12 Open Water Swimming Tips For Every Triathlete

The open water swim is the most difficult and unpredictable part of the race for most triathletes. Swimming with hundreds of other racers in different conditions is very different from swimming in a pool! Most triathlons go ahead even in less-than-ideal conditions, so triathletes have to be prepared for anything, including strong waves, wind, and cold water.

We’ve put together a list of triathlon open water swim tips based on our experience with dozens of triathlons. This list could be much longer, but we’ve tried to focus on a few key areas.

1. Practice proper breathing

The benefits of swimming in open water are clear, but it can be daunting if you’re not used to it. Follow these five breathing tips to make sure you have a strong open-water swim.

2. Prepare for open water in a swimming pool

If you’re not able to swim in open water, you can still train for it by swimming in a pool. Try to swim when the pool is coldest and with a few friends to recreate the waves and turbulence you’ll experience on race day. In more turbulent water, you’ll need to do more strokes to build up your stamina. Use a pull buoy to help you practice breathing with your legs aligned and to strengthen your stroke.

Removing the lane ropes will allow you to practice swimming straight without relying on them. You can practice spotting by looking toward the same tile, sign, or any other landmark.

3. Practice in open water before the race

Open-water swimming is very different from swimming in a pool. The water can be colder, the water can be murky or dirty, there is no defined line to follow at the bottom of the pool, there could be waves, and you will be swimming with others in a more chaotic environment. It is important to get in the water to do an open water swim or two before race day.

Try swimming laps at a local beach, or in larger water if you have a group to practice with. If you don’t have access to a large group, try having a friend kayak or paddle board next to you as you work on your swim stroke.

4. Keep your form

If you find yourself in a situation where you are swimming in open water with other swimmers or waves, it can be easy to forget about your good swimming technique. Remember three things:

a. Keep your head down

It is difficult to maintain good swim posture when you have to keep your head above water, but it is still important. Don’t be afraid to put your face in the water.

b Streamline

For a second before returning your arms to the water. To execute a proper pull, raise your arms out of the water on the stroke and streamline your body for a second before returning your arms to the water.

When stretching your arms forward, it can be easy to relax and not push yourself, however, you want your reach to be as far as possible.

c. Kick

You don’t need to kick too hard if you’re wearing a wetsuit since it provides buoyancy. A moderate level of kicking helps you maintain the feeling you had while training in a pool and also creates the body roll necessary for a good swim rhythm.

5. Find a comfortable tempo

The main goal for beginner triathletes in open water should be to relax. This can be achieved by finding a lane a few feet away from the pack, getting into a rhythm that reminds them of their swim training pace, and getting to a point where they have a good reach.

The feeling of being able to fully stretch out and find a good tempo is when many experienced athletes will say they feel like they have relaxed. It usually takes a few hundred meters to find that feeling. Just keep focusing on your breathing and take deep, consistent breaths in and out. If your breathing is relaxed, the rest of your body and mind will follow.

6. Take the water exit slow

The process of exiting the water after a colder open water swim can be different than what one is used to after swimming in a pool. One may feel dizzy because the colder water in the ear canal can have an impact on the eustachian tube function. Getting used to the feeling of dizziness and slowly removing a wetsuit (if one is wearing one) is key.

7. Get the right open water swim equipment

A common theme throughout this article is being prepared, as open water can be more unpredictable than a pool. The right gear is no exception! Before jumping in, gather your equipment according to the type of open water, your swim level, and the weather.

A swim cap is beneficial in reducing drag, keeping hair out of your face, and providing clear vision. In colder waters, a swim cap also helps to keep your head warm.

4,314 Swimmer Wearing Cap And Goggles Stock Photos, Pictures ...

If you are planning on swimming, whether in saltwater or not, it is a good idea to wear goggles. They will help you see better and keep any irritants out of your eyes. There are also high-quality goggles available that come with a smart lens display. This type of goggles can track your distance, pace, and stroke rate while you are swimming, without getting in your way.

If you’re struggling to focus while swimming in open water, or if you’re finding it uncomfortable, try wearing earplugs. They’ll reduce the audio stimulation and make it easier for you to focus. They’ll also stop water from getting into your ears if a wave or another swimmer’s stroke hits you.

Swimming in colder water? A wetsuit is definitely your best bet! They help you swim faster and stay more buoyant and comfortable. Not sure if a wetsuit is right for you? Check out our guide to triathlon swimwear for other options that might be better suited for swimming in warmer water.

Wetsuits for triathlons help with both staying afloat and staying warm in colder water. They provide a natural level of flotation that allows you to skim over the water more easily while also keeping you warmer. In water temps of under 70 degrees, the warmth from wetsuits can be very beneficial.

Wetsuits become optional when the water temperature is between 70 and 78 degrees. They are not recommended when the water temperature is above 78 degrees because they can cause you to overheat. If you plan to swim in an open water race or event, you should get a triathlon wetsuit instead of a regular wetsuit. Regular wetsuits are designed more for surfing and do not allow as much movement as a triathlon wetsuit.

This can be an unsettling feeling. It’s important to be prepared for this feeling on race day and to know how to deal with it We strongly encourage you to practice wearing your wetsuit before the race, preferably multiple times. Wetsuits can feel tight or constricting at first, which can be unsettling. Being used to this feeling before the race will help you cope with it on race day.

Some triathletes don’t realize how difficult it is to put on, swim with, and take off a wetsuit. It’s not rocket science, but it’s different enough that it’s good to have some practice.

Fins may not be worn during a triathlon, but they can be helpful for training and getting comfortable in open water. If the waters are choppy or you encounter a wake, they can provide the extra push you need to get back to shore.

If you’re looking to improve your arm strength and balance in the water, a pull buoy will keep your hips aligned and legs spaced apart to make sure you’re relying mostly on your arms. If you start to experience muscle pain, take the pull buoy out and use your legs to take some of the pressure off your arms.

A safety buoy is essential if you are swimming around boats. These bright blow-up buoys tie around your waist and drag behind you, making it easy for boats to maintain a safe distance, and improving visibility for those swimming with you or watching from the shore, they can also be a safety aid should you encounter any difficulties. Get into the habit of always using one and don’t leave the shore without it, it could save your life.

8. Check the forecast

Following these simple tips will help ensure that your open-water swims are enjoyable and safe. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and the conditions of the water when swimming in unfamiliar or open waters. If the weather is bad or you don’t feel safe, it is best not to swim.


If you want to swim in the river, it’s best to stay near the shallows. The current is strongest in the middle of the river, and you could be pulled under if you’re not careful. If you start to lose control, swim towards the shore immediately.

It is important to stay within the designated areas when swimming in rivers.


Premium Photo | Athlete swimmer in a wetsuit with a buoy ...

Lakes are especially popular for boating, kayaking, and water sports, so make sure you stay in areas where high-speed activities are not permitted. Wearing brightly coloured equipment in the lake will help boaters spot you and give you space.

When swimming in deeper water, you will not be able to see as well, so be careful of things that might be in your way or under the water.


It is best to avoid training in areas where there are surfers present. This is because it would be difficult for the surfers to spot you among the high waves, and if a surfboard were to hit you it could result in a serious injury that would make it difficult to swim back to shore. While it is unlikely that you will be asked to swim in intense waves during a triathlon, it is still best to swim in a calmer area such as those that are marked off for swimming.

9. Do a dry-land warm-up

A warm-up before swimming in open water will help your body adjust to the cooler temperature. Dynamic stretching, jumping jacks, or even a run along the shore will help to raise your heart rate and body temperature.

Once you finish your training swim, be sure to do some stretches as a way to prevent soreness.

10. Find a swim training partner

When you are swimming in open water it is best to have a buddy with you. You should do your warm-up exercises together and plan your swim before getting in the water. Having a buddy will help you to swim in a straighter line as you will have someone to swim next to, like a lane rope. It is also important to practice swimming next to someone so that you can get used to the conditions where you need to maintain space between yourself and other athletes.

11. Prepare for the cold water

One of the biggest challenges for pool swimmers, when they start swimming in open water, is the cold water. While cold water swimming has many health benefits, it can be a shock at first.

The ideal water temperature for swimming is between 10-20°C or 50-68°F. You should spend no more than a few minutes in water that is below 5°C or 41°F, as it is considered to be extremely cold and creates the risk of developing hypothermia.

If you enter cold water quickly, you may experience cold water shock. Your muscles will tense up, and your heart rate and blood pressure will rise. To avoid cold water shock, enter the water slowly (from the shore or a ladder if available). This will help you acclimatize to the cold temperature and reduce the strain on your heart and lungs. If you do experience cold water shock, tread water and breathe until it passes.

12. Practice sighting

Tips For Open Water Turning Buoys | Swim England

One of the key challenges that pool swimmers face when transitioning to open-water swimming, is correctly navigating their chosen route. Due to the wake created by other swimmers, as well as the presence of a safety boat (if one is present), it can be difficult to determine which direction to swim in.

After a while, swimming laps in a pool can become dull as you swim back and forth following the line at the bottom. In open water, however, you often have to “sight” by lifting your head up to find a point of reference, which is usually a buoy but could also be a land feature.

Although it may not come naturally, it is important to practice sighting while swimming. A few tips to keep in mind are to find a fixed point on land to focus on, rather than just buoys, and to use high-quality goggles. Many experienced open-water swimmers use brand-new goggles on the day of an event, as they are less likely to fog up. You can reserve your older goggles for swimming in pools.

When it’s foggy and there’s a glare from the sun, it can be hard to see where you’re going. You can follow other swimmers to stay on course, but it’s still a good idea to stop and look around occasionally to make sure you’re going the right way.

While you are swimming during your training, practice looking forward without lifting your head up to keep your speed and technique. Also, practice swimming directly towards a target.


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