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Smiling Tri Coach Tips for Open Water Swimming this Season

The UK triathlon season is fast approaching and many of us are contemplating getting out the wetsuits and braving the open water. If you’ve been acclimatising all winter for some chill swimming, then this will not be a big deal for you, but for the rest of us, getting into the open water early in the season can be a little bit daunting particularly if you have a big race looming.

We have helpful tips to get you started this season.

1) Do your first swim in a venue you know and trust

Using a local open water swim venue with an operator who has high vis safety systems will help to set your mind at ease. They will have taken the thinking out of you doing a risk assessment and will ensure that your dip is within safety guidelines based on water quality and the environment. Your local operator will also be able to provide you with lots of relevant information about the facility, the weather, and any equipment you might need. Most operators also offer some kind of group sessions or 121 coaching which is always a bonus!

2) Swim when the temperature feels right for you

There’s lots of talk these days about cold water immersion, swimming through the winter, and swimming in skins (that’s swimming without a wetsuit). Whilst all of these activities are excellent, the very thought of them can add to the pressure for those of us who want to get back into the open water for the triathlon season.

Many triathletes actually wait until May to swim open water because the water is that little bit warmer, and it’s totally ok to not want to do your first dip when the water temperature is still in single figures. Believe me, 11 degrees at the start of May can still feel pretty chilly!

Mel spent a number of months acclimatising for her epic Norseman swim!

3) Make sure your kit is (still) fit for purpose

I’d strongly advise you to try your wetsuit on before hitting the lake. Wetsuits can be notoriously tricky to get back on if they’ve been in storage for a year. So try yours on, check it over and if it needs any repairs or adjustments, make sure you have done them before you hit the open water so you don’t get there and feel disappointed because you are wrestling to get it on, or it’s a got a tear or a hole in.

If you are new to wearing a wetsuit, take time to get one that fits, and when you are putting it on, make sure that the neoprene is pulled up into all of your crevices to enable maximum mobility once you get swimming. Arm pits, hips, groin, knees, elbows… the lot.

4) Go with a buddy

I’d always take a buddy for my first open water swim of the season. Firstly, it will make sure you actually go rather than putting it off, and secondly, it’s a lot of fun and big milestone for the triathlon season, so it’s great to have someone to share it with. Having a buddy with you can calm any nerves, provide excellent distraction, and you can also practice drafting together.

If it’s your first swim, go with someone who has plenty of experience and they will be able to talk you through those initial moments of getting in, getting wet, getting your face in and remembering to breathe!

5) Take it steady at first – give yourself space to breathe

Get acclimatised at your own pace. Once you are in the water, take time to focus on your breathing. Start by making sure your breathing is nice and controlled whilst your head is out of the water. Slowly take some water and wet your face, and make sure you have let the water into your wetsuit by pulling open the neck a little. SOME people may warm the wetsuit up in other ways here, but that’s up to you!

Once you feel comfortable, practice putting your chin and mouth into the water and blowing little bubbles. Start to relax the breathing and see if you can put your face in the water. Once you are happy with this, have a little try at swimming with your face in the water, remembering to smoothly exhale into the water and inhale as you turn your head.

If you have ever done the bubble bubble breathe drill (if not you can book a swimming session with Kate here) then this can come in really handy as you make your way around the lake.

Once you have got your confidence, running into the waves will be no problem!

6) Vary your sessions

Too often we see swimmers lose swim fitness during the open water season. You’ve worked hard in the pool all winter and then the open water season hits and many of us de-train and our technique becomes sloppy!

Make sure you mix up your sessions to include those all important long steady swims but also include sessions that work all of the energy systems. Practice the skills you will need to get out at the start, recover, and settle in. Break your swims up in to shorter blocks to enable some intensity and allow your technique to reset so that you don’t develop bad habits. Practice drafting off faster swimmers, and swimming in a pack so that this is not overwhelming on race day. Practice sighting every swim! Don’t forget to practice getting that wetsuit off quickly too at the end of each swim!

Don’t give up your pool sessions in favour as often the pool sessions are giving you the stimulus to improve. Use the open water sessions to boost confidence skills and endurance but keep the pool sessions for the depth of training.


Relax and enjoy yourself! If you would like any further advice on open water swimming then why not drop us an email []? We would be very happy to help!



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