Open Water Swimming Tips

open-water-swimming-tipsAs the lakes warm up and you are feeling the mental pressures of your next triathlon, the open water swim can be one of the biggest mental challenges that you have to face.  The best thing to do is be prepared.  Very few people consider swimming to be their strongest event in a triathlon, I’ve heard it said many times that “the best part about the swim is getting out of the water.” If swimming is not your strong point the thing to do is swim more, watch videos on technique, and swim more.

Most triathletes find running to be their strong suit, so focus less on your running and put more hours in at the pool.  The more comfortable you are in the water the better you’ll be prepared for open water.  Open water swimming takes a good deal of mental preparation.  The difference between the pool and open water are obvious –  you can’t stand up and take a rest in most cases and unless your living in the tropics, the water temperature is going to be cooler – or just plain cold. These things bring up two important ingredients to open water swimming.  Wear a wetsuit and never swim alone.

Helpful Tips For Open Water Swimming

Warm up. Get in the water and spend some time warming up, it takes your body about 15 minutes of good aerobic activity before your heart and muscles are ready to go.  The loss of breath when getting in cold water happens every time for every athlete, but it doesn’t last and mentally you need to be prepared for it.  Focus on relaxing and getting lots of air – float on your back and watch the clouds.  Some lakes are easier to practice open water swimming than others.  If you can practice in water that has a sandy bottom and the water isn’t above your head – it really helps, especially if you have a freak out moment.

Swimming straight. To swim in a straight line you’ll need to practice keeping your arms straight ahead/above your shoulders – not allowing one arm to get lazy (wide) or cutting over.   Sighting is the other technique you’ll need to practice. To sight as you swim lift your head so that your goggles are just out of the water and spot a group of trees and keep that picture in your mind, after 3 strokes lift your head and find your point again.  You may need to spot every stroke at first with practice this will become a little more comfortable.  Incorporate your sighting with your breath, sight first, then breath as your head comes down.  Here’s a great video on open water swimming and sighting.

Overcoming freak-out moments. Everyone has them, for many it’s the day of the race.  There you are swimming along feeling good when suddenly you get a mouthful of water instead of air and your brain yells “its dark underneath you, you can’t see in front of you, you can’t touch the bottom, this waters cold, your shoulder hurts, this wetsuit is to tight, you can’t breath, you going to drown!”   It happens.  What do you do? I suggest two things:

1) flip over and float on your back and kick with your legs.  If you can float you are not going to drown. Take a moment, relax, tell yourself you’re OK.  Most likely you’re body isn’t warmed up enough and the muscles are calling for air. Once you’ve calmed down, roll over and get back into the grove.


2) Don’t flip over, but focus on what you are doing, reach and push the water past your body, breath, shake your hand as it comes up out of the water. Think positive, smile, and tell yourself you can do it, and keep swimming.  Besides isn’t that the point of doing a triathlon? Learning endurance and overcoming your weaker self.

Take an open water swim clinic, and watch technique videos, and swim more in open water.

Your thoughts:

  • What tip would you give a first time open water swimmer?
  • Have you ever had a “freak out” moment and how did you overcome it?
  • Where do you practice open water swimming?
  • Is there any special equipment open water swimmers should not leave without?