Conquering the open water


By Richard Woolrich

Biokineticist (BSc Med (Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics) UCT
2014 PT of the year

I think for many triathletes, the swim can be the most challenging discipline, but with practice and training comes the confidence to conquer the open water. I hope these tips will not only improve your open water swimming but also make you feel more relaxed and comfortable in the water.

Top tip: experience

The more that you have been exposed to various conditions in open water the more comfortable you will feel on race day. So if possible, try to get in a few surf swims in a safe environment and preferably in a group.


The water temperature should be between 17 and 24 degrees Celsius, so it’s highly likely that you’ll be in a wetsuit. Make sure you have practiced in a wetsuit on multiple occasions and have found one that fits you correctly.

  • An easy way to get the suit on is to put plastic bags over your feet first and then pull the wetsuit on over those.
  • People often chafe quite badly around their necks, so it is advisable to use some Vaseline around your neck, especially on your breathing side.
  • Make sure you pull the sleeves and wetsuit legs far enough up, so that you have adequate movement around your shoulders and hips.
  • Once your wetsuit is on, you can spread some baby oil or spray some “spray and cook” around your wrists and ankles. This will help the ease at which you can slip out of your wetsuit.

Acclimatise to the water/warm-up

This is important both before a race, as well as when you are out for a training swim. In a race situation, I recommend getting in the water and warming up prior to the start. This helps you get a feel for the water conditions and gives you a chance to locate the buoys from the water. You will also need to consider the tide or wash as this can help you decide where the best place to start is. Make sure there are no rocks or holes in the line you are going to run into the water.

Practice your sighting

You will need to learn to lift your head to look where you are going in order to stay on course. If the water is choppy, it may be difficult to spot the buoys, so where possible look for various land markers. It may be a tall tree or branding – something that you can see each time you lift your head to look forward. Prior to the race, get in the water and practise sighting these buoys and markers during your warm-up or even the day before.

How to sight

As you lift your head, your hips and legs drop, which increases your drag. So it’s a compromise, sighting too often will affect your swim stroke and too little, you may go off course. I would suggest sighting every 10 or so strokes, but if you know you can’t swim straight, you may want to sight more often. The key will be to only lift your eyes high enough to see the buoy or marker. It’s a good idea to practice this move in the pool.

Follow the feet in front of you

Swimming in the bubbles of the swimmer in front of you will reduce your overall effort. This is also another way to keep you on course without lifting your head, however: do not rely solely on this for direction, as you could be led off course by the swimmers in front of you.

Next week I will cover brick sessions and how to incorporate them into your training.

Cranberry chicken

Cranberry and walnut stuffed chicken680

(8 servings)


For the stuffing:

70g (2 slices) brown bread

1 handful fresh herbs – try basil,

parsley, dill mint or fennel sprigs

70g walnuts

50g dried cranberries

1 apple, peeled and cored

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

0.5 tsp sea salt

0.5 tsp black pepper

Place all ingredients in your food processor and whiz until finely chopped.

Keep covered in the fridge until ready to use.

For the chicken breasts:

8 skinless free-range chicken breasts

8 wide slices black forest or Parma ham

Cocktail sticks


Slice each breast almost in half lengthwise and stuff with 2 tbs of stuffing. Use cocktail sticks to keep the breasts closed. Lay each breast on a slice of ham. Lift up the ham to make a collar and secure with a cocktail stick. Keep in the fridge for up to a day. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 180 °C and place breast on a lightly oiled baking tray. Roast for 30 minutes until chicken is done and ham is crispy. Remove sticks. Slice into rounds and serve warm or at room temperature with raspberry and ginger coulis. Bring all ingredients slowly to the boil and then bubble away for 5-10 minutes until syrupy. Allow to cool, strain and serve at room temperature.

Fruity pavlova

Fruity pavlova680


2 egg whites

3ml (½ tsp) cream of tartar

125ml (½ cup) castor sugar

3ml (½ tsp) vanilla essence

1 pineapple, chopped

1 cup strawberries, chopped

1 tin peaches, drained

500ml fat free vanilla yoghurt or low fat vanilla custard

2 tbsp chopped nuts of your choice


For the meringue:

  • Beat the egg whites until just foamy, and then add the cream of tartar.
  • Continue to beat the mixture until stiff peaks are formed. Add the sugar a little bit at a time and beat until glossy.
  • Add the vanilla essence and beat until mixed.
  • Pipe the meringue mixture onto a lined or non-stick baking sheet and bake at 100°C for 2 ½ hours or until dry.

Assemble just before serving:

Place the meringue onto a serving dish, pour yoghurt onto meringue and spread until even. Place the fruit on top of the yoghurt and sprinkle nuts over the top.

Serve with low fat frozen yoghurt.

For variety:

You can choose your favourite fruits in place of any of the others in the recipe.

Festive jellies

Cranberry and raspberry jellies680

(6 servings)


10g sheet gelatine (3 large or 6 small sheets) or 3 teaspoons powdered gelatine

500ml cranberry juice

25g caster sugar

8 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

6 slices fresh ginger

125g fresh or frozen raspberries


  • Put the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water to soften for 5 minutes. If using powdered gelatine, measure 4 tablespoons of the cranberry juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over the liquid. Leave to swell for 5 minutes.
  • Put the cranberry juice, sugar and spices in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 2-3 minutes and remove from the heat.
  • Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine sheets and add to the hot spiced cranberry juice, where it will melt almost instantly. Alternatively stir the swollen powdered gelatine into the hot liquid until dissolved. Leave to cool.
  • Divide the raspberries between 4 glasses and strain the cooled jelly on top. Cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for about 3 hours or until set.

5 reasons to stick with it in the holidays

5 reasons to stick with it in the holidays


We’re not saying spend every day of your much-deserved holiday at the gym. But we are saying that it’s important to not just forget about your health and exercise routine altogether. Here’s why.

  1. Hear this: weight gain is extremely common over the holiday season. Why? Because most people are doing less structured exercise, their routines have changed, they’re eating more, drinking more alcohol and sitting more. They’re also sleeping less, which is a health and fitness no-no.
  2. Holiday season often brings about a change in routine. Outside of the holidays, some of us are able to fit gym in before or after work, or during lunch time. But come holiday time, this routine gets shaken up and our days get filled with social engagements and family responsibilities. So we have to make an extra effort to fit in some structured exercise time.
  3. More social engagements = more eating out. There are braais and the convenience of fast foods. Most often, we choose foods that are less healthy because of the time that preparing healthy food is believed to take. Spend some of your holiday down-time in the kitchen, getting creative with fruits and veggies. You may find some quick and tasty things to make when the work year starts!
  4. It can take just a few weeks of inactivity to lose the benefits in strength and fitness that you spent time improving on during the year. It’s not worth it, is it? The good news is that for those of you who kept up your fitness over the year, having some time off won’t decline fitness as rapidly as would be seen in your more sedentary counterparts.
  5. It should be said that the holiday season is a time for fun, for spending time with friends and family, and for spoiling oneself a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from an exercise routine – just try to remain active throughout the day wherever possible. It’s important that you don’t sacrifice enjoyment and social time for the sake of sticking to your usual exercise routine.

Your guide to smart holiday food choices

smart holiday food choices

It is so easy to overindulge during the holidays, especially when you’re still fitting in regular gym sessions. But those gym sessions alone won’t be able to offset all of those mince pies. Staying mindful of what you’re eating (and how much of it you’re eating!) is the most important part of beating holiday weight gain.

We’ve rounded up some helpful tips to help you curb that holiday weight gain. But first…

What’s your goal?

Do you want to up your fitness and weight loss these holidays, or just maintain your current weight?

Remember: During the holiday season, routines are different. Some of us get more social, others try and stay home-bound, so we need to be flexible when it comes to sticking to our fitness goals. We need to be realistic.

Not a lot of spare time? Perhaps it would be easier, and more realistic, to focus on maintaining your routine rather than picking things up.

Committing to stay on top of your game? Go ahead and spend more time at gym, on the hiking trails, in the pool, upping your fitness and calorie burn. Get creative with healthy recipes too.

Taking every situation as it comes…

At cocktail parties

Before you head for the door, have a small snack so that you aren’t starving when you arrive. This way, it’s easier to control the amount of food you eat when you’re out. Dish a small amount of food onto a plate and move away from the buffet to avoid unconscious snacking.

Tip: Avoid pastries and greasy foods. Choose veggie sticks, grilled chicken pieces and fish.

When eating out

Choose grilled instead of fried. Limit sauces. Fill up on salads (dressing on the side) and veggie dishes. Keep an eye on your portion sizes. Restaurant meals are often 2-3 times the size of a meal that you would normally eat at home. Take leftovers instead.

At braais

Fill up on salads and veggies. Watch your portion sizes when it comes to the meat, especially boerewors (chicken or ostrich are better options) and fatty chops and ribs.

When it comes to alcohol

Alcohol is full of empty calories. It also stimulates hunger. Always have a glass of water nearby to sip in between drinks. Choose spritzers (white wine mixed with soda water) or try a light wine. Into spirits? Choose your mixer carefully, avoiding sodas full of sugar.

Tip: Add loads of ice to your drink.

During breakfast

Start each day with a nutritious breakfast. Try a high-fibre cereal with fruit and plain yoghurt, a fruit smoothie or a slice of wholewheat toast with a poached egg.

Be snack smart 

Avoid snacking on unhealthy food while lounging around the pool. Choose healthy snacks, like:

- Rice cakes or Corn-Thins with cottage cheese and avocado

- Chopped carrots or peppers dipped in hummus

- Crispy chickpeas. Drain a can, season and place on a greased baking tray. Bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes and voila

- Fresh fruit and plain yoghurt

- Lean biltong sticks (preferably game or ostrich) and a handful of raw unsalted nuts.

Lastly, how much weight do people gain during the holidays, really?

There’s no exact data for South Africa. But we have research that was done in the US. Here’s what they found:

- A 0.5-1.0 kg increase over the holiday period

- Weight gain has been greater among individuals who were overweight or obese before the holiday season

- Weight gain during the 6 week holiday season explained 51% of the annual weight gain.

Stay fit, anywhere


Exercising when you’re away from your regular routine, and gym, can be quite tricky and let’s face it, last on your holiday ‘to do’ list!

We’ve put together some ideas for exercises that you can do while you aren’t able to get to the gym, so that you never lose track of your goal.

Don’t forget to pack

  • Athletic shoes.
  • Training socks.
  • Comfy training clothes.

Home and away exercise tips

  • Use your own body weight for strength training if you don’t have weights or equipment. For example, you can do tricep dips while using a chair or your bed for support.
  • Get a full body workout by including some upper and lower body strength exercises (like push ups and lunges) and cardiovascular activity (like step ups or walking) and finish the session with some stretching.
  • Focus on the large muscle groups. Some examples of larger muscle group exercises that incorporate your own body weight and no equipment are lunges, push ups, squats and calf raises.
  • Activate your core first. Before starting off any exercises, make sure that your posture is correct. This is important to help avoid injury.
  • Every little bit counts. Not fitting in a structured workout? Just playing tourist and walking around more than you usually do beats sitting in an office all day long. Good for you!

The equipment-free, anytime, anywhere workout

Cardio interval: skip for 20 seconds between each exercise.

Tip: Use a filled water bottle as a weight.

Warm up (go for a walk) for 5 minutes

Complete the circuit three times, 10 reps of each exercise 


Step ups

Push ups

Step ups

Squats + bicep curls

Step ups

Toe squats

Step ups

Tricep dips

Step ups

Stretch (hold each stretch for 15 seconds)

2 ways to beat jet lag

Jet lag (or ‘circadian disrythmia’) is when your body’s biological and biophysical clocks are disrupted, especially due to travelling across different time zones. To make jet lag less crazy you should:

  1. Depart for your trip well rested
  2. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, but avoid using alcohol while travelling.

myvirginactive – wherever you go

myvirginactive is your ultimate digital fitness partner. It’s filled with loads of awesome features, and if you’re on-the-go this festive season and need moves or inspiration, it’s your number one source.

You can:

- Track: See how well you’re doing by tracking your training and measurements.

- Move: Select a workout routine, customise it and use our exercise video library to show you exactly how it’s done.

- Eat: Get your own meal plan and shopping list according to your daily caloric requirements.

- Learn: Browse our range of credible health and fitness articles and find inspiration, delicious recipes and expert tips.

- Mobi: Wherever you are, you now have access to your workout routine, timetables, bookings and track.

Your health and fitness journey starts with a goal. And you don’t have to let the holidays damage all the hard work you’ve been doing. Keep going!