Preparing to swim in open water for the first time

Posted on 28th April 2016

Open water swimming is very different from swimming in a pool and there are definitely a few things you should consider before turning up on race day. Properly preparing for the swim will ensure you can put in the best performance possible, whatever your ambitions.

Below are a few guidelines and pointers to help you in your training and on race day:

1) Think about your equipment

Wearing a wetsuit is a completely different sensation to swimming without one. For some it can be a little strange at first but with the added buoyancy and tailored design, wetsuits will help you on the swim and will help you achieve a faster swim time.

Here are a few key points to remember:
Putting your wetsuit on in the right way is absolutely essential to ensure you are comfortable. Below is a Zone3 guide to putting on your wetsuit:

Wetsuits are designed to be a tight fit; they are snug to the body so that you have less drag through the water. Getting used to this feeling is essential before race day as knowing what your wetsuit feels like and being used to this sensation will make you feel a lot more comfortable on the day. Practice in your suit as much as possible before race day so you are comfortable with your equipment.

Relax! Whether it is putting the suit on before the race, swimming in it during or taking the suit off in transition, the best thing you can do is relax.

If the water is cold you may want to wear some more protective accessories such as neoprene caps, socks or gloves to help keep your extremities warm. If it’s really cold, think of wearing a neoprene vest underneath your wetsuit for some much needed insulation. When your core gets cold your body’s natural defense is to stop sending blood to its extremities and keep it for vital organs and the brain. Therefore the best solution for cold hands and feet is often to heat up your core.

Neoprene Swim CapHeat Tech Glove - Cutout (1)Sock - Back & FrontNEo Vest - Cutout Front

Goggle choices are generally personal preference; however, the majority of open water swimmers will opt to wear a goggle with a soft silicone seal and a large lens as opposed to a traditional swimming goggle.  The soft silicone seal will cushion the impact of any stray hands and feet that may connect with you in the race, whilst the larger lenses give a wider range of peripheral vision to help you spot and avoid other swimmers flailing limbs before they connect with you. Our Attack goggles feature a slightly lower profile frame, with the Vapour sitting in the middle and then the Adrenaline mask offering the largest lens.

Red Attack - Cutout (2)Vapour-Gold---Cutout-(1)Adrenaline - Cutout (2)
Learn how to sight and practice this technique

A crucial aspect to open-water swimming is learning how to sight so you can navigate yourself around the swim course. In a pool, you have the luxury of lane ropes or tile markings to keep you on track, but in open water you need to be much more savvy about which direction you’re swimming in. What you want to avoid is going off course and swimming further than you need which will only use extra energy. Learning to sight efficiently is really important.

HP---Accessories-Image-220316

Don’t Panic in the water

One of the worst things to do as an inexperienced open-water swimmer is to panic during the swim. This applies in training and on race day.

It may well be that your visibility is restricted, that the water is cold or that there are hundreds of other athletes swimming with you. However, these changes should not be feared and with the correct mind-set are things that can be overcome and enjoyed.

A key aspect here is to focus on your breathing and keeping it steady like you would when swimming in your local pool. The minute you start to panic, your breathing pattern will change The same goes for your stroke and keeping your stroke smooth and remember to keep on catching the water with each underwater pull.

If you are panicking on race-day just take your time and if possible simply swim to the side of the course where you can find some clear water and have a bit of space to yourself. Float or tread water for a while until you’ve got your breath back, and are ready to continue. Breathing here is crucial.

Adapt your swimming technique slightly for the open water

When swimming in open water there are a few things to take into consideration when looking at your technique:

  • You’ll need to stroke with a slightly higher stroke rate than in the pool, to keep forward momentum in choppy water.
  • You may have a strong side wash in windy conditions. If so it is really helpful to learn how to breathe away from the direction of the waves to reduce the amount of water you swallow.
  • Incorporate sighting into your swimming. As explained above this is crucial in open water.

Plan your training sessions

A common theme for athletes of all levels is trying to find a good training swim program to follow, especially with so much information now available. It is crucial to have a focus when you go into the pool/lake so that you can get the most from your sessions and see improvements.

Even if you’re not a big planner, it’s important to understand the areas that you need to work on to improve. When you get into the water you should know exactly where that season fits within the bigger picture – i.e. is it working on your technique, building base endurance or race pace practice?

Lastly, enjoy it!