Sighting in Open Water

sighting with alligator eyes

You spent the winter working on your swimming.  On race day, will you be able to navigate properly and take advantage of that new-found speed?  Sighting is a skill that needs to be practiced regularly before race day.  Here are some sighting tips to help prepare for your open-water race:

  1. Lift your head only as high as necessary. In calm water, only lift your eyes out of the water.
  2. In rough water or ocean conditions with waves and large swell, time your sighting so you are on the top of a wave for the best view of the course and surroundings.
  3. When conditions are choppy or unpredictable – stormy days, windy days – lift your head extra high while minimizing the total number of times you sight. You may not be able to find buoys during the race so locate shore landmarks before the start to aid navigation – mountains, buildings, trees, any large object you can sight on. The sun can be an excellent point of reference.
  4. Separate breathing and sighting. Sight forward, then roll your head into your normal breath cycle.
  5. Press down with your hand and arm during the catch phase of your stroke as you are about to sight. This will provide stability, lift your upper body and make it easier to raise your eyes above the water.
  6. Arch your back while lifting your head. This draws your hips up and allows your legs and feet to stay near the surface, minimizing drag.
  7. Instead of trying to take your bearings in one long sighting, take multiple quick peeks to form a mental image. Quick look, quick look, quick look – without breaking your natural stroke rhythm. Once you have created the mental image, adjust your course in small increments.  Then another quick look to verify you’re on course.
  8. Practice! Sighting is an acquired skill that you can learn in a pool during your normal workouts.

Sighting Drills

Tarzan Drill

In a 25-yard/meter pool, swim three strokes normal, then raise your head completely out of the water and swim four “Tarzan” strokes.  Swim the remainder of the length normally.  Repeat 8-10 times.

Alligator Eyes

In a 25-yard/meter pool, swim three strokes normal, then raise your eyes just above the surface of the water for four strokes.  Swim the remainder of the length normally.  Repeat 8-10 times.

Navigation Check

In an empty lane at the pool, close your eyes and attempt to swim straight down the middle. You’ll quickly learn if you favor one side or the other and know how to compensate in open water.

Improving Ankle Flexibility

Improving your ankle flexibility can have a dramatic impact upon your swim splits by reducing the amount of drag created by your legs.  If your feet “hook” when you swim they act like parachutes at the end of your legs and will slow you down.  In extreme cases, the hooking effect can actually produce negative propulsion. Continue reading “Improving Ankle Flexibility”

How a 20-Minute FTP Test Should Feel

Did I leave it all on the bike during my FTP test?Have you ever finished a 20-minute FTP test and wondered if you had done it right?  Had you really gone hard enough?  Were you concerned you left something on the bike?  Should you re-test?  One of our athletes has provided a tongue-in-cheek look at how your FTP test should feel.  Continue reading “How a 20-Minute FTP Test Should Feel”

When to Perform a Lactate Threshold Field Test


I received this email last night.

“. . . my training zones are from a field test I did two-years ago.  At what point should I re-test?  Should I be relatively “fresh” when I test?  I lifted yesterday, and wrestling kicked my butt so I’m sore as heck.  Wait till next week?  Or does it not matter because it’s based on max effort?” Continue reading “When to Perform a Lactate Threshold Field Test”

Setting Heart Rate Training Zones

Formulas aren’t accurate

If you have been training for any length of time, you have probably heard about ‘Training Zones.’

Do you know how to set your training zones?  More specifically, do you know how to set your heart rate (HR) training zones? Continue reading “Setting Heart Rate Training Zones”

Swim Threshold Pace – What is it?

After stroke technique, the next most important thing to improving your triathlon swim speed is understanding swim threshold pace (STP).  You can swim hundreds of thousands of yards each month and if you don’t understand swim threshold pace, those training yards may not have been as effective as they could have been – and they may have been wasted time altogether.  On race day, without an understanding of swim threshold pace, you will likely be swimming to fast – leading to lactic acidosis with the obvious negative effect; or swimming too slow – with the equally obvious negative effect. Continue reading “Swim Threshold Pace – What is it?”

How to Determine Your Swim Threshold Pace

Do your normal warm-up. Follow with a short build set to be ready to swim fast.  Or you might consider our recommended warm-up.

Once you are thoroughly warmed up, you will do two time trials to establish your STP; one of 400 yards (or meters if you are in a long course pool) and one of 200 yards/meters. Continue reading “How to Determine Your Swim Threshold Pace”


The human body strives to maintain homeostasis; a fancy term for balance.  To maintain homeostasis, the body continually adapts to its environment.  Training is simply the manipulation of the application of stress and the body’s adaptation to the stress in order to maintain a state of homeostasis.  Continue reading “Supercompensation”