Open water swimming FAQs

Common open water swimming questions answered

If you're confused about certain open water swimming matters, check out some of the essential things you need to know.

Do you need to wear a wetsuit?

Most organisations and races will advise individuals to wear a wetsuit for safety reasons, though in some triathlon events they can be mandatory if the temperature is below a certain level. Particularly if swimming in winter or in cold waters, wetsuits can be needed to provide heat retention, as in severe cases the cold water can cause hyperventilation or even hypothermia. Wetsuits are needed mostly for the maintaining of body temperature, and even in summer months, suits will protect the body against cool water temperatures. They also keep you buoyant, keeping you safe and elevated in the water, helping your performance and swimming ability. Many online providers both sell and rent out wetsuits for your needs.

What are some useful training tips?

It is important firstly to practice open water techniques, as swimming in a pool requires a very different form of swimming. It is key to develop good sighting technique, as knowing where you're going is a lot more difficult than following a lane in the pool. Testing yourself by setting markers in the distance and repeatedly ensuring that you’re looking up and keeping you on target will cause your sighting technique to blossom, needing to look up and reposition yourself less frequently.

Deep water starts are also a useful trick to know before swimming in open water. With no wall to push off, you will need the ability to move off quickly without needing any aid. Treading water and starting from the deep end are great ways to develop these skills. Breathing both ways is also important to learn when open water swimming, as if you breath on your left side, if swimming with someone on your left, you may get their splash when trying to breath. Instead be able to switch sides when inhaling to maintain good breathing flow and pattern.

What happens if get you tired?

At most water events safety kayaks will be situated as different points, keeping track of swimmers and watching out for any problems you may have. Motor boats with trained lifeguards and medical professionals are on call for any problems or any needs. If you're just tired but dont need assistance, rolling onto your back is a good way to have a partial break. If you decide you do need help, whilst on your back raise your arm and a safety team will be close by.

How different is it to swimming in a pool?

Open water swimming can be a lot different than simply doing laps in a pool for a number of reasons. Firstly there is usually a current, which if against you, can be extremely difficult and a lot harder. Pools are normally heated and relatively quiet, outdoors you will have all the elements to battle against and other swimmers close by splashing about, unlike in pools, restricted to lanes. Distance is also harder to calculate as you won't necessarily get exact details of how far you swim, pace too is harder to control as judging pace by laps of the pool is obviously easier. If you're trying to improve swimming technique instead of stamina or durability, it is best to stick to the pool as environmental factors can affect your technique, such as currents, temperatures, other swimmers and so on. Generally pools have a much calmer sense about them, more space, easier to control and monitor, but open water swimming is a great way to add some variety and push yourself.

Where do you swim and for how long?

Any rule for any new exercise is to start off slow. Find a route or event that's low intensity and distance, then gradually begin to work your way up. Open water groups will have different races and meets available for you to pick and choose what is best for your level. Just because you can swim a certain distance in a pool doesn't mean you will be able to outdoors, so make sure to gradually build up your distance and pace. Stamina and familiarity with open water swims will increase; knowing where is best to swim in the pack, how far and fast you can swim and so on will all develop in time.

What safety measures should you make?

Safety is the most important step when open water swimming, whether you're an experienced open water swimmer or a newbie. Planning your route, sorting out appropriate gear and ensuring you are fit and able enough to do your swim, are important measures when ensuring your own, and others’ safety. It is also important to know you stroke technique. Practice in pools to ensure you're comfortable and confident using a particular stroke, making some preferred changes can reflect greatly on your performance and keep you safe. Most groups and races will also usually have people and staff at different points to monitor and assist you should you get into difficulty.

Do you need professional gear?

Professional gear is not specifically demanded of when taking part in open water swimming, though with any type of sport, competing in tired old gear will impact your performance and ability compared to those who are wearing the latest high performance professional gear. Ill fitting or inappropriate gear will greatly hinder your performance and ability, and when doing such challenging swims, your swimsuit or goggles are the last things you want to have to think about! A bright cap to keep you visible and keep your head warm, swim boots, gloves and socks are also just little things that will keep you warm and safe but not imparting your ability to swim. A good quality pair of goggles and a properly fitting wetsuit are all things that aren't requirements but greatly helpful in keeping you swimming and having fun.

How to perfect your breathing?

Swimming in open water may not always be the easiest and most relaxing form of swimming, and if something startles or panics you, it is natural to feel the need to flip onto your back to catch your breath taking in large breaths of air. This can actually cause you to go dizzy and lightheaded, whether taking in too much oxygen or suffering from hyperventilation. Instead tailor your mind to focus on breathing, remain on your front and turn your head and get a good breath of air, then go back into the water and blow bubbles at a steady rate. This focus exercise will calm you down and regulate your breathing.

Do I need to join an organisation?

It is not recommended to start out open water swimming alone, so joining an organisation can be the safest and most beneficial. While it is not required to acquire a membership to join in different events and group swims, registration is commonly required. Many communities will have local swim events which can be signed up to. Whether you want a more competitive race or just a fun challenge with a group of people encouraging you along the way, open water organisations are ideal to get you weathered in the open water community.

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