Open Water Swim Tips!


There’s plenty to think about in open water, and technical mistakes can cost you dear, causing you to tire quickly and not get the most from your swim. Triathletes’ six most common open-water errors are outlined below – along with tips on how to correct them.

  1. Swimming with your head too high

This causes your hips to drop, affecting body position in the water and prompting you to kick too aggressively in an attempt to elevate yourself. Many people do this because they’re too tense or anxious about sighting or breathing. It’ll affect energy levels and cause fatigue.

Tip:Techniques to help you relax in the water will help you avoid this common pitfall. Lowering your head by slowing the stroke down and practising shallower breathing is also beneficial. Remember: the water line should be just above your goggles and you should be looking forwards through the water at a downward angle of about 45°.

2. Shallow arm recovery 

This can be caused by poor mobility and flexibility in the shoulder and possibly an ill-fitting, tight wetsuit.

Tip: To avoid this problem, practise high-elbow recovery drills in the pool and think about this while swimming in the lake. Your arm recovery needs to be higher, so practise changing your recovery arm position by bringing your arm over higher without such a bent elbow.

 3. Kicking too much

Nervous swimmers often do this because they’re panicking and think they need to kick a lot to swim fast. Plus, they might be used to kicking a lot in the pool.

Tip: To get your kick under control, learn to relax and trust in the fact that your wetsuit improves your buoyancy significantly, so there’s no need to kick furiously. Use the buoyancy of the wetsuit to get into a horizontal position. Try just floating in your wetsuit and you’ll be amazed at how buoyant you are.

The only time you need to increase your leg kick is during the last 20-30m of the swim before transition. Kicking harder here increases blood flow into your legs and will reduce dizziness as you stand up.

4. Shock!

Don’t hang about getting into the water. Walk in to avoid a sudden shock of cold from jumping or diving in. Get the feet used to the cold and gradually walk to deeper water.

Once you’re in the water splash cold water on your face to help you acclimatise to the cooler temperatures before you put your face in the water. This will remove sudden shock when you put your head in the water to swim.

Tip: Acclimatisation is key. I recommend a routine swim warm up. The key word here is routine—it’s something that sets the tone for the day and relaxes you pre-race/training. A good rule of thumb is to warm up as hard as you’d like to go during the race/session. 10 strokes hard: 10 strokes easy

5. Sighting

A problem many people have with sighting is timing it properly with your stroke. If you try and sight when you have no stability in your stroke, your hips will drop and you’ll lose momentum.

Tip 1: We spend most of our time training in a pool so we might as well work on aspects of sighting while we’re there! During a long interval every fourth length to spend a few strokes working on sighting. Look up to the pool-side and sight off your water bottle, take three or four little pictures until you can hone in on something specific on the bottle like the logo, and then move along with your swimming. What you want to focus on is keeping your rhythm the same when you’re sighting, just like your swimming. Remember, your rhythm should not change if you make sighting part of your stroke.

Tip 2: Alligator sighting and breathing. To help keep your momentum and balance, you want to “press to sight.”

How do you do that? When you are reaching to take a pull with your breathing side arm, just when you are initiating your stroke, and dig your fingers in, pushing down to create stability lifting your eyes up to sight. The goal is not to bring your head out of the water, as in the photo below, but to barely bring your eyes out (like an alligator) and then continue your breath, repeating until you have sighted adequately.

6.  Confidence

You will have done the distance in training or in a wetsuit so you know you can handle it on race day, it is good to know how it feels swimming in your wetsuit in OW, if the wetsuit rubs and what it is like to sight.

Tip: You need to forget about your competition and internalize your thoughts: It’s about executing your game plan flawlessly. Train how you wish to race,  replicate the effort, replicate the distance, this will instil confidence in your physical ability.