Top 10 Tips for Open Water Swimmers

open water swimming

Written by Ben Tisdall

17 December 2020

These Open Water Swimming Tips are aimed at people taking part in the English Riviera Swim, The Dartmouth Open Water Swims or one of the triathlons we organise that start with a sea swim such as the English Riviera Triathlon, the English Riviera Aquathlon & Swims, Dawlish Triathlon Dawlish Swim or the Dartmouth Triathlon and Swims.

1. If you’re planning to swim in a wetsuit make sure it’s a good fit. Wetsuits need to be quite a tight fit so you don’t get water sluicing around inside them. Sometimes when dry they can feel almost too tight but once they’re wet you should be able to move freely in it. It’s really best to try on a wetsuit before you buy it as the sizing does vary between brands.

2. Practice swimming in open water at least once before the event. You need to know will you react to colder water and waves if you’re swimming in the sea.

3. Simulate open water swimming by trying a continuous swim in your local pool. That means swimming 150m without stopping & without touching the ends. If there’s space in the pool you can duck under the ropes & swim back in the next lane.

4. Practice taking off your wetsuit. This doesn’t really matter for an open water swim but in a sprint triathlon 30 seconds saved here can make all the difference. Applying lube to your forearms, neck, shins & calves can also save valuable time.

5. Practice swimming in your wetsuit. The extra buoyancy of a wetsuit & salt water can make swimming feel quite different & in some ways easier. However swimming breast stroke in a full length wetsuit can feel awkward as your legs are TOO buoyant. A short wetsuit is better if you do want to swim breast stroke.

6. Check which direction you tend to swim. If you swim with your eyes shut you’ll generally find you veer slightly to the left or the right. Find out which by practicing in the pool. You may be able to adjust your stroke slightly to straighten out your swim.

7. Practice sighting. Most people will need to look up every few strokes to ensure they’re going in the right direction and it helps to choose an object in the distance to sight on. It’s all too easy to turn a 750m swim into a kilometre if you don’t.

8. Freestyle is the best stroke for triathlons. It’s the most efficient & leaves your legs relatively fresh for the bike & the run.

9. There’s nothing to stop you mixing up your strokes a bit eg use a bit of breast stroke for visibility when you’re rounding a buoy. In fact having a second stroke to fall back on is great for your confidence when you tackle your first open water swim or triathlon. Backstroke, however, is not allowed as lying on your back with your arms in the air is the sign you need help.

10. Assuming you’re swimming freestyle it’s really helpful to be able to breathe both sides. Practice this in a pool so you’re ready for the open water when waves or chop may necessitate breathing on one side.

We haven’t added it as a tip but swimming is by far the most technical discipline in triathlon. If you don’t have a swimming background & can’t swim 400m already without stopping it’s really worth getting some coaching. Enquire at your local pool about swimming lessons. Or for more advanced swimmers who specifically want to improve their Open Water Swimming we can recommend Pete Wilby at Pete is a Level 3 British Triathlon coach, a Level 3 Training Peaks coach and a Level 2 Open Water Swimming Coach.


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