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Mastering Open Water Swimming

Mastering Open Water Swimming

By Coach Jim Rowe


Open water swim season is here, which means now is a good time to get back in the water and gain more confidence for those upcoming races. With all the different variables (temperature changes, waves, chop, sun, reflection, other swimmers, murky or clear water, etc.) open water swimming is enjoyable, challenging, exciting, and challenging especially if you are newer to open water swimming.


If you are in the North Texas area, I strongly encourage you to attend Playtri’s Saturday morning open water swim workout which is the longest running weekly open water swim in North Texas. From mid March through late September/early October we have a lifeguard supported, coach-led workout that has two swim groups: a deep water swim workout and a skills/beginner group. Nothing is better than open water swimming to help you master open water swimming.


Still there are things you can work in the pool to help you master open water swimming. Here are my top four suggestions:


  1. Work with a coach. Open Water Swimming is challenging and your swim stroke and form can change drastically when you move from the pool to open water. Working with a coach can help minimize that change in your stroke and form.


  1. Practice sighting. Open water doesn’t have lane lines, backstroke flags, or the black line at the bottom of the pool to follow. This means sighting—regularly picking your head up slightly to search for buoys and landmarks to help you swim in the right direction—is incredibly important. As you begin the catch phase or your stroke, slightly lift your head to get your goggles out of the water to look ahead and increase your kick strength to help maintain a good body position. Then during the pull phase of your stroke, put your head back down and turn your head to the side and take a breath. When you sight, your neck and chin should remain submerged. Practice sighting in the pool, sighting 1-3 times each length.


  1. Build your endurance. Open water swim distances can vary depending on shifting conditions and the positioning of other swimmers, so a mile open water swim can be actually be longer or shorter than an actual mile. During your pool workouts, gradually increase the length of your intervals to improve your endurance and stamina. In addition, practice swimming with different stroke rates to allow yourself breathers while still moving.


  1. It’s okay to be anxious. Open water swim anxiety happens to everyone and is quite natural considering how different open water is from swimming in a pool. Whether the water is cold or warm, clear or murky, choppy or calm, fresh water or salt water, anxiety can happen to everyone. To help address this anxiety, try these tricks: Take cold showers or cold baths to prepare yourself for colder swims. And as part of your swim warm up, put your face in the water and work on turning your head to breathe before you start swimming. Remember: anxiety is a rush of adrenaline which is really just your body getting you ready to do something fun and exciting!


If you have any questions about our weekly open water swim workout, swim lessons, or want to learn more about our different coaching options, please feel free to contact met at Happy training and racing!


Jim Rowe is a Playtri Level 4 Coach and Coach Education Lead, a USAT LI Certified Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and an Ironman and 70.3 World Championship Qualifier who works with adult athletes of all abilities from beginners to IRONMAN World Championship qualifiers. Learn more about Jim at

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