Renegade Triathlon - open water swimming

For many new triathletes one of the most scary things is the swim. It’s the discipline many people are worst at, and the thought of taking their swimming skills into open water is just downright petrifying. I’d been a swimmer when I was younger but when I took up triathlon I hadn’t swum ‘properly’ in nearly 20 years, plus ‘my stroke’ had been backstroke – not much good for swimming in a straight line in open water! I struggled to do more than two lengths at a time in a pool, never mind getting in a lake – what WAS I thinking?

Luckily for me I’ve had some really great training and support from a local triathlon training company – and have gone from having a panic attack on my first open water swim (and having to be fished out of the water) to helping coach others overcome their fears on open water swimming training days and completing a 14km marathon swim in the Thames. I now chuck myself in a lake at least twice a week and look longingly at any expanse of open water thinking “Oooh could I swim in that?!?”.

I have a few nuggets of wisdom which might help anyone taking the plunge (pun definitely intended)…

Seek professional help
Don’t just chuck yourself in a lake or the sea and hope for the best – find a triathlon club or open water swimming club that provides coaching to ‘newbies’. Even one or two sessions will really help build your confidence and give you tips on how to approach your swims and racing. Never swim alone when you’re starting out, if you’re not at a coached session make sure you swim with friends or at organised sessions.

Bob bob bobbing along
Spend some time in the water – not swimming, just bobbing. Just spending time in water will help you feel at ease. Get your wetsuit on (more about that later) and just bob, lie on your back, float and watch the clouds passing by – you will not sink in a wetsuit if you get the right one. You’ll feel more relaxed in the water and I bet you start enjoying it. Take the pressure off and just jump in and enjoy your surroundings. If you’re feeling scared about getting in to swim, just allow yourself to get in and float. Spending time in the water, even if you’re not swimming, is never a waste of time, as it acclimatises you to being in open water and helps you feel at ease in future sessions.

You’re swimming not surfing
The number of people we see at training sessions wearing surf wetsuits is amazing. Surf wetsuits are not designed for swimming and can fill with water and actually drag you down rather than make you more buoyant. So do your research and get a good quality SWIMMING wetsuit that fits you well (any loose bits can also fill with water and reduce your buoyancy). Many lakes now have wetsuit providers there with suits you can try before you buy which is really helpful – there are lots of online providers who rent wetsuits for the season too, with the option to buy at the end. This can be a great option for people looking to try open water swimming who aren’t sure whether it will be for them (which it will be of course, it’s for EVERYONE!).

Slowly does it
So many people get into open water and in a vague attempt to stay on top of the water they flail their arms around like mad. All this is going to achieve is to make you out of breath and panic further. Slow your stroke down – almost until it feels silly. In a wetsuit a slow strong stroke is going to help far more than flapping your arms around. If you find you’re getting out of breath easily take your kick out of the equation too – kicking uses a lot of oxygen and unless you’re a brilliant swimmer adds very little to your speed. So allowing your legs just to float behind you as you concentrate on a strong, slow and relaxed stroke will save oxygen, allow you to swim for longer without getting out of breath and might even speed you up (it does for me!).

I’m forever blowing bubbles …
When you first get into the water – whether just for a swim, a bob or indeed for a race – spend time putting your face in the water, briefly at first then gradually increasing the length of time. Blow out under water and feel the water moving on your face. You will acclimatise to the visibility and temperature before you attempt to swim and you’ll feel more at ease.

Swim, bob, swim, float and swim some more.
When you first get into open water, if you’re anything like I was, you’ll think it’s never going to be for you. But the more you do it the more you’ll feel at ease with it, and before long you’ll be loving it so much you’ll wonder how you ever enjoyed pool swimming. You’ll most likely still get nerves in a lake you’ve never swum in before – but follow all the tips I’ve mentioned and you’ll dampen those nerves and swim like a pro!


Written by Anne Renshaw, Renegade Triathlon

Catering for members of all abilities, Renegade Triathlon Team is an inclusive, independent and supportive multi sports community that can help you achieve your personal goals in 2018 and beyond.

We want to create a training and racing community – we are not a business and we are certainly not operating for profit. Our ambition is to support our members to become the most accomplished athletes they can, whether they’re competing in their first Sprint Triathlon, taking on a full Ironman race or simply running, cycling or swimming as a way to get fitter and cope with the challenges life throws up.

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