Q: I got into Escape From Alcatraz! What’s your best training advice for this swim? –@bquinnterest
A: Alcatraz is one of my favorites because of the challenging water conditions. My advice: 1. Prepare for the length of time you will be swimming. Depending on the current, it can take the top swimmers anywhere between 22 and 35 minutes. Prepare to be in the cold water 30–50 minutes! 2. Get comfortable in rough and cold open-water conditions. Practice as often as possible in your local swimming holes. Don’t skip training on the overcast or windy days where you can practice swimming through foggy and choppy conditions. 3. There is no possibility for a swim warm-up since you start from a boat. Purchase a set of swim cords to use for a dry-land warm-up. At one practice per week, use them as your swim warm-up and start your main set as soon as you dive in the water.
Q: Is the use of a tempo device a good way for a first-year swimmer to get faster by developing quicker turnover? –@bittnermj
A: Quick tempo (aka: stroke rate) is one of the secrets to fast open-water swimming—as long as your stroke technique is correct! Before working on tempo, focus on good technique, building strength and endurance, and getting comfortable in the water. Once you have accomplished all of that, use the tempo trainer on sets of 6–8 x 50s. When you can comfortably maintain the tempo for an entire set, increase the tempo for next time. I find it easiest to have a single beep for every other arm (aim for a tempo between 35–40 beats per minute). Put the tempo trainer under your swim cap, just above your ear, to hear it best while swimming.
Q: After a broken collarbone my arms don’t track symmetrically in the water and I drift to the right. Any tips to help? –@1_Mad_Madone
A: A broken collarbone can definitely throw a wrench into your swim stroke. I have worked with athletes struggling with similar flexibility issues. Through trial and error we found that the best way to straighten out a stroke is by making the uninjured arm as similar as possible to the injured arm. If your right arm enters the water 8 inches away from the centerline and with a slight bend in the elbow, do the same with your left arm. This should straighten out your stroke in a way that is possible with your injury.
Got a swimming question? Coach Sara wants to help. Just tweet your queries to @SaraLMcLarty.
Pro triathlete and swim coach Sara McLarty has 25-plus years of experience and knowledge about swimming mechanics, efficiency and technique.