7 Open Water Swimming Tips You Didn’t Know

LEG LUBE: For many people, swimming can be the biggest barrier to entering a triathlon. While the thought of slipping into a murky body of water with a huge group of strangers may not give you the warm and fuzzies, swimming doesn’t have to be so scary. Obviously, the best way to get used to open water swimming is to, well, swim in open water. But if you can’t make it to a bay, lake or beach before race day, here are some tricks by Michelle Jezycki and Jennifer Purdie, Certified Triathlon Coaches, to try in the pool that can help minimize your fears;

1. Swim Blind: Practice swimming with your eyes closed. “Many bodies of water we race in are dark with no semblance of clarity whatsoever,” says Michelle Jezycki, a USAT Level I Triathlon Certified Coach and a Hyland’s masters athlete in Washington, D.C.

2. Bunch Up: To simulate the chaos that often ensues at the start of a swim, practice swimming in bunches with your lane mates. “We do sets where several athletes start in the lane simultaneously. This helps you learn to maintain composure if and when you’re hit.”

3. Hang Back: Once you’re out there, take it easy and work your way from one buoy to the next, rather than focusing on how long the course looks. “Stay relaxed with long strokes,” says Jezycki. “There is a tendency to shorten the stroke, which only tires you out sooner and wastes energy.”

4. Suit Up: Wetsuits aren’t just for keeping you warm. The extra layer of neoprene can keep you relaxed, too, says Purdie. “Feeling more buoyant in the water can help subside your worries about drowning.”

5. Keep Goggles Clean & Clear: Nothing like losing your goggles to make you feel completely disoriented in the swim. To keep yours from slipping off your head, Purdie suggests securing yours over your hair—and underneath your cap. “That way, if you get hit by another swimmer, your goggles will stay on because they’re protected by the cap,” she says.

6. Sight Right: The key to keeping on course is sighting often. “You’ll want to sight every 8 to 10 strokes,” advises Jezycki. “Practice swimming while sighting so you are efficient and not going upright as you locate your next buoy.” Also, picking out a landmark—like a building or a tree—along the swim course can keep you in line without having to look up so much. “Eventually you will be sighting less often and keeping good momentum,” says Jezycki.

7. Damage Control: Despite the practice and precautions, there’s still a chance you’ll hit a snag in the swim. And if you do? “Take a quick inventory of the extent of your condition,” says Jezycki. “If you are losing your breath, switch to breaststroke or roll over on your back until you can regain your composure and get back to the forward motion.”

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