With the open water swim venues now open in the UK, it’s a good time to start turning your lengths in the swimming pool into laps of the lake! Having ventured out with some friends for my first Open Water dip of the year last month (a frosty 11 degrees) the lakes now seem to have warmed up slightly to make it a far more pleasurable experience!
If you’re new to open water swimming it can all seem rather daunting: the kit, the equipment, the murky water, the cold water, the fish, the plants, the distance and so on and so forth. But don’t let these factors become barriers to put you off; rather see them as challenges that you can….and you will…. get past in order to succeed in the open water! Read our top 10 tips to help you feel a little more at ease as you embark on the next chapter of your swim training:
1)Invest in the right gear! A well-fitted wetsuit makes all the difference so ‘try before you buy’ wherever possible to ensure you’ve got the right wetsuit for your size. You don’t need to spend a fortune, there are some good entry level wetsuits on the market. it’s also worth investing in some specific open water swim goggles. We’d recommend the Zone 3 Vapour Goggles but there are plenty to choose from.
2) Safety first: Before entering the water suss out the venue. Every lake is different. Find out where you can enter and exit the water and how deep the water is. There’s usually an information board telling you the water temperature and safety advice so make sure you spend some time familiarising yourself with this first.
3) Get accustomed to the water: When you first get in the water gently dunk your head a few times to allow your face to get used to the water; this is especially good if it’s cold as it may be that the water takes your breath away. Also pull the neckline of your wetsuit away from you to allow a little water in. It will feel a little cold at first but as you swim it’s this water that gets warmed up between your chest and the wetsuit and allows you to feel warmer in the water.
4) Deal with it: You won’t be alone in the lake. There will be fish, plants, murky water, other swimmers nearby. Be prepared for this and have a coping strategy. One of our favourites is simply “inhale, exhale”- by focussing on your own breathing you can keep calm and avoid panic.
5) Learn bilateral breathing: It’s best practice to learn bilateral breathing; that is, to breathe both sides so that if there are waves on one side in the water, or someone is swimming uncomfortably close, you have the option and ability to breathe the other side. It can also help to keep a straighter, smoother stroke.
6) Follow the bubbles: Drafting can have a huge benefit in open water swimming. By sitting on someone’s hip or drafting behind their feet, you’re able to conserve your own energy levels as you’re swimming in someone else’s slipstream. This takes practice, but in time can become a valuable open water tool to have.
7) Don’t forget to sight: After many winter months in the pool following a black line on the floor, it can be a rude awakening to learn that we don’t actually swim in a straight line! It’s really important therefore to look up to sight the buoys and to avoid swimming any extra unnecessary mileage! If you’re new to open water swimming it’s far better to sight too often, than not enough!
8) Trust your ability: A lot of open water swim fears can be due to a lack of confidence in your own ability. Avoid negative people and avoid using negative language – the more you talk about failure, the more likely you are to dread your swim. Instead have confidence in your ability and trust that those lengths in the pool will translate into a smooth, successful open water swim.
9) Swim with others: Going to the lake with a friend or club mates can make the process seem much less daunting. Also swimming with someone of a similar ability can bring comfort as you can even practice drafting off one another and know that you are never too far away from a helpful hand!
10) Book in with a coach: just one open-water swim session with a coach can make all the difference. Learn tools, drills and strategies that can really help you to improve in the open water. We’re currently offering sessions at the university of Worcester Lakeside Campus. Get in touch to find out more.
As more and more of you venture out into the open water we’d love to hear from you. Favourite venues? Top Tips? Comment below or on our Facebook page. Good luck….and enjoy!