5 Ways to Improve Open Water Swimming

In the pool at the gym, you are comfortable. You know what to expect.

Lane Buoys.   Still Water.   Heated Pool.   Locker Room.   Nearby Restroom.

ocean waves

Open water swimming is a completely different ball game. You can not predict water temperature. There is no lane to guide you to your destination. There’s this thing called, “wind” and this other thing called, “the moon” and together they make: “waves“.

So, how does this influence your swim? What should you know to be prepared?

Safety tips


Check the weather forecast.
If it’s raining or if there’s a storm coming in, it’s not a good day to swim. If you hear thunder or see lightning, it’s not a good day to swim.
If a storm sneaks up on you while you are in the water, remain calm. Get to the shore as soon as possible and take cover.
Never swim alone.
Swim with a buddy. Have a plan if an emergency happens.
Stretch in advance to avoid cramping. This is especially important if you are racing. You may have fatigued muscles from training or previous events.
Either way, it’s important to stretch. If you do cramp in the water, stop swimming. Remain calm. Tread water. Rotate the nearby joints and limbs to try to work out the cramp.
Eating bananas before swimming also helps to avoid cramps because of the potassium.
Check for boats, marine animals, & rip currents. 
Remember to always watch out for these factors before your swim. Be aware of their presence and location. Avoid them.

Dealing with the cold


SOMMAI image via  Freedigitalphotos.net

SOMMAI image via Freedigitalphotos.net

The most uncomfortable difference between indoor and outdoor swimming: the chill factor.
It takes a lot more will-power and endurance to swim in cold, murky, rough, choppy water. It’s a legitimate concern. “Your body loses heat about 25 times faster in water than in air of the same temperature.” 
So, how do you acclimate?
“Blow bubbles before taking off on your swim.” When you get about waist deep in water, put your face down and blow bubbles. It will reduce the shock to your lungs and keep them from contracting so that your breathing remains steady.
Bundle up! Protect your head and your ears.
You lose most of your body heat through your head. So, wear a neoprene swim cap. Or two normal swim caps.  And wear ear plugs! They don’t just keep water out. They keep the heat in! Custom made ear plugs are the most effective. They mold to your specific ear shape and create a seal.
neoprene. Neoprene. NEOPRENE!
It’s amazing for trapping in heat. Wear as much of it as possible when appropriate. Consider a wetsuit. Or neoprene socks.

Dealing with the waves


victoria white2010 image via  Flickr

victoria white2010 image via Flickr

To conserve energy and keep moving forward, you want to reduce the backward pull of an incoming wave. The main thing to remember:
Swim under the wave. The wave will pass over your head. And you won’t have to swim against so much force.
If possible, swim to the bottom and then grip the sand at the floor. Propel yourself forward. Use this technique to give you leverage and keep forward momentum. It will keep you from getting pulled back by the force of the wave.



Drafting is a principle applied in both bicycling and swimming.
When you swim behind someone, it can really help conserve energy. The amount of energy you save is dependent upon where you are positioned, the size and the speed of the lead swimmer.
The lead swimmer has to power through all the air and water resistance (and sometimes currents in open water). When you follow close enough behind, the difference in exertion is palpable. Up to 20% less effort!


Do you have any additional tips?
What’s your experience with open water swimming?
Every piece of information helps! Please comment if you have something to add.
We’d love to hear what you have to say.

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