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Open Water Swimming Tips

September 3, 2021

A swimming pool and an outdoor reservoir are a big difference. Many people cannot swim confidently in it. We have prepared some open water swimming tips and for those who are planning to swim for the first time and amateurs of triathlon open water swim.

Like many other things in our life, this is all about habit. Swimming in open water is not difficult, but there are some nuances. If you are ready for them, then this occupation will not cause any significant problems and surprises. Read our open water swimming guide.


What is open water swimming?

Fans of this sport will definitely answer you that it is a passion.

Individual swims and then competitions for ultra-long distances on open reservoirs began to be held at the end of the XIX century. Probably, the most famous of them are the swims across the English Channel; it was crossed for the first time in 1875 by the Englishman Matthew Webb (21 hours and 45 minutes).

Since 1991, open water swimming has been included in the program of the World Aquatics Championships, and since 2000, separate Open water swimming World Championships have also been held every 2 years. Distances: 5 km (since 1998), 10 km (since 2000), 25 km (since 1991). In 2008, the 10 km distance became the Olympic distance.

Open water swimming tips

  1. Fear of water

Many newcomers have irrational fears. They can be different: the open space is frightening, the depth, the dark color of the water, or even fantastic creatures that "may want to eat you". There are several solutions to this problem. You can take a safety buoy, or better yet, a partner with you. This way you can overcome fear. Well, or you can look into the eyes of fear, that is, swim and see that there is nothing terrible.

  1.  Orienteering

In the pool, we swim along the path, but nothing holds us back in the open water and beginners often begin to swim in zigzags. There is only one solution here – find a landmark and swim to it. The landmark should be noticeable. If you need to adjust the route, or you have reached a landmark, choose a new one. In order not to lose sight of the landmark, learn to separate the breath and orienteering. Do not try to see it on the inhale, it is better to then raise your head straight and correct the movement.

  1.  Waves

Waves can seriously interfere with swimming, but you can adjust. First of all, learn to breathe in both directions so that you can inhale and not be afraid to take a sip of water through a wave. The second important piece of advice is to " soften” your hand at the entrance to the water, so when a wave hits your hand, you will not turn around and you will not hurt your hand.

  1.  Current

In many open reservoirs, there is a current, even if it is small. The first and main advice here is to accept it and not try to fight it. You will inevitably get carried away a little while you are swimming, but if you try to swim against the current, you will only waste a lot of energy. The most effective way, if you are swimming from shore to shore, is always to orient yourself perpendicular to the shore.

  1. Water temperature

If the water is below 18 degrees, it is better to swim in a wetsuit. To choose a wetsuit, you can rent it and so you will understand what kind of suit, and what size will fit you. Buy a wetsuit specifically for swimming in open water, since other variations of suits (for diving or surfing) will not be convenient for you, since they are designed for other purposes, made from other materials that are not suitable for swimming. If the water is below 14 degrees, be sure to go into the water in advance and try to adapt. If it's cold in the suit, put on a neoprene hat, special socks and gloves will also help to warm up. Monitor your health, if you are overcooled, stop and take a breath, it may be better to stop the swim at this if the symptoms do not pass.

How to breathe in open water swimming?

There are no special rules for breathing when swimming in open water – you need to breathe the same way as in the pool, according to the type of training and your own developed skill. For example, in the case of aerobic training, this can be a breathing mode of 1-5 or 1-3 – this means that the swimmer takes one breath for every five or three strokes, respectively. During anaerobic, interval training, the regime will change.

The only specific feature of breathing in open water is related to how its rhythm can be adjusted to the need to navigate in motion.

If you are swimming along the shore, then you need to breathe on the side where the shore is. Looking out of the water, you will be guided to the shore and swim without deviating from the course. Similarly, with another landmark-a buoy, a partner.

Develop this skill by practicing irregular breathing while swimming in training: take three breaths on the right side, then five on the left, then eight on the right, then four on the left, for example. Or breathe with each stroke, and then hold your breath for several subsequent strokes.

How to swim in open water for triathlon

1. Practice as much as possible

The more experience of swimming in open water you get, the more confident you will feel in it. As in any business, regularity is important here. If you are lucky and you have the opportunity to swim in open water 1-3 times a week, make it your advantage, and when the triathlon and swimming competitions resume, you will feel comfortable.

 2. Warm-up

As before any other swimming training, you need to do a warm-up. Give it 10-15 minutes, warm up the muscles and joints and resolutely go into the water.

3. Go into the water slowly

Check the water temperature, feel how comfortable you are in it, go down under the water and check the visibility. This way you will feel more confident.

4. Swim with your eyes closed

While you are training in the pool, try to close your eyes and do 8-10 strokes — so you can train yourself to swim straight, without focusing on the line at the bottom of the pool.

5. Learn to look over the water

In open water, it is important not to turn off the planned path, so try to do this: every 8 strokes, raise your head above the water and look at the same point. Gradually increase the number of strokes between head lifts.

6. Go around the buoys along a large radius

Do not worry about a few extra meters that you will swim at the same time — the fact that you do not have to interrupt the movement for the sake of a 180-degree turn will save you energy. And, by the way, this way you will have more space so as not to collide with other participants in the competition.

Find out about triathlon open water swim training more in our blog.

Open sea swimming tips

Swim in the pool

Although a chlorinated pool, alas, cannot recreate the conditions that await you in open water, here you can prepare well and, first of all, work out the technique. After all, no matter what goal you set, swimming technique goes hand in hand with success!

Practicing the technique of rowing and the position of the body in the water, swimming in the pool, you will best prepare for diving into the sea waves. In addition, no one will prevent you from recreating some of the features of an open pond in the pool:

  • Long distances: to develop endurance, try to swim without a break for as long as possible. Leave a bottle with a drink and a small snack at the side to refresh yourself when you get tired - this way you will prepare yourself for the regime that awaits you on open water.
  • High buoyancy: as you know, seawater pushes to the surface. This effect is often enhanced if you wear a special bathing suit for open water. In the pool, the conditions are completely different, so to get used to swimming at the surface, use a leg float. 
  • Crowds: An overflowing pool can prepare you for tough conditions, where the coastal waters are simply packed with people! Go to the pool during the rush hour and learn how to maneuver!

Take everything you need

Swimming in the sea is the best way to relax and avoid the daily routine. However, to trust the will of the sea waves, enjoying the surrounding beauty, is a dangerous thing for those who are poorly prepared.

To be sure of your safety, provide yourself with the right equipment:

  • Wetsuit, if the water is cold;
  • Food and water to replenish your strength;
  • Clearly visible accessories (bright hat, swimming buoy, etc.)

If a wave of fatigue rolls over you at sea, and you do not have a buoy, just lie on your back. In seawater, you will be able to lie on the surface without exerting effort, and gradually regain your strength. An important sea swimming advice is if you feel pain or cramp, rest in the same way, then continue to swim with your back to the waves, trying to use the affected limb as little as possible.

Adjust to the environment

The charm of swimming in open water is directly related to the thirst for brave overcoming difficulties one-on-one with nature. But in order to cope with the waves and currents, while maintaining a calm and even pace of swimming, adapt your technique to the requirements of the environment.

It is very important to ensure that you can get out of the water so that you can see the shoreline. The high density of the water will allow you to rest most of the time, your feet only need to set the direction of movement.

If there are waves rising on the sea, swim perpendicular to their direction, inhaling to the side to see the wave approaching. It will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and enjoy open-water sea swimming.


We hope that our guide to open water swimming has inspired you, and you are ready to improve your open water swimming! Good luck!

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