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Why You Need an Open Water Swim Stroke

Open water technique, gut training, and when to push through pain

Good morning everyone,

It’s race week for me so I’m enjoying the drop in volume and I feel like I’m really starting to absorb the training from the last couple of months! The nerves are definitely setting in, but I’m super excited to race one more time before a little December downtime.

And if any of you are going to be at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells this weekend make sure to say hi!

In today’s edition:

  • 🍝 Can you ‘train your gut’ to handle more carbohydrates?

  • 🏊 Why you need an open water swim stroke.

  • 🤕 And when should you push through pain?

Thanks for being here,

-Matt Sharpe, newsletter editor

Headshot of Matt Sharpe

Have a triathlete in your life who can't stop swimming, biking, or running? Fire this off to them. Forwarded from a friend? Sign-up for free. 


Why This Expert Thinks You Need an Open Water Swim Stroke

Brenton Ford is a master swim coach and the founder of Effortless Swimming. He’s helped over 6,000 athletes improve their swimming through his timeless methods.

In our chat below Brenton explains the differences between pool and open-water swimming, and how they can take your racing to the next level 🏊

Do you think there are separate pool swimming strokes and open water swimming strokes?

My stroke really started to change when I started training and racing in the open water. And when I came back to the pool after a long time away my friend said to me, “Man…your stroke isn’t looking very good!”

  • Time-wise I was a little slower in the pool, but in the open water, I was swimming really well!

What are some key differences between pool and open-water swimming?

I found a couple of differences when I switched to open water specific swimming.

Recovery: - In the open water your recovery needs to be higher, wider, and faster.

  • Often when you have a wetsuit on your hand is higher than your elbow on the recovery - which isn’t the same as in the pool - and a little quicker over the top of the water.

Less glide: - In the open water you need to start your catch sooner.

  • The catch in the open water is less of a traditional high elbow due the the shorter time in the stroke cycle.

  • In the pool, work on a good catch, But in the open water let go of the idea of looking pretty.

  • When racing focus on getting the stroke rate tempo up, and a good feel for the water.

Would you say the open water stroke is flatter in the water, with less rotation?

Definitely! In order to get your stroke rate up you can’t rotate as much. And it actually annoys me when someone tells you you need heaps of rotation through the hips. I’ve come across a lot of swimmers who are totally over-rotating - like 90 degrees! When you should be rotating 30-40 degrees maximum

  • When you look at an athlete like Lucy Charles Barclay, who’s one of the best in the world, she’s rotating about 30 degrees.

Watch: Lucy Charles Barclay and her incredible open-water swim stroke. 

When you go too far with your hips you’re totally on your side. When you’re reaching out and starting to catch and your hips are at 90 degrees there’s no connection with your arm and the rotation of your body.

  • So you need to be flatter through your hips, and that way when you start your catch you can connect everything up.

  • Most people over-rotate on the breathing stroke. So what I say to people is feel what you do on your non-breathing stroke and see if you can make them a little more even.

For more world-class swim insights from Coach Ford and other Triathlon experts be sure to become a Tempo Pro member today!

Looking to improve your catch? Check out Coach Ford’s simple and effective 5-Day Catch Challenge!

Do you swim differently in the pool than the open water?

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🤕 Pain in the: You’re out for a run and all of a sudden a weird pain strikes. But how do you know if it’s nothing, or if its a potential season-ender? Here are three things to consider! [Believe In The Run]

📅 Cycle solutions: Sometimes the timing of a big race and the timing of your cycle is a little too matched up. So how should you handle your period during a triathlon? This Reddit thread has a few suggestions. [Reddit]

🏋️‍♀️ Beginner strength: “Strength is so important,” and “you should definitely be lifting.” People always talk up the importance of strength training for Triathlon, but how do you start as a beginner? With some helpful insight. [GTN]

📰 All news, no BS: Want news without the BS? Check out 1440's daily email curated by PhDs and experts. They scour 100+ sources so you don't have to. Sign up here.*

🍝 Gut training for performance: Are you ‘gut training’ your body to absorb more carbohydrates for improved performance? Check out this infographic and learn the surprising ways your body improves its absorption. [YLM Sports Science]

🏠 Indoors for the win: If Lucy Charles Barclay can win the Ironman World Championships while training mostly indoors, could your indoor ‘gain cave’ translate to a PB at your next race? [220 Triathlon]

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  • Women led and women-written, The GIST saves you time by jampacking the best men’s and women’s sports news into a <5-minute read, 4 times a week 


Its a good thing 2024 is almost here! 🤣


New race, old history: Challenge Gallipoli, Turkey will offer an exceptional race experience steeped in incredible history as the inaugural edition kicks off on June 2nd, 2024. [Endurance.biz]

Piloting success: Tina van Wyck is an podium-level age group athlete when she isn’t doing her job - dropping people out of planes! [George Herald]

Teenage wasteland: Even with the success of Olympic gold-medalist Dame Flora Duffy, Bermuda is still seeing a precipitous drop in teenage female athlete participation. [Royal Gazette]

State honors: This year’s Challenge St. Pölten has the honour of being the 2024 Austrian Middle Distance Championships. [Noen]

Golden arches: He’s one of France’s best chances for a gold medal on home soil, and how does he plan to win? 6,000 calories and ‘no Big Macs.’ [France24]


Here’s what Tempo readers said about whether they incorporate walk/running into their training. We loved hearing all your great feedback and experiences.

Reader: Walk through the aid stations" is a popular way to incorporate this into events. Walk breaks not only give your heart rate a chance to settle, but you can take a moment to hydrate, then get back to running with a renewed focus on proper form. A take a 30-second walk break every mile during my long runs.”

Reader: I used to be dead set against it. No way - No sir! A few years ago, I ran a Thanksgiving half marathon with a friend of mine who was leading a 1:45 group, no way I was in shape to hold that time. It changed my mind completely, not only did I finish in under 1:45 but had gas in the tank on the last 2 miles. Since then, I have used it in long training runs, usually following 5:00-:30. The big differences are how I feel during the end of a long run and recovery. I only use it for runs longer than 8-10 miles.

Reader: If you don’t like the mental frame of dedicated walk breaks pick a hilly route and use the natural terrain to take walk breaks on all the uphills. Keeps you in your easy zones and gives you the break from run impact.

Reader: Excellent way to increase your speed overall by incorporating walking reset breaks.

Reader: Injury prevention was my number 1 goal ( Chronic Calf strains) , by using walking as a 10min run - 1min walk I could complete all my runs which added consistency to my schedule. Went as low as 35:11 10K training with run walks.


Challenge Canberra

Daniel Baekkegard (DEN) took the convincing win in the men’s race, while Els Visser (NED) took the exciting women’s race by a hair with a 9-second gap over Fenella Langridge (GBR)


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