Open Water Swimming Workout Tips

Woman preparing for an open swim
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There is more to swimming than just doing lap after lap, turning when you reach the wall at the end of the swimming pool. You can swim in places with no walls - open water swimming. Lakes, oceans, rivers, and all open water swimming areas offer a great change of scenery - go to your local beach for today's swimming workout instead of more laps in the swimming pool. Depending on the reasons you do open water swimming, you may find it more psychologically rewarding; open water swimming can certainly be just as productive for building your fitness and health.

Competitive open water swimming events are held at many distances, from across the local pond to 24 miles or more. There are open water swimming races and events at Manhattan Island (28 miles), Tampa Bay (24 miles), and the English Channel (30 to 40 miles). Open Water World Championships, sanctioned by FINA, are held at distances of 5km and 25km; there are other distances contested, too. USA Swimming has an Open Water Division. And of course, in the world of triathlons, open water swims are the first leg of the race. Distances can vary from the sprint triathlon's short (500 meters) splash to the Ironman distance's long (2.4 miles) soak.

Open Water Swimming Tips

  • There are no lines on the bottom. Look forward and sideways for landmarks to aid navigation, but find the balance between looking too often and not looking enough.
  • Put on your sunscreen - and don't forget your lips.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before you begin.
  • Make sure you follow the buddy system - if you are at a guarded beach, tell the lifeguards what you are doing.
  • You can do any type of open water swimming workout - long straight swims, intervals where you vary the intensity level, even short sprints then tread or float in place.
  • It will be easier to count strokes compared to doing efforts for time or distance; 50 strokes at a high effort, 50 strokes easy, etc.
  • Base your open water swimming workout on time spent swimming, not how far you think you have gone.
  • Stay on the safe side of distance from shore - don't go out too far.
  • If you are in a race, watch out for the flailing arms and legs of those around you - getting hit or scratched hurts, and can knock off your goggles.
  • Learn to use the waves to help you ride up and slide down.
  • Time your stroke so you can breathe without getting splashed in the face.
  • Make sure you teach yourself how to breathe to either side, left or right. If the waves are coming for the right, breathing to the left is much, much easier.
  • If they are allowed, wetsuits designed for open water swimming will help - you will be amazed at the extra warmth and the additional speed with no additional effort.
  • Overcoming fear of open water swimming is worth it; it may take time and effort, but you can do it.

If you choose to do open water swimming events or open water swimming workouts just to add variety to your workout, to practice for a triathlon, or to get ready for an open water race, have fun and enjoy the freedom of swimming without the walls.