Whether you’re a newbie or a hardy all-weather swimmer, it’s always helpful to helpful to brush up on some open water swimming skills. Here are our top tips for swimming in the sea, lake, or river – either in your own time or at an ever-increasing popular swim event or triathlon race.
1. Practice makes perfect
We’re big fans of the incremental. You heard it as a kid, and it still rings true – practice makes perfect. Each time you get in the water you’ll be that little bit braver, better, faster. Have a stroke style you need to improve, get in the water and do it over and over again. For beginners we recommending going with more experienced friends or attend an open water swim clinic which helps to both pick up technique and training partners. If you can’t always get to the open water, train in your local pool – it all counts.
It’s wise to have a range of goggles for different weather conditions. For grey rainy days it’s better to choose clear or light coloured lenses to brighten up surroundings and make it easier to see. On sunny days opt for mirrored or smoke lenses.
Finding the right pair for your face isn’t always easy. If you can, try before you buy. Borrowing from friends isn’t always practical and most goggles are packaged up in so many layers of plastic which unfortunately means you may need to buy a few until you find the right fit.
It helps to have a second pair with you whenever you head to the water – in case the weather changes (common occurence in Britain) or if one breaks. Fiddling around with snapped elastics when it’s cold and wet is not fun.
3. Braving the cold
Whether you’re swimming skins (without a wetsuit) or layering up with neoprene, get in the water slowly. If you use a wetsuit make sure to fill it up with some water as soon as you get in, although it will feel (very) chilly at first this will help keep you warm as you start swimming.
It may feel counter-intuitive but don’t have a hot shower immediately after getting out of very cold water. This can lower your body temperature and may actually leave you feeling faint. Instead pour some warm water over your hands and feet. And then get dressed quickly. It’s better to warm up slowly with dry clothes, a hat, and sips of a warm sugary drink.
It will take time to acclimatise and build your cold water resistance – lowering the water temperature and increasing the time slowly over time. You can even practice with cold showers at home.
This is very important! Looking up regularly to see what is ahead of you and whether you need to adjust your direction slightly.
If the water is choppy you’ll have to lift your head quite a bit out of the water. Remember to pop up and breathe away from the direction of any waves or chop. When what water is flatter you can pop your eyes briefly above the water – “alligator style”.
If you’re planning a race get yourself familiar with the layout of the course and identify how many buoys you’ll need to pass. Then during the race keep sighting for for these – try not to go too wide 🙂
5. Race tips
On race day we like to get there early. Position at the start is important. If you’re a stronger swimmer aim for the front and centre. If you’re not as confident or new to the game, then position yourself towards the back and off to the side.
When the start gun goes off avoid the chaos and aim for clear water. Nothing puts you off your race more than getting your goggles pulled off or receiving a kick in the stomach. Even it means losing a few seconds by swimming slightly farther out, you’ll benefit from a more comfortable swim which may improve your overall time anyway!
Don’t worry about people overtaking, just swim your own pace. There are always a few who peak too early. Just swim in your own bubble and swim each stroke at a time. The moral lesson of the tortoise and the hare applies – slow and steady rather than quick and reckless.
6. Never swim alone
This one is obvious but please never swim alone. If you don’t have someone in the water with you, make sure there is someone looking out for you from land. And always wear a bright swim cap and maybe a tow float so you can be seen in the water.