Open Water Swimming Tips for Beginners



Summer’s finally here. It’s a great time for barbeques and chilling on the beach and if you’re training for a triathlon, it’s open water season! Swimming in open waters can be daunting, even for seasoned triathletes and more so for beginners. It’s only natural. After all, a lake is so much bigger than a swimming pool and the ocean is simply enormous.

Is Open Water Swimming Really Different from Swimming in a Pool?

Yes it is! Open waters can be choppy, murky and there may be currents that want to pull you in different directions. But with some training, you can confidently adapt to these changes. The biggest edge you need while swimming in open waters is more psychological than physical.

We put together our top tips to help you prepare for open water swimming, both physically and mentally, so you can enjoy it as much as we do!

There will be Fish!

Yes that’s top tip number one! Swimming pools always have clean water and clearly marked boundaries. Not so with lakes or the ocean! Don’t be startled if you brush up against vegetation or the occasional fish during an open water swim. In fact, be prepared for it. The water will be murky as well so unlike the pool be prepared not to be able to see the bottom.

Thankfully, we know of no triathlons that are held in crocodile infested waters so you should be safe! However in triathlons, the number of people invading the water is enough to scare most fishes away.

What to Wear during Open Water Swimming

Wetsuits really help with buoyancy but temperatures in summer can vary. If the water is warm, it’s a good idea to ditch the wetsuit for a tech swimsuit to avoid overheating while swimming. In colder areas though, make sure your wetsuit is thick enough to keep you warm. Outdoor shops even stock underwater thermometers that you can use to test the water before you get in.

Use the Buddy System

Public swimming areas should normally have a lifeguard station which is great to start off with. The peace of mind that it provides diminishes, however, as you get further away from the shoreline. Whether it’s a designated public swimming area or you’ve found one of your own, it’s always good to have a buddy swimming next to you, no matter how good a swimmer you are.  If you can’t have someone in the water with you, see if your buddy can accompany you in a kayak and egg you on!

How to Stay Safe in Open Waters

On the day of the triathlon, see if you can get in a practice session in the water before the race actually starts.

Do some warm ups before actually getting in, even if the water’s warm. The last thing you need is to cramp up in the water where you can’t find the bottom. Swim along the shoreline, especially if the area you are swimming in is popular with boating enthusiasts. The center of a lake is usually popular motorboat and water ski territory. A brightly colored swim cap should also increase your visibility.

Get Your Technique Right

Open water swimming needs you to be able to deal with a variety of factors, like choppy waters for example, that can make anyone slightly anxious. Having confidence in your skills like your swim stroke and breathing can help calm you down. If you’re unsure of this part of it, it is a good idea to get a coach who can help guide you to hone your technical skills.

You can do training sessions in a pool as well with practice sessions in open waters a couple of times a week.

How to Sight Open Water Swimming

It is easy to get thrown off course while swimming in open waters. Unlike swimming pools, they do not have clearly defined lanes or boundaries to use as guides. Practice looking up in order to get your bearings whilst swimming. Make sure your goggles are suited to the conditions you will be swimming in and fit well.

Open water swim courses have brightly colored buoys as markers to help you stick to your course. Try and go over the course before the race day if possible. Learn which buoys are the ones marking the turns. You can also always follow the people in front of you. Of course, it’s possible that they could stray off the course as well, so a combination of the two methods should keep you on the right path!

Stay Calm

This one, we admit, is easier said than done especially with the excitement of race day and wanting to give your best. Take a moment to yourself and mentally go over the course and focus. Find a good pace and stick to it. Pick it up only if you’re ready for it. After all, there’s still the cycling leg and the run to go!

The main thing is to enjoy your open water swim! We’d love to hear your experience with open water swimming. Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re looking for gear for your open water swim, we would love to help. Contact us if you have any questions – happy swimming!

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