aspect of open water swimming cannot be downplayed. Not only do swimmers have to think about the elements – winds, waves, currents – but they also have to think about feeding, pacing, positioning and drafting relative to their competition or escort boats. The tactical skills of the world’s best competitive open water swimmers or accomplished solo marathon swimmers are always something to see.

At the recent Liberty Wave Open Water Seminar in Singapore, we discussed the Pyramid of Open Water Success and each of the components of a comprehensive training program like Base Training + Speed Training + Distance Tolerance + Race Specific Training + Skill Training + Open Water Acclimatization + Tactical Knowledge“, said Steven Munatones.

Whether they are training in a pool or the open water, we encourage competitive or serious open water athletes to train their minds as well as their bodies. Some of the pool training sets that we recommend are based on prime numbers (e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, etc.). So instead of doing traditional pool training intervals on easy-to-calculate figures like 1:00, 1:10, 1:15, 1:20, 1:30 or 2:00, we occasionally do prime number sets where the intervals are 1:03, 1:17, 1:23, or the distances are 175 or 425 or 350 meters. Alternatively, we may occasionally go on intervals like 37.5, 42.5, 47.5, etc. or descend in random patterns.”

As competitive pool swimmers know, calculating their next send-off on a 42.5 interval for 50’s or a 1:23 interval for 100’s is not easy, especially if the number of swims in a set are also a prime number. “Imagine doing 11 x 75 @ 1:23 with #2, #3, #5, #7 and #11 descended. You have to constantly think as you are pushing yourself in the water. As a result, swimmers are constantly thinking and calculating in addition to maintaining proper stroke mechanics, trying to make the interval, and noting their swim times. These prime number sets are taxing both mentally and physically – precisely what swimmers will face in competitive open water situations.

A few simple prime number sets for pool swimmers might include the following:

Hit the Primes: 8 x 100 @ 1:30, swim exactly at a 1:23 pace for #1, 1:19 pace for #2, 1:17 pace for #3, 1:13 pace for #4, 1:11 pace for #5, 1:07 pace for #6, 1:05 pace for #7 and 1:03 pace for #8. Teaches precise pace control.

Beat the Primes: 8 x 100 @ 1:30, swim faster than a 1:23 pace for #1, a 1:19 pace for #2, a 1:17 pace for #3, a 1:13 pace for #4, a 1:11 pace for #5, a 1:07 pace for #6, a 1:05 pace for #7 and a 1:03 pace for #8.

Descend Down or a Progressive Prime Number Descend: 10 x 50 with descending intervals. 1 x 50 @ 50 + 1 x 50 @ 47.5 + 1 x 50 @ 45 + 1 x 50 @ 42.5 + 1 x 50 @ 40 + 1 x 50 @ 37.5 + 1 x 50 @ 35 + 1 x 50 @ 32.5 + 1 x 50 @ 30 + 1 X 50 @ 27.5

This mental work is very valuable for sharpening the mind in the water and swimmers usually get better at it with practice.

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