Staying S.T.A.B.L.E. in the Open Water
This video of me was taken in somewhat windy conditions with a bit of chop but the tips that I am going to give will apply to any conditions. I am swimming relaxed and moderately here, not at race pace. I came up with a Mnemonic to help you "check in" with your technique but not feel overwhelmed by too many swim thoughts at one time. I hope that it helps you to feel stable and balanced in the water so that you can handle anything that comes your way, whether it's a wave or an aggressive competitor. You should try to be relaxed and powerful so that any surprises will bounce off of you.
S. Swing Arms from the Shoulders, as opposed to "putting" or "placing" them in the water. Make sure that you keep them entering straight out from the shoulders, not crossing over. Think: Surf board.
T. Be Tall. There should be a constant tension through your torso. You should extend on the entry and feel your tush rise and break the surface. If you find your back end sinking, try practicing more of a catch-up stroke.
A. Arm Out on Breath. Extending the lead arm on the breath instead of pushing it down is going to be a hard habit for some of you to break. But do it. Practice pulling after the breath or just as the head is turning back.
B. Breathing. You might get away with sneaking a breath in front on a glassy day, but it's not a good idea to make this a habit unless you want to swallow a lot of water. Take a quick look and then turn the head to the side to take a breath safely in the trough of the bow wave. If it still proves to be a bad time to breathe, be patient and try again on the next breath. Also, don't be married to a breathing pattern or side. Be flexible. In this video I am doing a variation on 4-2-2-4 but will mix that up depending on what is happening.
L. Loose & Lithe. Tightening up and muscling the stroke in rough conditions is going to be the worst thing you can do. If you stay long and loose, but with a certain tension (think: log), you will be flexible and able to penetrate/slip through no matter what.
E. Elevate. You're not in the pool any longer and there are many differences between pool and open water swimming. Especially in rough conditions, be prepared to elevate the head to see over waves, spray, and other swimmers -- but don't stop! Take a snapshot and get the head back down. It takes a great deal of energy to get a body into motion so we don't want to lose momentum. Also, if you're used to looking straight down in the pool, practice looking forward slightly, as the eyes are a necessity for awareness in open water.