Transitioning from swimming in a pool to open water swimming can be quite the challenge for triathletes. Even the fastest and most graceful pool swimmers will need to make some adjustments when preparing for, and swimming in the open water.
Here are 9 essential tips for open water swimming success:
1. Chunk it down. If your race is going to involve a 1 mile swim, don’t try to swim a mile the first day out. Instead, just shoot for getting wet and swimming for 5 or 10 minutes. Even just swimming a couple hundred yards your first time out is fine. There’s no hurry to do it all at once!
2. Don’t use pull buoys. When in the pool, stay away from anything that aids in your floatation. This includes pull buoys, which many triathletes love so much! Buoys make it easier for you to swim because you’re not working on your balance in the water. In the open water, without walls, you will need to have great balance- something that you are always practicing when you get in to swim
3. Learn flip turns. Swimming back and forth in the pool is easier than swimming continuously in the open water no matter how you slice it. But, by touching the wall and doing an open turn after each length, you’re giving yourself even more rest than necessary. Doing flip turns will be the closest thing to swimming continuously that you can get. Find a coach to teach you how to do flip turns or search the web for some good video demonstrations, and you will improve your endurance and ability to swim for longer periods of time.
4. Swim with a group. When you hit the open water, make sure to swim with a group or at least a partner. This will help you to lose any fears, stay safe, and have more fun.
5. Wear a wetsuit. For your first few times out in the open water, definitely use a wetsuit- especially if the water is cold and you will be wearing one in your race. The wetsuit will make it easier for you to swim by keeping you more buoyant. Once you get more comfortable swimming in the open water, practice without the suit for a challenge!
6. Expect a challenge. Transitioning from the pool to the open water is a whole new endeavor. You will have to set new goals, make adjustments to your stroke, and overcome new fears. All of this is normal! Keep in mind that this is all a process, and no matter how advanced you may have been in the pool, you should expect to take it down a few notches once you leave the friendly confines of lane lines and 80 degree water.
7. Practice in the pool with workout buddies. It can be quite the shock and even panic can set in at the beginning of a triathlon, where there will be a large crowd all swimming towards the same point. It’s important to stay relaxed. If you can get a few training mates to jump in your lane and simulate the crowded feeling a few times before your race, you will likely remain in a calm state!
6. Don’t let the race be the first time you try your goggles out in the open water. Often times, even though your colored goggles are fine in the pool, when you get out into the open water, visibility becomes noticeably diminished. Goggles should not be a concern on race day, so get ones that work for you both in the pool and in the open water so there are no surprises come race day.
7. Practice high elbow recovery freestyle. Waves and chop in the open water will affect your stroke quite a bit, and if you’re getting your elbows high enough above the water on your recovery swim stroke, you won’t be as affected by these elements.
8. For sighting, practice using landmarks instead of buoys. Open water conditions may not make it easy to see buoys from a distance, and the larger, more visible objects, like houses or hotels on the shore, or stationary boats will allow you to stay on track.
Open water swimming is almost a different sport than pool swimming. Keep that in mind along with these tips, and you will have a lot more fun making the adjustment!
What are your biggest challenges in adjusting to open water swimming from the pool?