Beginners Guide to Open Water Swimming

So, you’ve signed up to your first open water swim? Or maybe you’re considering signing up for one? Either way, you’re going to want to read our beginner guide to open water swimming...

The first thing to note, is that open water swimming is incredibly different to swimming in a pool - there are no lanes, walls, chlorine, and the water has a tendency to misbehave… I hope I’m not changing your mind already! Let me balance the argument then. The views, the freedom, and the natural nature that comes with open water swimming can take it above and beyond just diving into a pool and swimming lengths! However, there are some natural stresses and anxiety’s that come before deciding to take the plunge into the depths of your first open water swim, so follow these handy tips to maximise your preparation for a truly fabulous experience!

Practise… and keep calm!

I think the first important thing to note, is you have to swim in open water at least once before the big race day! This is to help you and your body understand and prepare for the different conditions that the open water will throw at you. The more experience you have before race day, the better! Always be on the lookout for local open water clinics that are close to you, these are perfect introductory sessions that can really provide you with the jump start and guidance your preparation needs. Another good tip is to drag a few competent friends along with you - this will give you the feel of swimming surrounded by other frantic arms and legs!

Once you are finally swimming in the open water, it is important to remain calm! Remember there are no walls to push off every 25 metres, it usually a lot colder than a pool, and the water can be choppy! This can all create a state of excitation that can burn precious energy and put you in a deal of difficulty. Just remember to swim towards a fixed point (maybe not too far out on your first outing) and remain calm, trust your own abilities, and everything will be fine!

The Wetsuit

If you don’t have a wetsuit yet… buy one! A wetsuit is an invaluable piece of equipment. Not only will it help keep you buoyant in the water, it will also help keep you warm. The added buoyancy however may require you to adapt your stroke, so make sure you practice in it before race day- even if that’s in the pool. Now I know wetsuits are a very specialised piece of equipment, so here are my top tips:

·     When you’re wearing your wetsuit dry, it should grip to your body to the point where it’s almost uncomfortable. Too loose, it will take on water.

·     To put the wetsuit on, start with the feet and roll the suit up your legs in stages - never try to pull it on like a pair of jeans!

·     Ideally have someone to zip the back up for you to make sure it is fitted correctly and saving your shoulders for the race!

The Goggles

Another important piece of equipment for efficient open water swimming are goggles. The last thing you need to do during a swim is stop to let water out of your goggles or try and wipe the lenses because they have fogged over! To reduce this risk, opt for goggles with an anti-fog coating and make sure they fit snug. To break this down even further, different goggles and colours are better on different days. For example, clear and light-blue or yellow lenses are best for days that are rainy or cloudy. Or mirrored lenses are best for days that are sunny with high glare. Further, it’s always good to swim and race with a spare pair knocking around - in case the weather changes or you do the unthinkable and snap the first pair!

Open Water Swimming Technique and Tips

1.    Warm-up!: It is important that you give yourself a good 15 minutes before training or a race to really get your body warm and prepared. This can include wading in the water to really get a feel of the conditions and the temperature. This can really help your confidence going into the swim.

2.    Positioning: Remember when you get in the water and start racing, you’re going to be surrounded by lots of arms and legs pulling and kicking away. Therefore, if you’re a strong swimmer, head for the front to give yourself a nice clear path. If you’re more novice, stick to the back or too the side to give you that guidance and slip stream through the water.

3.    Frequent Sighting: Swimming in a straight line takes less time and energy - simple right! Easier said than done in open water with no lanes. Therefore, it is key that you take frequent sightings on a fixed object in the distance. Simply do this by combining it with a breath, but rather than breathe to the side, lift your head straight up and look forwards! Try to sight every 6 or 7 strokes to maintain a perfect line through the water.

4.    Start Out Slow: It's forgivable that in your first open water swim, that you might hear the gun, and use your adrenaline to set you rocketing through the water. However, there’s a good chance you’d struggle to finish the race (which we don’t want to happen after all the preparation!). So, start off slowly, and build into a nice rhythm, and you can easily start to increase your pace further into the race.

5.    Arms and Legs: To get into a good rhythm during open water swimming, your legs are a good metronome to follow. Furious legs kicks will burn A LOT of energy, so keep them down to more of a ‘flutter’. Your arms should be reaching as far as possible in front of you during each stroke to really maximise the metres you gain!

6.    Cornering Buoys: If you want to become a good open water swimmer, you need to be able to master cornering buoys. The best technique for this is to take a wide turn. This reduces any unnecessary pushing and shoving that takes place right next to the buoy. This sounds like your swimming further, but it’s nothing on the energy you would expend jostling for a tighter way around the buoy.

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Overall, if you keep relaxed, trust your abilities, and swim rhythmically towards a fixed point, you’ll come away from your first open water swim with a big smile on your face! However, if you are still anxious after reading this blog, look for some local introductory clinics to open water swimming and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.