Moving On Up to Open Water

So, you’re ready to move from the pool to open water?  Great!  There are some things you can do before you move to the open water to get ready:

  • Simulate open water,
  • Work up to the distance you want to swim in the open water,
  • Practice open water specific technique,
  • Use race simulated workouts, and
  • Acclimate to colder water and temperatures in the shower and by wearing lighter clothing.

Simulate Open Water

 A couple ways to simulate the open water before you even get into it would be to circle swim within your lane without stopping at the walls, take the lane lines out of the pool and circle swim the exterior without stopping, or use an open water simulation pool which allows you to swim in place against a current.  By using these methods, you can get used to continually swimming without stopping at the wall but still have the comfort of the pool.

Work up to the Distance

While you are still in the pool, you can work up to the distance you want to swim in the open water.  Knowing you can swim the ½ mile, mile, two miles, etc. will give you confidence when you move to the open water because you know you can already swim the distance.  There will be plenty to get used to when you are in the open water so knowing you can do the distance will help alleviate some of the stress.


There are specific pieces of your technique which can help you have better results in the open water.  These topics include a flat hand entry, the lead arm entering and extending straight in line with the shoulder, the hand anchoring just under the surface of the water, and the legs staying in the body line.  For more information on technique for open water, see my post on “Swimming Straight”.

You want to practice topics that are specific to open water events:

  • Treading water,
  • Running start,
  • Wading in,
  • Sighting,
  • Swim exit,
  • Running barefoot after swimming, and
  • Stripping your wetsuit.

I will write more on the open water starts and sighting in separate posts.

Race Simulation Workouts

When you have worked up to your distance and your technique is solid, you should start using race simulated workouts.  During these workouts, concentrate on a good start, pouring on the power with your core and hips, using speed sprints strategically, being able to back off to a comfortable race pace, wake up the legs at the end of the swim to get the blood flowing, and running right after the swim.  Do everything you can to mimic a race situation including swimming in a group to practice passing other racers, getting passed, imagine turning the buoys, etc.  The more you can put yourself in the race situation, the more comfortable you will be on race day.


In anticipation to moving to the open water, you should start wearing lighter clothing to get used to the air temperature as well as taking colder showers.  Reducing the temperature of the shower slowly will help your body adjust to temperatures you will encounter in the open water without sending it into shock (not to mention the savings on the water heat bill).  You will still notice the difference when you do move to the open water but the shock won’t be as bad as if you hadn’t done the shower acclimation process.

Move to Open Water

 Once the open water is warm enough, you should find a buddy to swim with.  Never swim alone and always swim where a trained professional is monitoring the swim area.  It’s a really good idea to let someone at home know where you are going and when you will be back.  Just in case something goes wrong (flat tire, took a wrong turn, etc.).

Acclimate yourself to the open water by getting used to the water temperature slowly and make sure you know the body of water.  Where are the rocky areas?  Where do the boats travel? Etc.  I find early morning to be the best time to do my open water swims and I try to get out before the motor boats are on the water.  I also like to wear a light colored swim cap (I prefer white) to be able to better be seen.  You don’t want to wear a dark blue or a black cap because then you will blend in with the water.

When acclimating yourself to the temperature, make sure you remember rule #1 of swimming:  Breathing.  Get your breath under control by treading water, get your mouth in the water and blow some mouth bubbles.  Next, get your nose in the water and blow nose bubbles.  Once you are comfortable with these pieces, get your face in the water, and follow with your head.  Take your time on this piece.  You don’t want to get a brain freeze.  In the early season or when the water is particularly cold, I like to wear 2 swim caps to give my head extra insulation.  If your head is warm, your body will be more likely to relax during your swim.

Swim in open water several times before your event.  You don’t want to try anything new on the day of the event and swimming in open water is certainly not something you want to do for the first time on the day of your event.

Other Things to Think About

 When you’re swimming in open water, nature controls the temperature of the water so you need to consider wearing a wetsuit for long events or if you are sensitive to cold water.  There are several different types of wetsuits to choose from and no one wetsuit is best for everyone.  If you are swimming your first open water event, you might consider renting the wetsuit to make sure you like open water swimming prior to investing in one of your own.  For more on this topic, see my post on “Choosing a Wetsuit”.

You also want to consider using a different pair of goggles for open water swimming.  Early morning events are usually met with a sunrise or a very low sun.  This will create solar glare on the water and you could potentially be looking right into the sun on some part of the course.  Consider using tinted or mirrored goggles for this purpose.  Also, have an extra pair of those favorite goggles in your event bag just in case your first pair breaks (or you leave them at home on the kitchen table by mistake).

Finally, during a race you may be met with the question of taking a race colored cap or a red cap to wear.  If you are new to swimming and are still uncomfortable in the water, take the red cap.  This signals to the lifeguards that you may be a bit nervous and you would like them to keep an extra eye out for you during the event.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a red cap so take advantage of the offer.  Besides, the seasoned swimmers will tend to stay away from the red caps so that gives you more room to swim.

After the Swim

Once your swim is finished and you get to solid ground, get your legs under your body (don’t push your body back to your legs) and stand up slowly to get your balance.  Take your goggles and place them on your forehead.  As you are running, strip your wetsuit to your waist (remember to use the balls of your fingers and not your fingernails) and take your goggles and swim cap off until you get back to your transition area.  Then, strip the rest of your wetsuit.  Be proud of your awesome swim and make notes after your event of things you want to change the next time you race.

Enjoy your newly found freedom of the open water and let me know if I can do anything to help you on your swimming journey.  I can be reached at

Posted February 28, 2017