Wednesday Wisdom - Open Water Swimming

Wednesday Wisdom

Open Water Swimming
by: Brooks Doughtie

Whether you are a veteran triathlete or in the beginning of your triathlon career, we've all been there.  That fear, excitement, and unknown… of open water swimming. Today we'll tackle the fears and joys of open water swimming and some things you can do to swim with confidence.  So again, we've all been there where the 1st time we jump into the lake/ocean/river and you can't see 1 foot in front of you.  The fear of the unknown.  With these helpful tips and trick you'll be ready to rock your next race!


The 1st thing with any open water swimming scenarios will be is the water wetsuit legal or not.  For USA Triathlons the water temperature threshold is 78°F (25.5°C). For Ironman sanctioned events the water temp threshold is 76.1°F (24.5°C). It is important to know when you can use a wetsuit because most people are more comfortable in them. Also they allow for more buoyancy and you will be faster in the water.  Wetsuits can come in sleeveless or full sleeved wetsuits.  There is even a “shorty” wetsuit for the first timers who aren't ready to go full in on an expensive wetsuit. 

Studies have shown that swimmers are faster in full sleeved wetsuits, but the sleeves can be more restrictive so the most important thing for a wetsuit: get the one that fits!  That sounds funny but full suits that are too tight in the shoulders can tire you out in the water.  One trick when using a wetsuit is TriSlide lubricant or Body Glide® Anti-Chafe Balm.  Those are very helpful in preventing chaffing in the neck or arm pit area.  You can also apply these to the lower leg and calf area to get the wetsuit off quicker.

So now let's talk about swimming. A few things to consider before jumping into the water.   A good warm up with some arm swings is a good way to get the blood flowing and the heart pumping.  The 2nd thing to do when you get in the water, dunk your head and face under water so you get the "shock" out before you begin swimming.  Lastly, take a deep breath and RELAX.  This is a fun sport; enjoy the opportunity you have undertaken!

Now you've started and you have to figure out how to swim the course.  Here's a funny trick to do.  Next time you swim in the pool, push off the wall and close your eyes and see how quickly you run into a lane line.  You'll probably run into the lane line within 4-5 strokes.  Now you realize how important it is to sight when you are swimming in open water.  I suggest to sight more and often.  That usually means to sight every 3rd breath.  It's also a good thing to make sure you can bi-lateral breath (means to rotate to breath both sides of your head).  This will help in the event of rough water or the sun that can inhibit you when you breath.  

So lastly, let's talk about what happens if you get spooked, or kicked or any variable that gets you uncomfortable quickly.  Rolling on your back and breathing with your face out of the water is one really easy but very effective method for calming yourself down.  Roll to your back,  just breath calmly, and  relax yourself. Becoming relaxed will be the number one thing to helping you overcome that kind of episode.  Once you have caught your breath and feel comfortable start swimming again, even if it's just breaststroke swimming.  

I hope this open water information is helpful and allows you to have an awesome experience at your next event.