From Pool to Ocean: Ivan Puskovitch’s Essential Gear For Improving His Swimming

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American Ivan Puskovitch will be one of 22 men competing in the men’s open water 10 km at the Olympics this summer in Paris. Competing at the highest level of open water swimming means a lot of pool time. A pool is a very different environment, providing a controlled environment and practicality, but Puskovitch says that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for the challenges of open water.  

1. Snorkel

One of the biggest differences between open water and pool swimming is sighting. Sighting is a skill that should be practiced in the pool just as much as in open water because it requires precise head movement in order to maintain speed and efficiency.  

“There’s a lot more head movement in open water,” Puskovitch says.  

“In the pool, you’re not picking your head up, you’re not looking around, you’re not trying to get your bearings by looking for landmarks or buoys. Your head is down and then to the side, you're swiveling laterally. Whereas in open water, you’re getting that vertical swivel as well.” 

 Moving your head to sight can have negative impacts on your body position, creating more drag and making you slower. Practicing sighting, both the head movement and maintaining your body line, is essential.  

Try this: Sighting with a Snorkel

During other technique drills or during easy-paced swimming, use a snorkel to practice sighting while swimming. Focus on the specific movement and maintaining your streamline.  

“The main focus is practicing proper head positioning and neck alignment,” he says, adding that speed or intensity is not a concern.  

“I mainly use the snorkel to practice keeping my head straight, so that when it's time for me to sight, when it's time for me to pick my head up in an open water race, it’s second nature for me not to have my neck drift off to the side and create additional water resistance in the neck and the upper chest area.” 

2. Pull Buoy

“I’m a huge puller,” Puskovitch says. Specializing in the 10 km event, Puskovitch is racing for almost two hours and says he primarily uses a 2-beat kick.  

“When you're doing long distance swimming, it's much more upper body dominant rather than lower body dominant. I call the legs ‘oxygen drains.’ They're just such massive muscles that if you're using them a lot, you're going to just blow so much oxygen and that’s the most vital resource.” 

Try this: Swimming with a Pull Buoy 

Train to be upper body dominant by swimming with a pull buoy. 

“The pull buoy is great because it really limits any leg movement. It forces you to focus on keeping your shoulders engaged and gets you used to feeling your hips maintained at the top of the surface of the water without having to keep your legs engaged.” 

3. Build Core Strength

Core strength can’t be underestimated in open water swimming. With longer distances, having a strong core is essential to maintain efficiency and speed.  

“Core strength is the name of the game. When you get tired, your legs start sinking. Good core strength means you are really well equipped to keep your hips up when it’s time to race in open water.” 

Try this: Swimming with a Pull Buoy at Your Ankles 

Puskovitch says a pull buoy is a great way to really challenge your core strength. The farther the pull buoy is away from your core, the harder it will be to maintain a good position. Start with the buoy in the traditional position between your thighs and then progress to holding in between your knees and ultimately between your ankles.  

“Not only do you need to have a lot of lower body endurance to hold it together and not let it slip out, but it creates this canoe-like body position if you let your hips sink. So, it's a great way to practice overcompensating for high buoyancy at the shoulders and the feet, but low buoyancy at the hips and it just lets you gather some really good core strength.” 

Try this: Kicking with a Board 

Using a kickboard is another way to achieve a similar challenge for your core strength.  

“Obviously, kicking is the reason everyone uses a kickboard but you have to focus on keeping your hips up and not letting yourself fall into that canoe shape.”  

Just like changing the position of the pull buoy, Puskovitch will change the position of his hands on the kickboard to create more or less difficulty.  

“You can hold it all the way at the top and rest your arms or as you move your grip further down, you're getting less support and less buoyancy support from the kickboard.” 

4. Finger Paddle

“The last thing I want at the end of a race is to be catching less water than my competition– that's the biggest reason why people start to pull away from others.” 

Puskovitch champions pulling to build strength but also says strong wrists are vital for keeping your catch.  

“Especially swimmers who use their arms for a significantly greater amount of time–you cannot have weak wrists when you’re pulling. Otherwise, you’re going to totally miss the water at the beginning of your catch.” 

Try this: Swimming with Finger Paddles  

To work on wrist strength, Puskovitch focuses on the start of the catch and uses finger paddles for more water feel.  

“I use finger paddles all the time. They are really good if you’re doing a lot of drills and strong distance per stroke work to really practice flexing the wrist at the start of the catch.” 

Unlike larger paddles that are for strength-based pulling, finger paddles are for “technique driven and mechanically focused” work to hone the correct motion of the catch.  

Puskovitch adds that they aren’t just for drills or freestyle. A great way to fully harness the benefits of building wrist strength with finger paddles is using them in all four strokes, especially butterfly.  

“I use them in all strokes. They’re really challenging and butterfly, because you're starting your catch the same way as freestyle, I find that using the finger paddles in both is really effective and helps me with my open water prep.” 

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