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Confident Open Water Swimming 

Follow Our 3 Step Guide

Open water swimming is something that scares a lot of novice (and not so novice!) triathletes.  But with some practice and our top tips, you will gain confidence and may even enjoy this part of a race.

open water swimming

Most triathletes will spend the majority of their swim training time in the nice safe, clear, warm water of a pool….  and then race in the cold, dark, murky water of a local river, lake, or duck pond. 

For many athletes, even competent swimmers, this is a daunting and often stressful transition.  If you are one of those people then here are a few tips that will help make it a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

1.    Confidence In The Water

Take the competition and all the other competitors out of the equation.

Are you comfortable with not being able to see the bottom, or in fact your hand in front of your face?  This is often one of the most significant blocks for athletes getting into open water.

a.    If this is a problem for you ensure you make time to get to an open water practice session, run by most local tri clubs.  Don’t pressurize yourself to jump in with everyone else, but take your time and stay close to the shore.

b.    Sight regularly, so you are lifting your head and getting clear views of where you are going.

c.    In the UK you will need to be wearing a wetsuit – this provides immense buoyancy and will really support you in the water.

d.    Build up to getting involved with group work, first with one or two other people and then bigger groups.

open water swimming

2.    Technique

Open water is often choppy, even flat lakes, which is caused by the wind on the surface.  This means that long loping strokes become less effective, because the waves create resistance that slows the swimmer down. 

a.    Practice a stroke in the pool that keeps the stroke rate high but controlled and keeps constant pressure on the water from one hand or the other.

b.    Sighting – this is imperative to open water swimming. So you can check you are on the right line to the buoy, and where other swimmers are – Practice it in the swimming pool.

c.    Practice in your wetsuit in the pool if you are allowed to. But not for too long as you will get very hot! This helps to get a feel for the extra buoyancy you have in a wetsuit and ensures you know whether it still fits properly.

open water swimming

3.    Racing

The fastest swims are usually the easiest.  If you get caught up with others, tangling arms and swimming over others or being swum over, you are wasting energy and going slower.

a.    If you are a good swimmer, try to get towards the front of the pack at the start. You will get clear water and be able to make it pay. 

b.    If you a moderate swimmer, give the fish some room and try to focus on swimming smoothly and controlled. 

c.    If you are a weaker swimmer, don’t rush to the front of a pack on entry as you will be swum over and spend lots of energy trying to recover. 

Instead try to concentrate on your own race and find someone slightly faster than you and get into a position just behind them.  The draft will enable you to go a little faster. 

The key point for all is to avoid too much contact – remember this is only the start of the race. 

There is still much more to come and working too hard to maintain a place during the open water swimming, or being tangled up with others can cost you dearly later in the race.

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