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How To Conquer Your Open Water Swimming Struggles

How To Conquer Your Open Water Swimming Struggles

For most triathletes, swimming is their number-one nemesis. It can be especially challenging when triathletes have to swim in open water. Conditions like weather, water current, and surrounding athletes can all impact how a triathlete swims. To be successful in open water swimming, triathletes need to be able to adapt their technique quickly.

  • Tips for Improving Your Open Water Swimming Breathing
  • How to sight in Open Water
  • Ways to get over your fear of Open Water
  • Open Water Swimming Contact

Tips for Improving Your Open Water Swimming Breathing

Breathing bad habits can undermine your swim and affect your race performance. Here are some tips to improve your breathing:

  • Breathe easy
  • Be aware of your breath
  • Tune into your breathing

It starts with awareness. When you’re swimming, start by reciting “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale” in your head, and track the quality of each breath. The effort of this should feel easy, relaxed, and natural. The goal is to replicate this while swimming relative to the effort of course.

Most commonly, an infrequent breathing pattern causes people to hold their breath. To avoid this, focus on always maintaining a 1-1 ratio of inhale to exhale.

Timing is critical in swimming, and it all starts with the timing of your breath. If you breathe late, the timing of nearly every other aspect of your stroke will also be later than it should be. The objective in mastering freestyle is to neatly orchestrate each and every movement to become one cohesive, connected stroke cycle.

To help sync everything up, focusing on connecting your breath to the movement of your arms is helpful. Inhale, exhale, left side, right side. Now that you’re saying goodbye to this paragraph, I hope you’ll stay focused on your breath and make sure each movement is connected for the duration of your swim.

How to sight in Open Water

Open water swimming is one of the most daunting parts of triathlon race day, but with a good sighting technique, you’ll be navigating your way to the bike in no time.

Three easy steps to remember how to sight effectively:

  1. Use the mantra, “Lift – Look – Breathe.”
  2. Keep your head lifted so that your goggles are just above the water and look ahead.
  3. Look for landmarks to ensure you’re on target.

Sighting is easiest when you are breathing to one side. As your breathing arm descends into the first part of the stroke, lift your head, and look ahead. You only need to lift your head so that your goggles are above the water, just like a crocodile looks ahead. You won’t be taking a breath here. When your head returns to the water, turn your head to take a breath.

To ensure you’re on course, try to line the buoys up with a landmark that is easy to see. Buoys are often hard to see in bigger waves, so landmarks are easier to see from the ocean. Obviously if you’re swimming toward the open water, this won’t work. In this case, you’ll probably need to sight more regularly.

When returning to shore ensure that you’re aware of waves coming behind you. To sight backward, you’ll need to look behind you as you take your breath. Back breathing is essential to catching waves. Waves are your friend for returning to shore. If you’re able to catch one, they will make your journey back to shore much quicker and save valuable swimming energy. Remember to sight, pick a buoy or landmark to help your return.

Ways to get over your fear of Open Water

No matter how much triathlon training you’ve got under your belt or how many races you’ve successfully completed, there’s just something about open water swimming that incites a racing heart and invokes a bit of panic. However, all that can be controlled so that your fear of open water will be a thing of the past with this guide. Here are some ways to overcome your fear of open water.

Relax your body If this is your first-time swimming in open water, it might feel scary. But don’t worry. You can relax and let the waves take you where they will. Remember: you cannot fight the water! Panic comes when you resist the waves, move erratically, and increase your heart rate.

Meditation and relaxation techniques can help you swim faster in races. Swimming is a great way to clear your mind and prepare for races. Meditation and relaxation techniques lower your heart rate, making you a relaxed swimmer.

If you’re not able to find an open water swimming spot, that’s totally fine! However, we recommend practicing drills in the pool to help you not panic.

Avoid the “washing machine” on race day. It’s always a tough situation trying to race in tight spaces, but if you stay calm and avoid the others, you’ll be swimming faster than you ever thought possible.

Waves make open-water swimming challenging. They get in the way of sighting and taking in breaths, and they can sway you off course. To ensure you can breathe through the waves, push your face a little deeper into the water as you swim to get “under” the waves, followed by turning your body a little more to catch a breath “over” the waves.

No matter how much you prepare in the pool, getting into the open water is the single key tip to help you overcome fear and swim smoothly on race day. Remember, try to get in at least 4-6 sessions of open water swimming before your race, and think of all the ways you can minimize stress and relax your body and mind.

Open Water Swimming Contact

The fact that no two swimmers can occupy the same space and there’s going to be contact. In most races, especially those where the field includes wide ranging abilities, the principle of normal distribution takes control, and the field spreads out and contact is diminished. When swimmers are tightly matched there is more contact during the race. What may look or feel like a swimmer hitting another swimmer may be the recovery arm contacting another swimmer who’s making a move within the pack or around the buoy.

When you are in the midst of a race, the adrenaline can supersede reason and it’s easy to want to retaliate for an incidental push. We must mentally prepare for this and develop appropriate strategies for moving within or around the pack. It’s important for energy conservation. A swimmer who gets emotionally worked up burns both physical and mental energy that they will need to finish strong. Contact is a part of open water swimming, and you should understand how to interpret incidental and overt contact.


These are just a few tips from many ways how to overcome your struggle in swimming. Always remember with proper training, an encouraging coach, and supportive surrounding, you’ll be able to conquer open water swimming in no time.



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