Tips for the open water swimming novice

Follow these tips for success

Open water swimming need not be as daunting a prospect if you follow these tips for beginners from expert Adam Walker.  

Where to swim

There are often many lakes and open waters which have organised sessions and have suitable safety in place. I would recommend you swim in one these locations and as there will be other like-minded swimmers there who you can buddy up with and swim in pairs or a small group. In addition you can also make new friends as open water is a very social sport. Not only is it another good safety measure, it makes training easier supporting each other.

Acclimatisation

Open water in lakes, rivers and the ocean is likely to be a cooler water temperature than the 29 degrees of an indoor leisure centre pool. With this drop in temperature, initially it can take some getting used to. By doing small frequent dips you will soon find how much easier and longer you can comfortably swim each time. It will also increase your confidence.

On entering the water, I recommend wetting the face and back of the neck, which will prime the body for entry as these are sensitive parts of the body. As you immerse yourself up to your shoulders, I suggest exhaling on entry as the ribcage contracts it will make it easier to get a second breath without gasping, particularly if it is very cold.

Exiting the water

When leaving the water be prepared to warm up quickly. The first thing to do is dry your swim hat and put a woolly hat over the top to keep the heat in. Only take the swim hat off when you have suitably warmed up to your normal body temperature. There are different types of robes you can purchase that go over your head and cover your body, helping you warm up quickly on exit. When getting changed, dry your feet off and put socks on first.

Once you are fully dressed, taking on a warm drink can also help insulate your core, however be warned if you have been in colder water, what seems lukewarm to other people who haven’t been in the water, can be volcanic to you when your body temperature has dropped, so warn the person who brings you the drink.

Equipment

I recommend buying a wetsuit, this will give you an additional layer to keep you warm. There are many different brands and types available, they also help with buoyancy in the water. It is important to try on beforehand to make sure it fits and doesn’t restrict you. 

If you are training for a triathlon, it is normally compulsory to wear one. However, if you are training for open water swim events only, you may decide you want to take it off after a few sessions once you are more acclimatised. There are some open water swim events which as part of the rules don’t allow you to compete with one, however these race are for the more experienced open water swimmers.

A thick swim hat is necessary to keep you warm, neoprene is the warmest however you can also get a silicon and latex. Around 80 per cent of heat is lost through your head.

Ear plugs not only stop water getting in your ear, it also keeps your inner ear warm.

Other necessary equipment include a good pair of goggles that fit your face well, keep water out of your eyes and of course a comfortable costume and some good foot wear when approaching the lake.

For added safety you can purchase inflatable tow floats which attach around your waist and make you visible to ongoing boats or other swimmers.

Stroke technique

Practising and perfecting your stroke in the pool will really help when you go into open water as you want to be as efficient as possible. It is of particular importance if you swim in the ocean, where there are potential waves and choppy seas. It is important to practice breathing both sides separately and doing bilateral as you may need to breathe different sides as a result of waves or so see other swimmers/competitors.

Sighting is also another important skill to master. You can again practice initially in the pool where it’s controlled and then move to open water. My tip is use a slightly deeper pull to lift just your eyes above the water and keep the front arm wide as your hips in place with fingers pointing downwards under water to enable you to glide as you sight.

When to start?

The temperature of the water may still be quite cool at the start of the open water swimming season, and much will depend on the sort of winter that has preceded it. How long organised open water swimming lakes stay open for also depends on how warm the summer has been. Towards the end of the season the temperature will often significantly drop. I suggest you train in the pool throughout the winter, unless you are travelling to a warmer climate and can get into adequate open water temperatures.

Adam WalkerWritten by Adam Walker

Adam is a swim coach and motivational speaker who became the first British person to swim the hardest 7 ocean swims in the world. He teaches people swim stroke, psychology and all aspects in order to achieve their specific swimming goals.

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