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While swimming in a lake, ocean or river, there are no walls to push off from, no lane lines to guide you, and no clear markers of distance. Plus, with waves and strong currents, it can be exhausting!

In this guide, we’ll explore the right techniques and mindset to help you swim in open water without getting exhausted, drawing insights from the expertise of Chris Bryan, an international open water swimmer.

8 Tips For Open Water Swimming

1. Adaptability is Key:

Transitioning from pool swimming to open water swimming requires adaptability. Unlike in the pool where you can rely on consistent strokes and turns against the wall, open water demands flexibility in your approach.

It’s important to reset yourself in open water, and adjust your stroke dynamics to the waves, current, and absence of walls.

2. Bring The Right Gear

Open water swimming requires additional gear that you won’t need when swimming in a pool:

Swimsuit or Wetsuit: If the water you plan to swim in is cold, we recommend wearing a wetsuit for safety and comfort. If the water will be warm, choose a regular swimsuit that’s comfortable and will stay on. 

Swim Cap & Goggles: Wear darker tinted goggles for sun protection, and grab a bright colored swim cap! Even if you don’t normally wear a cap in the pool, we recommend wearing one in open water for extra visibility and warmth.

Safety Buoy: The buoy is key for open water. These special buoys attach to your waist and drag along behind you as you swim. They are important for visibility to boats and other swimmers in the water, and can also be used for emergency floatation if you need to take a break. 

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With short sleeve and long sleeve options, dryobe works great with swimsuits and wetsuits. So whether you’re finishing a swim at the pool, or in open water, you’re going to love it.

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3. Focus on Balance and Body Position:

Achieving balance on the water is crucial in open water swimming. By visualizing your body as a boat, you can aim to maintain balance on the surface.

Pay attention to your body position, keeping your legs high to minimize drag and maximize buoyancy.

4. Stroke Dynamics and Energy Conservation:

Without the aid of walls, open water swimming places a spotlight on stroke efficiency. In rough waters, it seems that every action you take has an opposite reaction, so your stroke dynamics are more important than ever.

By learning to modulate your effort level, like shifting gears in a car, this allows for more sustainable swimming and helps to conserves energy.

5. Sight Regularly for Orientation:

To stay on course in open water, frequent sighting is essential. Proper sighting technique involves lifting your head efficiently without disrupting your stroke rhythm.

We recommend sighting every sixth stroke to maintain direction without wasting excessive energy.

We also recommend swimming with a smartwatch to accurately track how far you have swum. This is especially important for cold water swims in which cold exposure is a factor. 

Try tracking your open water swim with the MySwimPro app on your Apple Watch or Garmin.

Get real-time distance and heart rate data, plus a detailed GPS map of your swim after you’re done. Analyze your performance with a look at your 100 pace for your entire swim! Plus, you can sync all your workouts to Strava.

Between open water swims, swim at the pool with MySwimPro’s personalized, guided workouts on your wrist. 

6. Drafting Techniques:

Drafting is a technique that’s well understood in race car driving and cycling. In swimming, the effect can be just as impactful, because water is 800x more dense than air, and there’s significantly more resistance in the water than on land.

Drafting is where you align yourself with another swimmer(s) to reduce the overall effect of drag due to exploiting the lead swimmer’s slipstream.

Drafting saves energy and makes you swim faster! In an Olympic Distance Triathlon, this could save you 1-2 minutes, and in an Ironman swim – over 5 minutes. You also have to factor in the amount of energy you’ll save by swimming in the draft of another swimmer(s).

There are two positions to draft in. One is immediately behind the lead swimmer. This ‘follow feet’ method is relatively simple and requires you to simply swim directly behind another swimmer without touching them. The challenges with this position are it’s harder to spot, and you face the turbulence and bubbles of the swimmer in front of you.

It’s always best to ride the bow wave of the lead swimmer. Swimmers displace a lot of water and essentially serve as a displacement vessel. The lead swimmer creates a wave that is optimal to draft off of. This draft does not interfere with your own stroke and allows you to sight less often.

How To Draft: There are a number of different factors that impact how much draft potential you have. The most controllable is your position relative to the other swimmer(s).

  • Speed – the faster you move, the more draft there is.
  • Size – the larger the swimmer, the more water they displace and the bigger the draft.
  • Position – where and how close you are to the draft. The closer you are, the more draft you can take advantage of.

7. Breathing Techniques:

You will have to adapt your breathing technique to suit the demands of open water swimming.

Try adjusting your stroke rate and breathing pattern, opting for softer breaths and even incorporating double breaths to maintain a steady pace.

It is important to still breathe on both your right and left sides while swimming freestyle. If you lift your head up and forward, your hips and legs will drop, causing you to slow down and waste too much energy.

Related: 5 Hacks For Your First Open Water Swim

8. Join a Community:

Lastly, we want to mention the importance of community in open water swimming. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a novice, finding a swimming community can provide support, camaraderie, and motivation to enhance your open water swimming experience.

In conclusion, open water swimming offers a unique blend of physical challenge and mental exhilaration. By honing your technique, embracing adaptability, and fostering a sense of community, you can swim in open water with confidence and enjoyment.

So, dive in, explore the open water, and be part of the MySwimPro community!

Comment below if you have more questions or tips about open water swimming. We’d love to hear them! Download the MySwimPro app for guidance in your open water swimming journey, and personalized pool workouts. Start free 7-day trial >

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