As the water warms up and lockdown begins to ease, you may be thinking about venturing into the open water. Open water swimming can offer many benefits; it can help better your mental health, sleep and circulation, as well as increase your metabolism and boost your immune system. It also offers the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and experience a side of nature previously undiscovered.
For those just embarking upon their open water journey, Zone 3 has compiled a beginner’s guide to getting started in the world of outdoor swimming.
The main differences between pool swimming and open water swimming are the lack of walls to push off from, not having swim lanes to guide you in the right direction and not being able to touch the bottom. These are all differences that with time, you can learn to adjust to. You can adjust to these differences by practising the following techniques:
As mentioned before, in open water no swim lanes or lane lines are guiding you in the right direction. To be able to guide yourself in the open water, you’ll need to learn how to sight. This just means practising looking ahead during your swim to find a ‘marker’ in the distance to guide you. Most people spot a tree, or a small landmark, and use that as guidance on where to swim to. You can practice this in a pool by focusing on a spot on the wall at the end of the lane you’re in. Another way to train in a pool for open water swimming is to try and swim in a straight line as much as possible. In open water triathlons, you’re bound to veer left or right and bump into other triathletes, so getting this spot on in the pool beforehand is a good idea. If practising this for the first time in open water, swim close to the shoreline until you’ve got it right and then venture further into the water.
There are no walls to kick off from in open water. You’ll probably find yourself treading water a lot when in a lake, or the sea, so it’s best to practice treading water in the deep end of the swimming pool.
Often, open water events require participants to turn around a water buoy, sometimes more than once in a race. You can train for this in open water once you’re confident, but it’s a good idea to try this in a pool as well –if you have space. When practising this in a pool, make sure you’re not touching walls or the bottom of the swimming pool. In open water, practice this by swimming around water buoys, if safe to do so, or if you’re swimming with a friend, use each other as markers to swim around.
In open water, breathing on alternative sides is the most suggested breathing technique. It probably won’t feel natural, to begin with, so again, practising this in a pool is a good idea. It’s recommended that you learn how to breathe away from the direction of the waves to reduce water intake. If bilaterally breathing, rotate your head and spine with your shoulders, breath in and then turn your face along with your next shoulder rotation. Essentially, the easiest way to breathe in open water is to inhale through your mouth and exhale when your head is submerged without breathing to the side. Do whatever feels most natural to you and what you’re most confident with. It’s a good idea to try lots of different techniques during training and recognise that when you’re swimming at different speeds and intensities, your preferred breathing technique will change to accommodate that.
In open water, you’ll need a stroke with a slightly higher stroke rate than in the pool. This helps you keep momentum if you’re in choppy waters. Most open water swimmers opt for front crawl, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with this stroke and can maintain it for longer periods. You need to be comfortable with whatever strokes you choose. It’s recommended you get used to other techniques, such as breaststroke, as this uses less energy than front crawl and come to your aid should you find yourself in a situation wishing to conserve energy. That’s it!
Hopefully, with these considerations in mind, you feel confident taking the plunge into the open water.