Open Water Swimming Guide And Tips

Triathlons almost always take place in open water. Yet, triathletes tend to train in pools. The talents needed for one setting are greatly dissimilar from those of another, often stirring up uneasiness among athletes and leaving them feeling unprepared.

Performing an effective swim without taxing yourself too much physically (and mentally) is key to ensuring you are ready for a competition. Tragically, triathletes often don’t reach their fullest potential simply due to being unprepared to handle swimming in open water.

Gerry Rodrigues, a triathlon swim coach who has been mentoring triathletes since the 1980s, quickly noticed this.

Open-Water Skills


It may be critical to have good sighting skills when swimming in open water since these can determine if one follows the set course or swims farther than intended.

Rodrigues instructs the “sight-and-breathe” process, which with dedicated practice needs the lowest amount of energy to bring into one’s stroke. Ideally, you would take a glance at your surroundings every six strokes. However, the rate at which you do this can vary.


As you are breathing to your right, raise your head as you move your left hand out of the water. At the end of the left arm’s stroke, utilize the time as your arm is exiting the water for a slight lift of the left side of your body. Your elbow and arm will both be out of the water by then, so make use of that time to raise your head up.

Your left arm should commence its movements to go over and around, subsequently raising your head and clearing the waterline with your eyes, nose, and maybe even your mouth.

Raise your face above the surface of the water so that you can take a mental “picture” of what you see before your left hand submerges and your head turns to the right while you take in air as usual.

This action should be performed seamlessly and rapidly, like folds in a curtain: lift, view, inhale, lift, view, inhale.

Pack Swimming

Swimming in open water is far less structured than an organized pool workout; people don’t always observe the same respect for lane boundaries and etiquette. Triathletes often tell anecdotes about their experiences at the beginning of a swim, but it is usually an accidental collision.

This is a description of a situation that is caused by a large number of highly enthusiastic opponents all trying to occupy the same small area. It’s not much that can be done in this situation, however, getting to know it and learning to adjust your thoughts so that you don’t become as reactive when encountering physical touch, and as proactive when trying to find open areas, is something that should be taken into consideration, states Rodrigues.


It’s simple to become acquainted with pack swimming by going to the pool and taking out the lane markers, then having some people to swim along with you.

He suggests that it is possible to fit up to twelve swimmers in one lane by arranging them in three rows. We carry out a lot of 25-yard drills like this, having the swimmers switch spots after two or three times so they understand how it feels to have others around them.


Drafting is not allowed while cycling during a triathlon, however, it is essential to achieving a good swim time. Rodrigues reports that swimmers can save around 3% of energy if they swim close to the feet of the swimmer in front. Composing one’s body posture in a way where the hip is slightly out in front can result in a 7% decrease in the use of energy, though it could be more difficult to sustain this position. A lot of athletes will not be happy about you advancing, as it gives the perception that they are regressing in comparison to you making progress.

The secret to designing is recognizing when it can be advantageous—and when it is not a good choice. The advantages of swimming with athletes who take less than 1:30 per 100 yards diminish rapidly, mainly because they are generally not skilled in staying on-course, so you could end up going astray if you keep to their path.


The most typical technique is to swim keeping your fingertips as close to the toes of the person in front of you as possible.

Continuously stomping with your feet while swimming could become incredibly annoying for the person in front of you; they might give you a few sharp kicks to try and make you stop.

Best practice? Stay there and make as little contact as possible. Consistent practice in practice is necessary to achieve success when drafting off of a competitor’s hip during a race.


This swimming technique is similar to the drafting one often seen in cycling events, with competitors lining up single files with the foremost person taking on the majority of the effort.

Competitors lagging behind in the standings, from second to fourth and beyond, are reaping the benefits of a faster pace without having to exert too much effort. We often practice swimming in the pool with four swimmers in a line, taking turns being in the front position after every 50 or 100 yards.

It wasn’t until after you had done it multiple times that you’d suddenly understand the concept of “riding the wake” of the swimmer in front of you; this is according to Rodrigues.


Form a line where each person stands one behind the other, quickly leave the wall and take turns leading the line every 50 to 100 meters.

Keep your hands next to the feet of the swimmer in front of you, so that you can take advantage of the drafting effect (while not getting too much on their toes and bothering them).

Rodrigues enjoys incorporating viewings into their paceline drills at Tower 26, which makes for great simulation practice for racing. Train with two to four people of similar speed for the maximum advantages—and if possible, execute this strategy in a contest with your training companions.


Many athletes who are part of Tower 26 have a negative attitude towards deck-ups, but Rodrigues has been incorporating them into his exercise routines for a long time. Putting on your wetsuit and shoes at the poolside is an ideal method for replicating the rise in heart rate when you climb out of the pool and transition from swimming to cycling.

You can get a bit of experience with T1 without having to arrange an intermediate area.

During the swimming part of a triathlon, you will be in a horizontal position, thus, when you leave the water, you could feel a rush of blood and some people may get lightheaded or feel disorientated. Deck-ups prepare you for this feeling.


Once your set of laps is finished, hit the edge of the pool, exit the water quickly, and come out on the edge of the pool area.

Go for a 10-second dash and then plunge once more into the water to start your next exercise. If you are training at a swimming pool where it is not permitted to run along the side, you can stay in one spot and jog in place.

Tower 26 typically includes deck-ups as part of the warm-up before the primary set when they are performing their open-water skill-building exercises. For instance, after each 100-yard swim of 800 yards, a deck-up will be included. As the competitive season advances, rest periods between swimming are usually incorporated into the main swim workouts.

Open Water Swimming Tips

1. Swim at a Center, in Summer

Langridge admits that he is not brave enough to swim in an open body of water by himself. She advised that it is wise for those new to open-water swimming to bring a partner or have someone keep watch from the shore if they need help. Additionally, enrolling in a supervised open-water swimming centre is recommended as they usually offer an orientation to the centre and the fundamentals of open-water swimming.

A specific course will be delineated, and there will also be a group of lifeguards on guard, usually travelling the water in kayaks or boats that are small. Langridge practices swimming at Vobster Quay close to Froome and New Forest Water Park; Outdoor Swimmer features a compilation of centres in the United Kingdom that offer monitored open-air swim locations.

Be prepared to go around a course (from 100 meters or more), which will be delineated by buoys, and with an unambiguous entrance and exit point.

Most kitesurfing centres typically run from late Spring to early Fall because Langridge believes this to be the most suitable time to learn, as the temperature of the water will be more pleasant (17-20C) making it less challenging to stay dedicated to practising. Langridge warns that it is only possible for some people to swim in winter if they do it regularly and continuously throughout the year. If you are considering swimming independently in December and you have never done it before, it would be very risky. If you decide to take the plunge, always let someone know where you are headed, be sure to be aware of your environment, and have a game plan of what you will do if something happens.

2. It’s Nothing like Pool Swimming

Langridge chuckles as he says that you could be terrific in the pool yet totally incompetent when it comes to swimming in open water. It is not your natural capacity and competencies that make you suitable for OWS, but you can get better at it through dedication and drill.

Having the ability to adjust to changing circumstances is key to success in open-water swimming (in addition to swimming itself). As Langridge states, experienced open-water swimmers can alter their stroke in response to different factors in the water, such as a shift in currents, a wave striking them, or a companion being close by.

She anticipates that somebody competent in swimming for a half-hour continuously in a pool should be able to go for 15 minutes in open-water conditions before feeling tired. Buoyancy is a component of wearing a wetsuit, but it is much different than propelling yourself away from the pool or taking a break or sipping a beverage on the side.

3. Improve Your Open Water Swimming Technique

Front crawl is the most desirable stroke for OWS due to its energy efficiency, however, if you don’t care about speed, then Langridge advises using whatever stroke feels most comfortable, apart from backstroke because it makes navigation difficult, as well as floating upright being an indication of distress in the open water swimming.

You should put the effort into developing a vigorous stroking rate and equal muscle development on both sides of your body. This will assist you in dealing with changing circumstances as well as keeping you on target – a must-have in situations where visibility is low and there are numerous diversions (which can range from other swimmers and leg riders to quarrelling ducks and slimy plants prompting your feet).

Langridge suggests that you imagine train tracks beneath you to promote a straight swim, with your arms following the path of the tracks. Maintain your head steady and even so as soon as it shifts, your whole body follows suit.

When it comes to staying on the correct path, Langridge recommends taking a look at every third stroke to establish a regular pattern. “She suggests that you don’t need to raise your head too far off the water unless the waves are extremely agitated.” Act like a crocodile in still water – keep one eye above the surface while keeping your nose and mouth submerged. This will keep your head stationary and assist you in remaining focused.

4. Use the Pool for Training Drills

Swimming in a pool is unlike the experience of open-water swimming; however, the safety and protection of a pool make it an ideal practice spot, free from the headaches of wind, streams, and exhaustion.

Langridge devotes three to four days every week to swimming at her local pool, which she utilizes to hone her skills and extend her stamina.

For beginners, she suggests honing their visual tracking in the pool: ‘Get someone to stand at the end of the lane and raise their fingers – your aim is to look at other strokes and to keep count of the fingers,’ she explains.

She suggests putting a band around your feet (or employing a pull buoy) to secure your legs, consequently assisting to speed up the motion of your arms. If Langridge does not have access to either a belt or floatation device, she resorts to using an old inner tube that had once been connected to her Parcours bike tires.

She states that while doing the OWS, your legs are mainly employed for stability and accuracy, not expended as much as usual. A faster arm stroke will make you more powerful, more upright and able to withstand the effects of ripple and turbulence.

5. Wetsuits are Essential

Open-water swimming spots that are supervised typically require swimmers to wear wetsuits if the water temperature is below 16 degrees Celsius.

Langridge suggests you put on a long-sleeved swimsuit no matter what, as it will enable you to move easily in the water and will provide buoyancy if, at some point, you want or need to stay afloat. A good option for those who want to save money is to invest in their own wetsuit, and for some that are only looking to borrow one for a brief period, renting is an option. Many swimming centres and Zone 3, a brand, rent wetsuits by the month or even by the entire season.

Langridge emphasizes that it is crucial to make sure your wetsuit fits right or else it will hinder your swimming. Every outfit is designed separately – there are usually step-by-step instructions on their websites.

Be sure to secure the wetsuit to your body, making sure it fits securely but comfortably around your shoulders and hips, leaving room for unrestricted movement and flexibility for rotations of your arms – this can be accomplished by wearing a 3mm thick wetsuit which is suitable for during summer swimming and triathlons.

To make putting on her suit easier, Langridge leaves her socks on and wears gloves to prevent any damage to the garment from her fingernails. When you get into the water, splash a bit of it on your wetsuit to help it hug your body better and get you accustomed to the water temperature.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button