Mastering Open Water Drafting: Key Principles for Efficient Swimming

When swimming in open water, a swimmer acts like a displacement vessel that creates a bow wave with both forward and lateral movements. The direction and size of these waves depend on the swimmer’s speed and size. Here are the key principles to keep in mind when drafting in open water:

  1. The Ideal Draft: The faster the lead swimmer is, the better the draft will be for those behind, assuming all other factors are equal. Also, the draft is more beneficial for those behind the lead swimmer when the lead swimmer is physically larger. Finally, the closer a swimmer is to the lead swimmer, the better the draft.

  2. The Perfect Position: Drafting between the ankles and hips of the lead swimmer is more beneficial than drafting directly behind their feet. This is because when a drafting swimmer reaches the mid-body of the lead swimmer, they can take maximum advantage of the bow wave created by the lead swimmer, which lifts up at the end of the swimmer’s body. This position allows the drafting swimmer to surf the bow wave, which is the most efficient swimming. Also, when drafting off to the side of the lead swimmer, the drafting swimmer is away from the eddies caused by their kick, resulting in more efficient drafting. Additionally, at the end of the race when the kick of most swimmers increases, drafting higher alongside their body can utilize their bow wave but far enough away from the swirls and eddies caused by their kick.

  3. Combining Your Speed: When drafting, it is essential to combine your speed with that of the lead swimmer. If the lead swimmer speeds up, you speed up, and if they slow down, you slow down. Directly behind the lead swimmer, the water becomes smoother, but you are not efficiently utilizing their bow wave.

  4. Streamlined Position: To maintain an optimal position when drafting, avoid lifting your head too often to navigate. This saves energy that can be utilized at the end of the race. The most optimal head position is when you are looking straight down, creating a more streamlined and efficient body position that saves you energy and reduces drag.

  5. Navigating off the Lead Swimmer: When you swim parallel to the lead swimmer, you can navigate effectively off them when you breathe. This reduces the need to lift your head to sight, and your head is positioned in the most streamlined position.

There are many other factors to consider when drafting and positioning as world-class athletes do, but these basic principles are a good starting point. By keeping them in mind, you can improve your drafting and make your open water swimming more efficient.