Open Water Swimming Tips


Canandaigua Lake, one of the beautiful Finger Lakes near my parents house. As a swimmer and triathlete, having the Finger Lakes near you is magnificent. I was so spoiled growing up and not realizing that not everyone got to see this, or swim in places like this. We were/are lucky to live in a place so incredible for outdoor activity. So, while here for a few weeks, I’m definitely taking advantage. And an open water swim is just about the only thing I’ll willingly get up at 5am for. In the future I know the early mornings will come again, but for now, open water is it. This pic was taken after our swim this morning having gotten into the water by 6am. The sun wasn’t even up yet. As  you can see, it was a bit windy and choppy, but that’s ok, good practice. While swimming it reminded me of something I’d written for a triathlon swim clinic I put on last year. This was written for triathletes, but 85% will apply to pure open water swimmers as well. I know the season is partway over, but hopefully some of these tips will help you out. Let me know if you have any questions. Get out and swim!

14 Swim Skills for Triathletes

1. Go further than the race requirement- If you’re swimming .5 mile, swim 1 mile, if you’re swimming 1 mile, swim 1.5, swimming, 1.2, swim 2 and swimming 2.4, swim 3 miles.

2. Practice in open water and with differing conditions– go to a swim venue similar to race day if you can i.e. lake, river, ocean and get used to swimming in different conditions. If the race is usually choppy, and you only practice on a smooth glassy lake, it isn’t preparing you. If you get used to swimming in all sorts of conditions, you’ll be better prepared.

3. Practice starting in a group-If you’re not comfortable being in a mix of people, practice what it feels like to be surrounded by others kicking, punching and splashing.

4. Have a mantra if you’re uncomfortable– Come up with a short phrase to repeat to yourself in the swim if you start to panic i.e. smooth and relaxed. Practice this when swimming, and even on the bike/run.

5. Do swim/bike workouts or swim/run workouts– the most neglected brick workout is the swim to bike workout. There are often run/bike, or run/bike/run workouts, but the swim to bike is forgotten. Good for practicing for nutrition/dehydration, dizziness, fatigue, overall effort.

6. Workouts-hypoxic sprints/zero recovery sprints/no wall/no lane lines– Do workouts that mimic similar conditions to open water swimming. If you do touch and go sprints, or do hypoxic sets where you’re getting little rest, or little breath, it can prepare you for the swim, specifically the start.

7. The swim start-Know how the swim is starting-off a dock/boat, in water-knee high/chest high, on the beach. Be prepared and practice similar starts. i.e. IM Louisville is a rolling TT start. Other races have adopted wave starts vs mass starts.

8. Seeding Yourself-Where you put yourself matters. Be realistic, are you a good swimmer, a nervous swimmer? Front of the pack swimmers are aggressive. It’s best to put yourself in the back, or to the sides, depending on if there is a wave behind you.

9. Warm up before the swim-Some swims allow warm up, some don’t. Know this beforehand. The warm up is important for neuromuscular activation, warming up your muscles and getting you used to the cold water. If a warm up isn’t allowed, bring swim bands to use to warm up.

10. Burping your wetsuit-If you’re not used to swimming with a wetsuit, practice with it first. When you get into the water burp the wetsuit to let a bit of water and release the pressure in your shoulders.

11. Sighting-sight with alligator eyes, and try not to breathe when you sight, you’ll swim “uphill.” Sight every 4-6 strokes if you’re not that comfortable and every 10 (possibly more-depending on the swim venue-a river is easier) if you are. In an ocean, sight as you are rising from the swell.

12. Breathing-learn to bilateral breath. This will help with your body position and will help with adverse conditions- sun in the eyes, waves, another swimmer

13. Drafting– practice this, as it’s a learned skill. Swim just off the hip area or behind the feet of another swimmer and you can save around 20% of your energy. Do not pull on their legs or touch their feet.

14. Exiting the water-keep swimming till you touch the bottom with your hand. Don’t just stand up and start to run, you’re faster swimming. Do dolphin dives to get in closer, and when you’re in the furthest, pick up your knees
Sample Triathlon OWS/Brick Workouts:

1. Basic IM swim bike brick (8-12weeks out)- 60:00 ows with race pace start and finish, 4 hour bike at IM pace

2. Indoors Swim/Bike brick (winter training)-45:00 swim practice, 45:00 on spin bike/trainer at pool

3. Indoors Olympic Swim/Bike brick(winter training)- 2x (3x 500 descending to race pace, 6 miles race pace on the bike)

4. IM Swim/Run brick (done 4-6 weeks out)- Cut in half for 70.3 distances
2 mile run
30:00 swim
4 mile run
20:00 swim
6 mile run
20:00 swim
1 mile run

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