Getting Ready for Open Water Swimming – Part 3

You’ve put in the hard work and preparation to get you ready for open water swimming, but what should do once the starting gun goes? ELT’s Head coach writes up her top tips here.

If you haven’t read the first set of tips, ‘Getting Ready for Open Water Swimming’ you can find it here.

Remember the route

Having planned in advance, you should be clear on the most direct route to take around the swim. It is worth sighting every 6-8 strokes to avoid veering off-course. Few people swim in a perfectly straight line and less frequent sighting can lead to an unnecessarily long swim.


It is legal to draft in the swim section of races. This is achieved by swimming alongside another swimmer with your hand entry at the knee position of your chosen ride. This can reduce the amount of effort you put in by up to 15%. It is important not to touch the other swimmer, as once they realise what you are doing they are unlikely to be very happy about it!

You should rely on your own sighting, as an easier swim may not be a faster swim if the swimmer you choose to draft off has no sense of direction.

Focus on your stroke

In the heat of a race it is easy to give no thought whatsoever to your stroke However, focusing on this can take your mind off the cold and will also make your swimming more efficient. It is a shame to make all that effort in the pool working on your stroke and making your swim faster, only to let it all go during the race. Longer and more powerful strokes will allow you to reduce the number of strokes you take over the race, which in turn, should make you less tired on exiting.


Getting Ready for Open Water Swimming – Part 2

You’ve put in the hard work and preparation to get you ready for open water swimming, but what should you do before jumping in? ELT’s Head coach writes up her top tips here.

If you haven’t read the first set of tips, ‘Getting Ready for Open Water Swimming’ you can find it here.

Have a drink

Unlike swimming in the pool, in open water you cannot stop for a drink if you get a bit thirsty. As a general rule it is not advisable to drink the water you are swimming in, so it is important to make sure that you are well hydrated before you race. This will not only allow you to race to your full potential (generally it has been shown that a 2% decrease in body weight can lead to a 20% decrease in performance), but it will also help to reduce the likelihood of getting cramp.

Put your wetsuit on with care

Make sure that you spend plenty of time putting on your wetsuit to make sure that it is fitting properly and not likely to hinder your stroke.

If you have been given a timing chip, make sure you put it on underneath your wetsuit. Otherwise, you will have to take it off to get your wetsuit off, and then put it back on again. There are a number of different oils/lubricants you can use that will make getting your wetsuit off much quicker and easier a quick google and you’ll find lots of reviews.

Taking time over the wetsuit fitting process will also allow you to focus on something other than your race nerves.

Wear two swim caps

Generally you will be given one swim cap by the race organisers. If you put your own swim cap on underneath this it can help to keep your head warm in the cold water. You can also put your goggles on top of the first cap and underneath the second (race) cap. This way, if your goggles are knocked during the swim start, they are unlikely to come completely off and disappear into the depths of the water.

Get into the water before the start

If at all possible, get into the water 5 minutes before the start of your race. This will give you time to flush water through your wetsuit to seal it onto your body and also give you the opportunity to get used to the cold on your face and to practice some strokes before the start.

Position yourself according to your realistic ability

Open water swim starts can be quite frantic with hundreds of people all trying to get the best possible start to their race. This can cause people to end up being punched, kicked and swum over which can be off-putting if you are unprepared for it.

It is better to place yourself at the back and to one side of the group if you know that you are unlikely to be leading the swim. The side you choose will be dictated by the position of the first buoy. If the first buoy is to the right, then you will need to position yourself to the left of the group, and vice versa. Although this will involve you swimming a few extra metres, it will allow you to start your race on your own terms and in your own space. You will be able to overtake those who set off too fast or became overcome by panic on being swum over.

Image result for triathlon start

Remember you can float in your wetsuit

Your race is not necessarily over just because you have a panic attack in the water. If the cold, wetsuit restriction and jostling at the start cause you to panic, just roll over onto your back and concentrate on your breathing. Your wetsuit will keep you afloat so you do not need to waste energy on treading water. Once you have calmed down, you can just roll over and try again. By this time, the jostling should be over, and you should have clear water in which to swim.

Getting Ready for Open Water Swimming

As the weather starts improving and with the triathlon season only around the corner; ELT’s Head Coach has written up some of her top tips for preparing for your first open triathlon swim.

Practice swimming in open water!

Swimming in open water has some key differences to swimming in a pool. There is no side to push off from, or to cling on to for a rest. There are no lines to follow at the bottom of a lake or the sea. Open water does not have its temperature regulated and can get very chilly even when wearing a wetsuit. It is frequently the cold, and what feels like restriction across the chest from a wetsuit, that leads people to panic. Having practiced swimming in cold open water in your wetsuit will help reduce the chances of panic on race day.

The effect on your stroke of wearing a wetsuit can feel peculiar. Developments in wetsuit manufacturing are producing wetsuits with increased flexibility around the shoulders; however, this can feel strange when you are not used to it.

The buoyancy in the legs of a wetsuit is great for people who have a poor leg kick, reducing the drag caused by trailing legs. It does make for difficult swimming for those whose preferred stroke is breaststroke, as the high leg positioning makes it very difficult to get real power from that stroke’s leg kick.

Buy or rent a good fitting wetsuit

Make sure that you are not only wearing a suit that fits but also that you know how to put it on correctly. Ideally, you will want to try it on before you commit to buying as each wetsuit will fit differently. Renting is a good option for your first year of triathlon as you get to know what will work for you and how seriously you want to take the sport. If you don’t like the wetsuit you can return it at the end of the year, but if you fall in love with the suit, there is often the option to buy it outright.

Practice water polo drills

Water polo is effectively ‘head up’ front crawl. It allows you to continue moving forward at speed whilst sighting for buoys or other landmarks to enable you to take the shortest route around the swim course.

This can be practiced in both the pool and open water in advance of the race. One effect of lifting your head on your stroke in a swimming pool without a wetsuit on will be to make your legs drop. In open water, it can cause you to arch your back slightly as your legs will not drop with a wetsuit on. However, it is important to bear in mind that only your eyes need to clear the surface to see, you can breathe to one side as normal. This will reduce the effect on your legs/back.

With your head up, either with or without a wetsuit on, the elbows will need to be higher in order for the hands to clear the surface of the water on the recovery of the stroke. This may lead to a short finish at the back stroke which should be avoided as it reduces the power generated from each stroke. Always try and push back past the hips before starting the recovery phase of the stroke.

Check out the swim course

Knowing the swim route in advance will aid you when it comes to racing. Things you need to be aware of are:

  1. Position of the start line – this can be some distance from the swim entry and is worth knowing. You do not want to have to sprint 400m to get to the start line on time
  2. Which direction around the course you need to swim. Some courses are more complex than others.
  3. Which side of the buoys to swim – this is usually dictated by the direction of the swim.
  4. How many laps you need to do.
  5. Position of the exit from the swim and the route to transition.

It is worth picking non-moving objects (such as trees, electricity pylons etc) that are in line with but beyond the buoys. Once at water level, it can be difficult to focus on the buoy itself due to swimmers, waves, splashing etc in the way. Frequently race organisers issue swim caps that are the same colour as the buoys; this can make sighting accurately a little more difficult.

By implementing just a few of these tips you will be more confident in the water and will enjoy the race all the more.

Stay tuned as the next post will contain tips for what to do right before the open water swim!