10 Things You Need To Know Before Open Water Swimming

10 Things You Need To Know Before Open Water Swimming

[The following re-post is a featured blog story via one of open water swim partners, MySwimPro]. 

Most swimmers don’t know that you have to change your stroke when you swim in open water. 

If you think that mastering open water swimming is as easy as just hopping in a lake or the ocean and swimming, you’re wrong! Whether you’re training for an open water race or you just want to mix up your swimming routine, don’t go in blind…

Get inspired with helpful tips in this new vlog from Coach Fares Ksebati! He completed an epic swim in Dubai, and asked swimmers what they love most about open water swimming. It’s ALL THE CRAZE these days. Swimmers are loving it!

10 Open Water Swimming Tips:

To help you conquer your first open water swim, I’m going to break down 10 things you absolutely NEED to know before your first swim in a lake, river, or ocean.

1 – Adjust Your Expectations

First up? Open water is NOTHING like pool swimming, which can be pretty overwhelming. There are no lane lines and no walls to push off of, and you’ll have to deal with waves, currents and limited visibility. Especially in lakes, you probably won’t be able to see more than a few feet in front of you, which can be disorienting at first. 

Depending on your experience level, these types of water conditions might impact your overall swimming performance. If you’re new to open water swimming, you probably won’t be able to swim quite as far as you do in the pool, and that’s ok. Just mentally prepare yourself for your first open water swim to be a little bit different! 

That’s the beauty of open water swimming…you get to be in a totally different body of water, become one with nature and get a workout in. So enjoy it!

2 – Plan Ahead & Have a Strategy

Because open water is so different, it requires some extra planning. That’s tip number two!

Going open water swimming isn’t as simple as picking a spot and hopping in. Do a bit of research to make sure the spot you choose is safe. Make sure to consider beach access, tides, and boat traffic in your search. It’s probably not safe to try to swim at a beach that’s known for choppy water or lots of boat traffic.

Take it a step further and plan out your swimming route as well. Where will you get in? How far will you swim before turning around? Are there buoys you can swim along to keep you on track? 

Do a quick Google search for popular open water swimming spots in your area, or ask fellow swimmers at the pool for recommendations. Chances are, if you go to a popular spot you’ll find a few experienced open water swimmers who can help you pick the best route. 

3 – Invest In The Right Gear

Tip number three takes the planning process a step further. Make sure you have proper gear BEFORE you swim. Open water swimming gear is just as much about safety as it is about performance.

If you will be swimming in cold water, consider getting a wetsuit. And make sure you have proper goggles. If you know you’ll be swimming on sunny days, invest in a pair of darker, mirrored goggles to protect your eyes. 

What are the big worries in open water? Most people would say they’re most worried about sharks or stingrays while swimming in oceans.

While the likelihood of running into a shark is low, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially if you’re in an area that’s known for having sharks. That’s why you have to check out Sharkbanz, the proven shark deterrent.

  • 🦈 Deters sharks & rays (proven technology) 
  • 🔋 No Batteries, No Charging – Always ON   
  • 🏝️ Wear it on your ankle or wrist, up to100m/330ft depth rating

It works by omitting shark repellent fields, by disrupting how a shark hunts and navigates in the water using electromagnetic fields. It’s this scientific breakthrough that allows this powerful technology to work.

The Sharkbanz 2 doesn’t harm the sharks or any other ocean animals, but it signals to them to stay away.

Marine biologists compare this the sensation a shark feels to a bright light suddenly shining in your eyes in a dark room. The technology is validated by two decade’s worth of research and testing from independent scientists, and government studies. You just slide it around your ankle or wrists and you’re good to go.

There’s also a product for fishing and even leisurely swimming that you can just put in your pocket. With a max depth reading of 100m and a variety of colors – they’re safe to travel with, and perfect for ocean lovers.

And for detailed tracking while you swim, consider getting a smartwatch. Wearing one will make it easier to keep track of how far you’ve swam so you don’t end up staying in the water too long. Shop their website to get outfitted for your next open water swim!

You can also download the MySwimPro app on your Apple Watch or Garmin to track all your open water swims and see a detailed map of your route after every swim. 

And no matter what, always make sure you wear a bright colored swim cap and a safety buoy for extra visibility and floatation if you get tired. Your buoy is also a great place to hide a few snacks for a mid-swim energy boost.   

4 – Don’t Swim Alone, Grab a Buddy!

Ok, once you’re geared up it’s time for tip number four. Grab a buddy! 

Swim buddies make open water workouts more fun, but they’re also super important for safety. I don’t recommend swimming in open water alone, especially if you’re new to it. Grab a friend, or a few friends, and go for a swim together.

If you don’t have any friends who swim, invite a friend to kayak or paddle board with you. That’s super common in the open water world, and can help make you more visible if you’re swimming in an area with lots of boat traffic.

If all else fails, have a friend sit on the beach while you swim, or ask a lifeguard to keep an eye out for you. Just make sure someone knows your route so they can jump into action if anything happens.

Related5 Safety Tips For Open Water Swimming >

5 – Vary Your Stroke To Water Conditions

Now it’s time to hop in the water! Our fifth tip is probably one of the most important parts of open water swimming. You need to learn how to vary your stroke depending on the water conditions. 

The pool is a controlled environment that doesn’t have any variation. Open water is a whole different animal and depending on the waves, you’ll have to adjust how you swim to make your workout more enjoyable. 

When the water is choppy, you want to swim with a higher stroke rate and short, shallow strokes. This can help you stay closer to the surface and have better control. 

When the water is calmer, you can lengthen out your stroke and take deeper pulls. Swapping between these different strokes will take some practice, so don’t worry if you haven’t mastered the open water stroke right away. Take breaks and tread water when you need to. You can even switch to
backstroke or breaststroke for a little while if you need to catch your breath. 

If anything, I recommend doing your first few open water swims on days when the water is calm. 

6 – Try To Swim Straight

You need to swim STRAIGHT! It’s easy to swim straight in the pool, with the lane lines and the line on the bottom of the pool as a guide. But that all goes out the window in open water. 

You need to make one more tweak to your stroke to make sure you don’t zig zag all over the place in open water. It’s called sighting.

Every 10-20 strokes, lift your head and look toward where you want to go. Find a landmark and swim toward it. Every time you lift your head, look for that landmark and you’ll know you’re swimming straight. It could be a buoy, a pier, a building, even a tree. Anything works!

This is where planning your route can come in handy. If you know you’re going to be swimming in a specific direction, confirm with your swim buddies that you’re all going to sight the same thing, so you all end up in the same place. If you want to learn more about sighting, check out our video about how to swim straight for more tips!

7 – Breathe On Both Sides In Freestyle

Next let’s talk about breathing…tip number seven! If you don’t already breathe on both sides, I recommend getting comfortable doing it. In open water, you may need to swap the side you breathe on because of wind or waves. When you can easily switch your breathing pattern, you’re less likely to inhale water during rougher swims. 

You can practice breathing on both sides during your pool workouts. Add in a few sets where you breathe every three or five strokes, or practice breathing on one side for a 25, and then switch sides for the next 25. 

If you typically breathe to just one side, bilateral breathing might feel uncomfortable at first, but just keep practicing. Over time you’ll get used to it!

8 – Learn To Swim In a Pack

If you’re planning to race in open water or swim with a larger group, make sure you pay attention to tip number eight…learn to swim in a pack! 

In the pool it’s easy to circle swim, but in open water all of that goes out the window…in a big race, swimming can feel chaotic when there’s hundreds of people swimming around you. If you aren’t careful, you could get kicked in the face, or run into someone. 

To have the best experience, make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and get comfortable having swimmers all around you. If people keep passing you, don’t worry, just keep swimming and let them go around. 

If you need to pass someone, be assertive and make your move! With all the space in open water, you can maneuver around people to make sure your swim is the best it can be. Don’t let yourself get stuck behind someone who is too slow!

In swims that have a set route, some people prefer to stick to the back of the pack or swim off to the side to avoid getting mixed up with other swimmers. Experiment to see what is most comfortable for you. 

Once you’re comfortable swimming in a group, try experimenting with drafting off of other swimmers to reduce resistance and make it easier to swim. To draft, position yourself either directly behind or level with the hip of another swimmer who is a little bit faster than you. Then swim as usual. Most triathlons and open water races allow drafting, and it’s a good skill to have if you plan to compete. 

Just make sure the person you choose to draft off of is going the right way…the last thing you want is for someone to take you totally off course!

9 – Relax 🙂

If swimming in a group stresses you out, try tip number nine…RELAX!

Open water swimming can be overwhelming for a variety of reasons.

Whether you’re caught in a crazy group, or you start to panic thinking about the creatures swimming the deep water below you, find a way to relax and return to your swim. 

It might be helpful to grab onto your safety buoy and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down. 

Or you can try counting your strokes to get your mind off of what’s bothering you. Just take it 10 strokes at a time! 

Listen to your body and if it’s time to get out, honor that. There’s always next time! 

Related: How to Get Comfortable Swimming in Open Water >

10 – Build Endurance So You Have More Fun!

Tip number 10 is all about training. To excel in open water swimming, you need good endurance. 

If you’re training for a specific open water race, I recommend starting an open water-focused training plan that will help you build endurance and speed for race day. Check out the MySwimPro app to get a personalized plan for open water races, ranging from 1,500 meters all the way to a 10k! 

Commit to swimming three to four times a week to see the best results.

And while it’s helpful to swim in open water when you can during training, you can absolutely train for open water races in a pool. You can practice sighting and bilateral breathing and add in longer sets that help you build endurance.