Learning to Draft

If you are preparing for an open water swim or triathlon, then it’s a good idea to do a little open water swimming preparation in the pool before you venture outdoors. In an open water event, you will inevitably be swimming quite close to other swimmers and without lane ropes or a black line on the bottom of the pool to guide you, things can seem a little chaotic at first. It’s here that drafting – what we’ll be demonstrating here – will come in particularly useful.

To prepare for a little of that chaos and become comfortable with it, get together with some friends and find an empty swim lane at your pool. It’s a good idea to get permission from the life guard and tell them what you are up to as they can warn other swimmers who might otherwise jump in your lane!

We are going to practise drafting – which is where you swim behind or alongside another swimmer. This can either reduce your effort level at a given speed or allow you to swim faster for the same effort (great!) In fact, studies have shown you can save up to 38% of your energy expenditure from drafting!

There are two types of drafting, the first is “in-line” drafting where you sit as close as possible behind the swimmer in-front:

Try this in pairs, or groups of three or four of you in a row, swapping positions every length to feel the difference between leading and sitting behind. Try not to touch the person in front’s feet as it may annoy and distract them! Remember, you’re looking for a “free ride” but anything that slows them down will ultimately slow you down too.

How does that exercise feel? Do you have to vary your effort a lot to catch up quickly or slow up to stop crashing into the back of them? That’s open water swimming! It does require some concentration doesn’t it?

You might also feel some buffeting from the swimmer in front, again that’s the nature of the open water swimming beast and it’s good to get used to that feeling in the pool before heading outdoors.

Now let’s take things to the next level and try some “arrow head” drafting where you have a leader and a swimmer on the side with their head around the leader’s hip/chest level. You can have two swimmers drafting the same leader here, one on each side:

If you are drafting then the temptation is to breath away from the leader to avoid getting splashed in the mouth but the problem with doing that is you tend to drift away and separate from them when in fact you want to sit as close as you can. For that reason we recommend breathing in towards the leader to judge the distance and if you get splashed then so be it!

Swap positions every lap and if there’s four of you, experiment with sitting in the central rear position:

Here you can be effectively drafting three swimmers simultaneously and you can really gain a huge advantage. This is the prime spot if you can get it!

Arrow head drafting is even more chaotic and requires higher levels of concentration than in-line drafting but that’s good to become familiar with. In an open water race or event there will be times when you will be surrounded by swimmers on all sides so getting used to that feeling in the secure confines of the pool is the perfect introduction to this exciting sport!

Venturing Into Open Water for the First Time

For your first experiences in open water, we highly recommend finding a coached training session specifically for open water beginners. This will give you the instruction, reassurance and safety support for a great experience swimming outdoors.

Beginner sessions are run at most open water swimming venues across the country and of course many of our fantastic Swim Smooth Certified Coaches offer these sessions too. Find your local coach here:

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