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Open water swimming

Updated on July 18, 2017

What is open water swimming?

Open water swimming is its own unique sport, It is an amazing activity. Swimming in an open water isn't like swimming in a pool, open water swimming may include some variables that are different from swimming in a pool. The only way to get better in open water swimming is by doing it as much as you can because open water requires experience and exposure to various conditions that open water has to offer.

Where does it take place?

Open water swimming takes place at large bodies of waters like rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The main difference between swimming in a pool and swimming in an open water is the difference in the stroke technique the swimmer uses. When you swim in a pool there's a strong emphasis on your stroke balance, efficiency, and body rotation.

When you are in a rough condition like swimming in an open water, the stroke efficiency is also important. But the swimmer has to roll and adapt to the undulations of the waves. When in open water the emphasis is not balance and body rotation, the emphasis is that you have to manage your torso in three dimensions.

There are two contradicting elements in play when swimming in an open water:

-Strong core

You must have a strong core. Having a strong core makes you steady and can withstand the harshness of the waves.

-Relaxed adaptive strong pattern

Having a strong core is not enough, you have to have an adaptive strong pattern when you swim in open waters. Sure you may have a strong core and can withstand waves, but there are stronger elements that you don't stand a chance. So you have to be relaxed and most of all adaptive.

Understanding these elements is important to become a better open water swimmer. However, in order to truly adapt these elements within your stroke, you need to practice.

Racing techniques


Though you can swim any stroke you want when swimming in an open water, most of the swimmers use front crawl or in other words freestyle. This stroke is efficient and the fastest.


Most swimmer often times head off course due to waves, currents and poor visibility. Buoys are positioned in the races however it is often hard to see it due to rough or choppy water. What you can do is look for two aligned object that is easily visible on land and make sure that they continue to be aligned during the race.

Sighting is the best skill you can ever learn in open water swimming. The best way to sight is to lift your head and to look forward as you breathe.The more you look the more tired you can get so make sure to balance the time you look and time you breathe.


Drafting is the technique of following a swimmer so closely or behind that the water resistance is reduced.

Start and Exit

Most swimmers use dolphin kick to avoid incoming waves that can slow them down. When you're underwater the wave isn't a problem. Also, swimming underwater is faster than swimming on the surface. When exiting the swimmer can use the waves as an advantage, the swimmer can body surf to make swimming easier.

Drills that will help you learn good body position

Kick in your breathing position
Kick with your one arm extended straight out from your shoulder, your hips should be rotated and your head position is back in the water.
Swim normally for three strokes and then hold longer while in the breathing position
You want to exaggerate the breathing position by breathing longer and holding that position while you kick.
Catch up drill
While your other arm moves and propels you forward, the other arm is in a straight position while waiting for the other arm to touch it. Once the hands made contact, the other arm begins to move. The benefit of this is that it forces your arm to be straight while you breathe.


Breathing can also be a challenge to this harsh waters. You may find yourself lifting your head in order to grab a breath.

Over time you'll be comfortable with alternate breathing that comes in the changes of your stroke.

The swimmer must utilize the flow and punch. Which means that the swimmer must flow with the conditions while also punching to the chop or waves.

The most important part of breathing well and breathing comfortably in open water is body position.

There are 3 parts of body position that is important.

1. Keeping your head down in the water.

Your whole cap should be back while breathing.

2.Rolling your body

You have to roll your hips and your whole body.

3.Keep your front arm extended

It should be fully extended in front of you while you breathe. It should be extended out straight, not left or right, just straight.

Breathing Pattern

When you swim in open water, breathe as often as you like. Most swimmer wait to breathe until their desperate for air. You can breathe every 2, every 3 or alternating breathing side, or every 4 strokes.

A Quick Question

Which breathing pattern do you prefer?

See results

3 Things That Can Mess up Your Breathing in Open Water.

1. Cold Water

When you breathe in a cold water, it is pretty common to lose your breath a bit. So you want to slow your breathing down and breathe deeply.

2. Panic

A panic attack is similar when something scares you or you have a thought of something creepy you tighten up your breathing. What you can do is breathe slowly and breathe deeply.

3. Fatigue

When you're in the open water you swim long distance and in harsh conditions, so be sure to breathe frequently and as often as you need to breathe.


Also, be sure to exhale fully. Make sure to be exhaling slowly and to not breathe out like blowing, make sure that you exhale nice and slowly. It can help you relax and be comfortable therefore swim faster.

Breathing becomes hard when the water becomes rough or as they say, choppy. There are things you can do to breathe easier in rough water.

-Roll your body

You can roll almost like looking in the sky, just so you can get your head away from the water and breathe without water going in your mouth.

-You can breathe quickly

This will minimize the water going in your mouth.

-Lift your head up slightly

In most circumstances, rolling your body is not enough, you have to lift your head in order to breathe in rough conditions.

Tips before competing:

-Get the right gear

Make sure to put anti fog in your goggles. Goggles that fog up will surely slow you down due to poor visibility. A suit that is too loose or is not skin tight will act as a net for open water junks. A suit that is too tight will feel like it's choking you, therefore you can't relax while swimming.

-Practice on cold water

Conditioning your body to cold water is important. Even the toughest work out in swimming pool cannot prepare you for the coldness of the open water, so make sure to practice in open water.

Worst case scenarios

-Losing your goggles

Losing your goggles is one of the hardest things that can happen to you. Make sure to practice swimming and diving with your goggles to make sure that your goggles would not go off during the race.

-Muscle cramps

Cramps is also one of the hardest things to experience when in open water. Through out the season, make sure to always stretch. Potassium is known to prevent cramps. so make sure to consume food with lots of potassium before competing.

Check out this video of Speedo about open water swimmers


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