A Guide to Open Water Swimming

Open water swimming – the clue is in the title.  It’s swimming in a body of water with no straight lines or walls, free from the calmness of a pool.  You can swim in the sea, a lake or a river.  Open water swimming is the first part of a triathlon.

Here are the most frequently asked questions we get from beginners:

  • How do you train correctly in the open water?
  • What’s the difference between opening water swimming and swimming in the pool?
  • Why do we swim in a place where you cannot see the bottom?

Pool vs Open Water Swimming

The skills you learn in a pool can be used in open water.  However, swimming in a body of water requires a few extra techniques: sighting and drafting.  A triathlete must know where to go and how to get there.

  1. Sighting is looking in the direction of where to swim during the swim stroke. Lift the head forward out of the water before taking a breath to the side.  Sighting involves looking in the direction of where to swim, during the swim stroke for smooth course navigation.
    • Press down with the lead arm to bring the head up and eyes out of the water.
    • Return the head to normal breathing position as the arm comes over for the next stroke.
    • Try not to breathe during sighting as this will lift the head too far and sink the legs, slowing momentum.
  2. As swimmers race around a course, they form packs to keep the best position drafting off one another.  There are two ways to draft.
    • First and most common method: swim directly behind another swimmer. Bubbles from another swimmer’s kick produces less resistance from the disturbed water.  Get as close as possible to feel this benefit.
    • Second and most effective way: draft from the hip of another swimmer (arrowhead drafting). Swimming close to another swimmers’ hip and time your stroke with theirs to make sure you don’t clash arms.  This allows you to save energy and speed.

Why Open Water Swimming is Beneficial for Triathletes

Triathletes often struggle with motivation to jump in the pool and swim, especially those who enjoy running or cycling in the great outdoors.  Monotonous laps up and down the pool can seem boring when compared to exploring on foot or on the bike.  Open water swimming takes place in a mixed environment and varied conditions.  The more the triathlete practices in open water, the more ready he or she feels before race day.

Why Open Water Swimming is Beneficial for Everyone

Open water swimming is a fun and diverse way to increase fitness for everyone, not just triathletes or distance swimmers.  Going to the beach or lake (with safe swimming areas) with a group of friends adds to the social aspect that you might not find in pools.  Start with swimming along the shore for a period of time (10 minutes), turn back and swim to the start point faster.  Gradually build up swimming times as your fitness improves over the course of weeks.

Putting It All Together

We hope these tips give you a better understanding of open water swimming.  Don’t be afraid to try new things or challenge yourself in open water!  To find more about our training programs, visit our triathlon class’s page.

About the Author

A Guide to Open Water SwimmingTom holds a 1st class honors degree in Sports Science (Human Performance) from Brunel University, England. He also comes from a triathlon background, competing as an age-grouper and holds a level 2 triathlon coaching qualification.

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