After getting inspired and talking about swimming straight last week, Saturday’s swim proved the perfect opportunity to practice the skills needed to pull off this difficult feat.

As I mentioned in the report on Saturday’s training, there was a surf ski race starting at Bondi around the same time we started training. For this race they had put out a couple of buoys for the turn around the south end of the heads. Too good an opportunity for us to pass up at this end of the season! Coach Zoe set us out from the middle of the beach headed straight for the buoy…just like in a race!

This really got me thinking about three ways you can improve your ability to swim in a straight line. The first two are fairly simple, but I’m pretty sure I can manage to ramble at length about the third!

Firstly – Breathe bilaterally. I know lots of people hate doing this for various reasons, some people find it difficult, and it’s not always possible (especially in open water if you have a big swell or break on one side), but really, it’s just common sense that if you’re breathing evenly to either side, there’ll be less opportunity for any bias in your stroke to really veer you off in one direction.

Secondly – Good, even technique. Just about everyone has one arm (and leg) stronger than another, but focussing on good, even technique at training will also reduce any bias in either direction.

The third, and arguably most significant thing you can do to swim straight, is to work on your sighting.

Sighting is the technique we use in open water swimming to allow us to have a look where we’re going regularly without having to stop or slow down, or drop our body more vertically in the water than completely necessary.

Technically speaking, sighting involves lifting your eyes above the waterline ever so slightly…literally just enough to get a look in front of you. Ideally (in flat conditions) the rest of your head should come out of the water. This is because the more you lift your head, the more your body drops in the water, and the more drag you create.

Here’s a great video showing a swimmer doing a pretty good job of it….

Of course, the bigger the waves, the harder this is to do. You may need to look up a bit higher, but a good trick under these conditions is to do your sighting when you’re at the top of a wave, not in the trough.

Also part of the art of sighting is to figure out how often you need to sight. As a general rule, you should sight less, rather than more often. Even if your sighting technique is pretty efficient, it’s still going to create more drag than not sighting at all. the trade-off, though is that going off course is worse again! So you need to continually reassess throughout a race (or training swim). If you’re pretty confident in your ability to swim straight because of your technique you would usually sight less, but if you know you’re a bit prone to the zigzags, by all means check more often.

Conditions also have a part to play on sighting. If there’s a swell or big waves or a rip or a current of anything else driving you off course, by all means sight more often.

The other part of sighting, is a bit of an art form rather than a technique. Generally when you swim, you don’t get much elevation above the waterline, and buoys really aren’t that big most of the time (and some of them aren’t in particularly contrasting colours, either!). Add waves or a swell to that equation, and it becomes really hard to spot that buoy when you’re sighting. What to do?

The trick is to line up the buoy with something you can see easily from water-level and from far away. This can be any number of things – outcrops, buildings, cranes, tall trees, flags, shade sails…the list goes on. Please don’t pick something that moves, though! Clouds, boats, lifeguards, other watercraft or water-users all have a tendency to move so don’t make particularly good landmarks.

Once you’ve chosen your (non-moving) landmark, swim towards that, until you have the buoy firmly in your sights. When you round a buoy and head in a different direction, pick a new landmark and start the process again. Simple, right? Well, not always, but the principle always remains the same.

Here’s another great video with some examples of techniques for swimming straight….