Tips for Open Water Swimming

Today’s blog post has a few hints and tips when getting in the water. I have aimed this more towards lake/river swimming. If however you swim in the sea I would definitely recommend a safety buoy to keep you really visible and an extra helping hand but remember it is not a guarantee, swim within your own abilities. If you want some help on what to do if you get in trouble in open water head to the RNLI website where they have tonnes of useful information.

Before you get in the water

Swim with a Buddy – If you can, please go with someone else, try not to swim alone. If that is your only option let someone on shore know you are there and when you expect to finish.

Check any signs or policies before getting into the water. If it is an organised training session then speak to someone before  in you get in and understand the route and if here’s anywhere to stand if you think you will need it.

Bright Swim Cap – A lot of places will often ask you to wear a bright swim cap as it keeps you visible. It means people on the edge can identify you, you can identify a buddy by their cap and also if there are people in kayaks it again keeps you visible.

Wetsuit – If wearing a wetsuit ensure you have pulled it up so there’s not a huge gap in the crotch and there’s lots of flex under the armpits and across the shoulders. I find that my suit can feel quite tight on the chest so I really try to yank it up as high as I can so it isn’t restrictive along the neck. (by yank I mean gently pull up).

In the water

Acclimatise – If you want to be a dare devil and jump straight in please do but as per the RNLI website jumping into very cold water can be dangerous. I like to go into the water slowly to allow my body to get used to the cold and splash my face a bit as that’s usually the worst bit.

Breathe and Relax or Relax and Breathe – I feel like the two of these go hand in hand. If you relax it makes it easier to breathe and once you can breathe you feel more relaxed. If you are doing freestyle stroke and regardless of bilateral breathing as you lead with one arm in front allow your body to go to the side so that you face is out of the water and glide. You can even take a few side kicks here to allow your breathing to come back to normal. I tried this technique recently and it really helped me to stay calm.

If your wetsuit is tight see if there is anywhere near to adjust it, perhaps towards the bank so you can put your feet down. If not pull the neck out and allow some water down your front to help cool you down.

Spotting – Open water is very different to the pool as you no longer have the lines to follow at the bottom or the lane dividers. Something that is worth practising in the pool ready for open water is spotting. Try every 6 strokes to look ahead of you. Once in open water you can use what you have practised and decide on a fixed spot (like a buoy) and head towards that. Spotting will guide you to where you are heading. I have heard stories of swim races where people have done u-turns because they weren’t looking!

If you get in trouble – try to float. The most common sign for help is to lie on your back and put up one arm. This is why backstroke is often unadvised so as not to confuse the stewards. Other options are to try and get to shore as quickly as possible.

Out of the water

There are a few things I like to have when getting out of the water, a towel, a pair of flip flops and something to put my wetsuit in. Get warm and dry then go and fuel yourself after a hard morning’s swim! Also if you had told someone at the beginning of your swim let them know you have got out and are safe.

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