Book Review: Open Water Swimming, Steven Munatones

I borrowed Steven Munatones’s Open Water Swimming from the library (through the wonder of interlibrary loan), but I had only read about halfway through it before I knew I needed to buy my own copy. I live in a house full of books–seriously, it’s full of books; you can’t walk down the hall with a laundry basket without knocking books off the shelf–so I don’t buy a book unless I know I want to read it and reread it and take notes in it. This is a book I’m going to return to again and again.

Open Water Swimming has ten chapters (plus resources and a glossary):

  1. The Open Water Swimmer
  2. Overcoming the Elements
  3. Choosing Your Events
  4. The Open Water Tool Kit
  5. Building a Faster Freestyle
  6. Preparing for Short-Distance Swims
  7. Preparing for Middle-Distance Swims
  8. Preparing for Marathon Swims
  9. Racing Tactics for Every Event
  10. Triathlon Training and Finishing Fast

You can tell from the list that the book aims at a wide audience, from the beginning triathlete to the marathon swimmer, so parts of the book do not apply to me right now and might not apply to you. Someday, though, maybe I’m going to want to swim the Tsugaru Channel (known for nighttime blooms of squid!), and I’ll know where to look for info.

On the other hand, chapters five and six contain specific training advice that I am already putting into practice. In chapter five (“Building a Faster Freestyle”), Munatones clearly explains details of a strong open water freestyle (i.e. front crawl stroke), with drills to help with body positioning and efficient sighting. In chapter six (titled somewhat misleadingly “Preparing for Short-Distance Swims” as it contains workout suggestions for short, middle, and marathon distances), he sets up a framework he calls the Pyramid of Open Water Success; its foundation is base training, speed training, and distance tolerance. He then gives sets to help swimmers work on each of those aspects, and, to my great enjoyment, discusses how swimming other strokes in practices can help you swim long distances freestyle on event day. I’m already using some of his IM sets. Munatones also makes the absolutely terrific suggestion of beginning an interval from the middle of the pool, rather than by pushing off the wall. This is a great idea to practice starting from treading water; yesterday I did a 10 x 200 set (alternating IMs and free) in this way, and it truly kicked my butt. I was delighted. I will do it again.

In addition, chapter six has detailed directions about how to set up your pool to do POW (Pool Open Water) training; as I don’t control the set-up of my pool, they aren’t much use to me, but I can see these ideas being very helpful to a coach or team.

I also appreciate the way Munatones covers interactions among swimmers during a race. He sets up three distinctions: swimming defensively, swimming offensively, and swimming aggressively. Now, I have no desire to swim offensively or aggressively, but having swum several races, I understand the need to swim defensively. Munatones discusses drafting in chapter nine (“Racing Tactics for Every Event”), and I wish I had read his advice earlier: I would have been better prepared to deal with the miserable so-and-so who was poking my feet for a quarter of a mile at the Lake Lure swim last August. I’m still angry about it six months later. On the other hand, Table 9.1: How to Execute Turns with Authority made me laugh with glee; I want to execute turns with authority, and this season, I will.

There is more valuable information in this book than I am able to present here, including the overview in chapter one (“The Open Water Swimmer”), the discussion of equipment in chapter four (“The Open Water Tool Kit”–he’s just about convinced me that I need a swimmer’s snorkel), and the pre-race preparation advice in chapter seven (“Preparing for the Middle-Distance Swim”). Other swimmers might get excited about different pieces of advice in the book; there’s a lot here. But as for me, I think this book is a keeper. You can borrow my copy, but I’m going to want it back.

Open Water Swimming by Steven Munatones was published by Human Kinetics in 2011; it’s available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Open Water Swimming, Steven Munatones

    1. Well, the writing is not lyric. But the book is content-rich. It’s a textbook. I wouldn’t go to it for inspiration, but I found it a great source of information.

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