Tips for Open Water Swimming

When speaking to those new to triathlon, a common concern for many is the swim element, especially any events with an open water swim.  Moving from the comfort of an indoor swimming pool to the unknown of a lake, river or sea swim, can be quite daunting for any newbie.

In a pool you have the benefit of a mini rest every 25 or 50m when you use the pool wall to turn, you don’t have to worry seeing where you are going because you can follow the black line on the pool floor, and you definitely don’t have to concern yourself with jostling for space with other swimmers.

Here are some tips to consider for those new to open water swimming:

Practice in the same conditions as the race – if possible replicate the conditions you will face in the race.  Sea swims are very different to lake swims, so you need to practice in the same environment.  Familiarity will help limit the potential panic of new experiences on race day.  Also, you need to practice continuous swimming because there are no walls to push off from or make use of for added speed and momentary respite.

Learn how to sight – this can be practiced in a pool, but you need to learn how to sight to see where you are going, and how best to do it in your stroke.  If swimming in environments with currents (sea or river) you will need to consider these so you are aiming just off your target. Check out this video for tips on sighting

Perfect treading water – if your swim route has sharp turns then this may become a bottle neck, resulting in athletes having to slow down or even stop.  If this is the case, then learning how to tread water while still moving forward is vital.

Practice breathing both waysBreathing on alternative sides in open water events can be a necessity (especially if sea swimming with waves coming over you from one side). It may not feel natural at first, but focus on your technique in the pool and it will become more comfortable.

Practice swimming with others around youLots of people swimming together can come as a bit of a shock and where most anxiety comes from. You can practice group swimming with four or five of your friends in one lane of the pool, some open water centres offer ‘mass start’ sessions to help get used to the feeling.

If in trouble roll onto your back – if wearing a wetsuit (as most events in the UK will require) you will benefit from increased buoyancy, so if you get into difficulty, roll onto your back to try and compose yourself before restarting your swim.

Finally, if the mass start genuinely scares you that much, wait 30 secs before entering the water.  By then those really keen to fight for position have found their space, and you can go about your race without having to experience the ‘washing machine’ start of a triathlon.  Admittedly, you lose a small amount of time but over a long distance event it is worth it.

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