Tri Talk Tuesday – Open Water Swim

Once again Tuesday is upon us and it’s time for Tri Talk Tuesday! I’m all linked up with Miranda from The Cupcake Triathlete and Cynthia from You Signed Up For What to chat about Open Water Swimming!

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A lot of people have qualms about open water swimming. Heck, I do too. I’m sure most everyone has had leisurely splashed around in an open body of water, but that doesn’t prepare anyone to race in open water. And it doesn’t matter what kind of work you put in at the pool, swimming in cold, murky water filled with wildlife and things you can’t see touching you is not something you can learn from pool swimming.

There’s a lot more skill involved in open water swimming, and take it from someone with a few years of experience, be it races or guiding campers through the lake swim for so many years at summer camp, open water swimming has it’s challenges.

So, what should you know in order to be successful in open water? Here’s some basics, including a few things I still need to work on myself.


1. Sighting– This is where you lift your eyes or head forward up out of the water to see where you are. Usually you’re looking for a buoy to sight off of to make sure you’re on course and headed the right direction. Not properly sighting can cost you time and distance.

2. Drafting– This means hanging behind someone’s feet and letting them kind of pull you along (don’t actually grab them though, that’s rude and asking to get walloped), similar to drafting off another cyclist or a car. It can help in terms of lowering your effort output and allow you to recuperate or pick up some extra speed.

3. Bilateral Breathing– Or breathing both the left and right side. This helps if there are big waves to one side or the sun glare is impeding your vision. Then you can switch to a single side breathing routine knowing you’re capable of breathing on either side.

4. Good Gear– Things like well fitted googles that are tinted to reduce sun glare are a great investment. Also, a wetsuit for when the temperature are low. Good gear can make open water swimming so much more enjoyable.

5. Warm Up– I’m guilty of this and it’s okay in sprints, but I definitely need to be better about this at longer distance races. Get into the water before the swim start and get a few warm up laps in to prep your body and heart for the race. This will help you control your pace, breathing, and heart rate more efficiently from the swim start.

6. Practice– This seems like a no brainer, but seriously ask any triathlete how many practice open water swims they did prior to their first open water swim triathlon and most will say anything from none to only a few. To really get the feel for it you should practice in a few different open water locations. My usual lake is crystal clear and you can see the bottom all the time. So I need to practice more in murky water so I’m not totally overwhelmed by not being able to see if I encounter that in a race. Practice, practice, practice!

Open water swimming can really be fun and relaxing. Once you get it figured out it’s something you’ll look forward too. And I say this because I do enjoy it even though I’m not much of swimmer. Just make sure you get enough open water time and you’ll be ready to crush some triathlon swim courses!

Next weeks theme is Tools and Gadgets: The SwimLet us know what swimming tools, gear, and gadgets you can’t possible swim without!

13 Replies to “Tri Talk Tuesday – Open Water Swim”

  1. The warm-up has been so key for me! As I’ve increased my distance I just notice in the pool how long it takes me to get in a grove. Initially I was like, 1.I don’t want to get in that murk before I have to and 2.I have enough miles to swim, but now I embrace the warm-up!

    Drafting is great! Someone just told me she estimated a 1:30 IM swim and swam a 1:09 drafting off this guy, so I will be practicing drafting these next few weeks pre-Louisville!
    Gabi @ LeanGreenIslandGirl recently posted…North East Training WeekendMy Profile

    1. So excited for you to race IMKY! Good luck going into your final builds for training. August will be here before you know it 😉

  2. I finally figured out how to comment on your blog! Haha, not very tech savy here 🙂 Good tips! I need to get better at drafting!!

    1. I need to be better about drafting too. Free speed for half the work!

  3. Those are all great tips. I need to work more on the bilateral breathing. I have it down in the pool but I start to get nervous come race day and old habits creep in. That’s a good point about the sun glaring in one direction and that you’d need to change it up. Thanks for the link up and congrats again on your half IM!

    1. My old habits definitely creep back in once I start getting tired in a race, so I totally empathize with you there!

  4. I’ve never tried a tri but I’m a strong swimmer (been swimming since I could walk) and biking I feel alright with and running is where I excel but it’s definitely the open water concept that worries me about a tri. Training in a pool is sooooo different than open waters (with other competitors without your own lane!!) and it terrifies me!
    Carmy recently posted…Guest Post: How To Improve Your Speed!My Profile

    1. You should look into try-a-tri’s or sprints that offer pool swims. They’re common then you’d think!

  5. Practicing sighing is SO important! I can always tell during a race, who has practiced sighting and who hasn’t… you don’t want to be the athlete who’s going all over the place, it’s also a waste of energy… big time! I used to be very scared of the swim, and thanks to a lot of practice (and a lot of racing) things are changed for the better:)
    Kristin (@SweatCourage) recently posted…IMMT Training Recap {Week 9}My Profile

    1. I need to work on my sighting more for sure. I ended up a bit too far off to the side on the way out Sunday!

  6. Any tips on how to draft better? I thought about it during my last triathlon but had a really hard time finding something to “hold on” to. In theory it seems like it would be really helpful, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get into the drafting position. I also think that stretching and getting the body acclimated to the water is really important. I went from really hot temp to really cold temp, really fast, and I think it caused my leg to cramp a little (which was not fun).
    Kristen @ Glitter and Dust recently posted…Life, Training, and a Little RelaxationMy Profile

    1. A lot of drafting is about body placement. You need to be pretty close to the person in front of you. I’m still trying to learn how to do it without getting kicked in the face, lol.

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