• Technique

5 drills to improve your sighting

Improve your sighting for open water swimming with these 5 drills you can practice in the pool.

Swimming in a straight line is one of the biggest challenges swimmers face when hitting the open water, especially if you are used to following the black line in the pool.

In an open water environment, you have to make sure you have your ‘sighting’ technique up to scratch in order to swim in a straight line, or as direct as possible towards your target.

Once you’ve grasped the basic technique for sighting, the pool is a great place to improve your sighting technique. Once you master these five drills in the controlled environment of the pool, you can practice the same drills in the open water.

1. Polo

Polo is a great drill for all open water swimmers to do when you’re trying to improve their sighting.

To swim polo, lift your head (and eyes) out of the water, facing forward. Keep your head as straight as possible while engaging your core and keeping your legs up on the surface of the water.

All these skills are beneficial when sighting during your ocean swims because you don’t want to drop your legs, which leads you to start sinking and dragging your lower body through the water.

Start by swimming polo for 15m then normal freestyle for the rest of your lap. Once 15m feels too easy start increasing your distance until you can swim a whole 50m polo comfortably with your core engaged and legs up.

2. Crocodile eyes drill

Crocodile eyes drill is a version of polo (head up freestyle), but instead of having your head fully out of the water have your eyes just above the surface of the water with your nose and mouth below the water, while still having high shoulders.

This allows you to see what is in front of you and get used to not having your head fully out of the water when sighting.

When you want to breathe you can either put your head back into the normal breathing position on the side or lift your head higher in the water.

It’s important to make sure when you lift your head up for this drill you keep kicking your legs and push your hips to the surface of the water to make sure your legs don’t drop.

You can mix up this drill by lifting your head (and eyes) at different heights to replicate the different levels of chop you might experience in open water.

3. Head up, head down

Head up, head down drill helps to get you used to lifting your head up to sight while keeping in your freestyle rhythm.

To perform this drill, swim four strokes of normal freestyle and then four strokes of polo freestyle and continue all the way to the end of the pool.

Before beginning this drill, set up your point of sight at the end of the pool, this can be your water bottle, a pull buoy or even a bag.

During the four strokes polo phase, make sure to keep your legs kicking and core switched on to ensure your hips and legs don’t drop and sink, making it harder to swim.

A swimmer doing head up, head down drill

4. Non-dominant side sighting

The chances are you have a dominant side for breathing which you also favour for sighting.

Being able to sight on both sides is a key part of advancing your sighting ability. Sighting on both sides allows you to be able to sight whenever you need rather than waiting for your sighting arm, meaning you will be able to sight something earlier during your ocean swim, particularly in the wave zone.

To practice sighting on your non-dominant side, start by swimming a 50m practising sighting on your regular arm, then swim a 50m sighting on your non-dominant arm, repeat this until you feel more comfortable sighting on your non-dominant arm. Once you are more comfortable with sighting on both sides you can try sighting on both sides, bilaterally, for a 50m, then do a 50m only sighting on your non-dominant side.

5. Catch-up

Catch-up is another simple yet effective drill that can dramatically improve your sighting ability. This drill helps you get more glide in your stroke which gives you more time to sight when you are open water swimming.

To perform catch-up, leave your leading arm out in front until your stroking arm meets it, before starting your next stroke.

When performing the catch-up drill, keep your long body and stretch through your fingertips.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 14 March 2023
  • (Updated on 6 August 2023)

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