View Full Version : river swimming against the current

January 29th, 2014, 12:30 AM
I am a longtime pool swimmer but relatively new to open water. In the last year, I've had a handful of good workout swims in the Gulf of Mexico (while on vacation) and in a lake (here at home), so I've gotten a chance to get a feel for things like sighting, navigating, and adapting my pull to choppy waters and surf--enough to have a decent understanding of what I need to work on, anyway, and enough to know I want to do more OW swimming. I've also always been a bilateral breather, so that's nothing new.

What I haven't been able to do to this point is river swimming, but I have signed up for a 1.2 mile river race in a few months. The first leg will be against the current. Is there anything I should be keeping in mind/training for that will help attack that current head-on? I know that kicking is often not as prominent in an OW technique, but I am a strong kicker, should I be playing around with the intensity of kicks, so I'm ready to ramp it up when I'm pushing against the current? Once upon a time I swam fly and IM in meets and still do a fair amount of fly in my workouts--would a dolphin kick serve any advantage against the current? Or is that a ridiculous notion that would wear me out too much too early? Or is the main thing adjusting my pull to be fast and strong?

January 31st, 2014, 09:41 AM
If I had to guess, I'd say you signed up for the Ohio River Open Water Swim near Louisville. I've done the 2.4 mile version there a couple of times. This course is challenging for a couple of reasons:
1. It runs clockwise. Those used sighting buoys that are forward and to the left as on most counterclockwise courses (like me) find this challenging.
2. The upsstream portion of the course is closer to the center of the river meaning that the current is stronger than it is near the shore. So the upstream portion does feel a current while the current aid coming home is almost negligible. The current for the upstream is between 1 and 2 mph. While that sounds negligible, I really noticed the 1 mph difference between the two times I swam this course.

I'm a 2-beat kicker so I don't know if I have advice regarding use of extra kick for upstream swimming. I think it's worth experimenting if you get a chance to test waters with a current.

What I focus on for this swim, instead, is shortening my stroke and increasing my stroke rate. I have a longer, smoother stroke, and have in past had a tendency to have a slight pause between entry and beginning of pull. I've worked hard to eliminate that so I can keep my forward momentum as an asset. Also during the upstream portion of the swim, I work in sections of really rapid stroke rate breathing every three. Maybe it's just psychological, but at least I feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Rob Copeland
January 31st, 2014, 10:53 AM
In most current aided/impaired swims you will not feel the difference in the water. Your water speed is not affected, but your land speed is. What you might notice is that points of reference on land blow by when swimming down current and creep by when swimming up current.

Beyond, talking to race veterans to understand where to find the most advantageous currents, I suggest working the up current harder than the down current. For example a swimmer holding 1:20 per 100 in a flat OW mile will swim it in 23:28. If there is a 1 MPH current (half with and half against) and you hold the steady 1:20 your time is 27:42. If you hold 1:15ís against and 1:25ís with, you cut about a minute off (26:45). The greater the current or the slower the yards/100 time, the larger the difference. A 2 MPH current with this 1:15/1:25 vs. 1:20 saves over 10 minutes and 1 1MPH current with a 1:55/2:05 vs 2:00 saves almost 4 minutes.

February 12th, 2014, 11:55 AM
the key is to not stop swimming when going against the current.

March 11th, 2014, 02:40 PM
Thanks for your responses-sorry not to have said so sooner. I'm sure I'm overthinking things. That said, I've been playing around in workouts with various kick beats so that I can have multiple tools in my box, so to speak.

I guess it's finally sinking in that a lower kick count allows for a shorter pull with more turnover for powering through when need be. I'd seen so much about OW folks often using a 2-beat kick, even when not in a tri (and therefore not needing to "save" their legs for the other race stages), but it didn't make sense why not to just use a 4- or 6-beat.

But duh, there's only so fast you can flutter that many kicks per arm turnover without making it such a small motion that the kick becomes more of an energy suck than a power producer. So if you need that faster arm churn, the leg motion will need to coordinate in a different way. Right?

March 12th, 2014, 10:17 AM
As I'm not an elite open water swimmer (usually finish somewhere in that second quartile of the field), I'll defer to those opinions as far as being competitive is concerned. I do get the sense there is a bit of personal preference here. I am a 2-beat kicker through most of the race until the final push when I switch to 6-beat (couldn't stop myself from doing so if I tried). My feeling is that over long distances the conservation of energy by using a 2-beat kick far outweighs any propulsion I get as a result. My other tendency is to pass swimmers in the final 20% of the race so I think that may be evidence of my strategy working for me.