Get Over the Fear of Open Water Swimming

It is swimming in open water that’s feared by many triathletes, not swimming itself. Whether in a small lake, one of the Great Lakes, or the ocean, open-water swimming can make first-time triathletes very anxious.



Practice in the Pool

There are various approaches to prepare for open-water swimming in a pool. These exercises and activities consist of the following:

  • Sensory swimming focuses on one specific sensation (such as feeling balanced).
  • Stroke eliminator swims checks on your stroke efficiency.
  • Longer swims use greater stroke efficiency for consistency.

To have greater stroke efficiency, try these stroke exercises:

Hang your head. Head-spine alignment is vital to efficient swimming. During training, release the weight of your head to find its most natural position, don’t hold it up. Instead of looking forward, look directly down. In the event: Let your opponents do all the work of looking; just follow the swimmers before you, limiting your peeks forward to once every twenty strokes.

Lengthen your body. A longer body line enables you to swim much faster and easier because it lessens drag. Focus on making use of your arms to lengthen your body line rather than pushing water back. Slip your hand and forearm into the water as if sliding it into a mail slot.

Move like water. Water rewards smooth movement and penalizes rough or rushed motions. Pierce the water; slip through the smallest possible hole. Swim as gently as you possibly can. In the race, make it your ultimate goal to be the quiet center of any pack you’re in, stroking slower and with much less splash than all the flailing arms around you.

Train in Open Water

Do some swimming in a lake or the ocean before the actual event. It will enable you to get accustomed to the absence of convenient guides like lane lines. You’ll figure out how to navigate using on-shore landmarks.

For your safety, swim together with an experienced partner or with a group, or you can have a canoe or kayak escort, or in water you know well. Keep close to shore in cold water. Hypothermia (lowered body temperature) could compromise your coordination and judgment.

When the water makes you feel very cold, it is very best for you to put on a wetsuit.

Practice the same technical points you have been practicing in the pool and don’t just swim. The plan is to smoothly transition from your pool training to an open water race, so make it an open-water practice. Swim downhill, reach forward with a weightless arm, roll your hips from side to side, and so on.

You can’t count laps out there? No problem. Count the number of strokes instead. Do this approach for a hundred strokes or even more. Not having walls can in fact make it easier because your rhythm is not interrupted. And you’ll find it is easier to groove your stroke.

Good luck, and swim safe!


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