Open Water Swim Tips For Beginners
Updated: May 15
Swimmers, Aqua-bikers & Triathletes - if that describes you - then you are likely considering it's time to go jumping into the near by lakes, rivers, beach and popular swimming holes as temps are getting warmer and events/racing coming back online.
We think that an open water swimming (OWS) refresher blog is in order for those just embarking upon their open water journey or for some of us that need to knock off the rust at one of the local 7 favorite open water swimming spots in the ATX.
SwimBikeRun Fun Events & our Coaches have compiled a quickie triathlete beginner's guide to get you dipping and splashing in no time out in the open water and race ready.
Extra: If you are in the Austin/Central Texas area and registered for Lake Pflugerville Tri, Kerrville Triathlon Festival, Ironman Texas 140.6 or Ironman Waco 70.3 - be sure to check out and download the tried and proven by countless of athletes - The Go the Distance Coaching: Free Open Water (OWS) Swim Guide (created by a Triathlete Swim Coach & Ironman).
Pool Swimming vs Open Water
The main differences between pool swimming and open water swimming are the water temperatures, lack of walls to push off from, no swim lanes/lines to guide you in the right direction and not being able to touch or see the bottom.
These are all differences that with time & frequency, you can learn to adjust to. The more familiar you are with open water, your fears decrease exponentially and you learn to adapt to the various conditions of the water like, direction of current or choppiness of waves.
As mentioned before, in open water no swim lanes or lane lines are guiding you in the right direction. To be able to guide yourself in the open water, you’ll need to learn how to sight using buoys, land marks, other swimmers and kayaks during a race.
This just means practicing looking ahead during your swim to find a ‘marker’ in the distance to guide you. Most people spot a tree, or a small landmark, and use that as guidance on where to swim to.
You can practice this in a pool by focusing on a spot on the wall at the end of the lane you’re in. Another way to train in a pool for open water swimming is to try and swim in a straight line as much as possible and even consider swimming along side another swimmer for an extra challenge
In open water triathlons, you’re bound to veer left or right and bump into other triathletes, so getting this spot on in the pool beforehand is a good idea.
If practicing this for the first time in open water, swim close to the shoreline until you’ve got it right and then venture further into the water.
There are no walls to kick off from in open water. You’ll probably find yourself treading water a lot when in a lake, or the sea, so it’s best to practice treading water in the deep end of the swimming pool.
Some triathlons have an in-water start or have athletes jumping off a dock. It's a great idea to prepare for these scenarios by treading in the deep end of the pool, practicing a straight leg water entry in the deep end the pool before you head out to your local lake.
Often, open water events require participants to turn around a water buoy, sometimes more than once in a race. You can train for this in open water once you’re confident, but it’s a good idea to try this in a pool as well – if you have space.
When practicing this in a pool, make sure you’re not touching walls or the bottom of the swimming pool. In open water, practice this by swimming around water buoys, if safe to do so, or if you’re swimming with a friend, use each other as markers to swim around.
In open water, breathing on alternative sides is the most suggested breathing technique. It probably won’t feel natural, to begin with, so again, practicing this in a pool is a good idea. It’s recommended that you learn how to breathe away from the direction of the waves to reduce water intake.
If bilaterally breathing, rotate your head and spine with your shoulders, breath in and then turn your face along with your next shoulder rotation.
Essentially, the easiest way to breathe in open water is to inhale through your mouth and exhale when your head is submerged without breathing to the side.
Do whatever feels most natural to you and what you’re most confident with. It’s a good idea to try lots of different techniques during training and recognize that when you’re swimming at different speeds and intensities, your preferred breathing technique will change to accommodate that.
In open water, you’ll need a stroke with a slightly higher stroke rate than in the pool. This helps you keep momentum if you’re in choppy waters.
Most open water swimmers & triathletes opt for the freestyle stroke so it’s a good idea to make sure you can maintain it for long periods. You need to be comfortable with whatever strokes you choose.
It’s recommended you get used to other techniques, such as backstroke & a modified breaststroke, these strokes will come to your aid should you find yourself in a situation where you need to calm your nerves, fix your goggles or need to a better view for sighting.
Voila! Send you good swim ju-ju and hopefully this quickie open water swim guide will have you feeling confident about taking the plunge into the open water.
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