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Open Water Swimming for Beginners

By Zone3 | July 01, 2022, 12 p.m. (ET)

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Open Water Swimming for Beginners

Open water swimming offers an array of benefits; it can improve your mental health, sleep and circulation, as well as increase your metabolism and boost your immune system. Additionally, it offers the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and explore a side of nature that you haven’t before.

We have compiled a beginner’s guide for those just embarking upon their open water journey to help better prepare beginners for the world of outdoor swimming.

The main differences between open water swimming and pool swimming are that there are no walls to push off from, the lack of swim lanes to ensure you’re swimming in the right direction and not being able to touch the bottom. With time and practice, these are differences that you can learn to adjust to. You can adjust to these differences by practicing the following techniques:



As mentioned before, in open water there are no swim lanes or lane lines to guide you in the right direction. To be able to guide yourself in the open water, you’ll need to learn how to sight. This just means practising looking ahead during your swim to find a ‘marker’ in the distance to guide you. Most people spot a tree, or a small landmark, and use that as guidance on where to swim to. You can practice this in a pool by focusing on a spot on the wall at the end of the lane you’re in. Another useful training technique to try in a pool for open water swimming is to try and swim in a straight line as much as possible. In open water triathlons, you’re bound to veer left or right and bump into other triathletes, so developing your awareness whilst swimming in the pool beforehand is a good idea. If practising this for the first time in open water, swim close to the shoreline until you’ve got it right and then venture further into the water.


Treading water

When swimming in the open water, there are no walls to kick off from or grab on to. Therefore, you’ll probably find yourself treading water a lot when in a lake, or the sea, so it’s best to practice treading water in the deep end of the swimming pool.



Open water swimming events often requite participants to turn around a water buoy, sometimes more than once in a race. You can train for this in open water once you’re confident, but it’s a good idea to try this in a pool as well – if you have space. When practising this in a pool, its important to ensure that you’re not touching walls or the bottom of the swimming pool. In open water, practice this by swimming around water buoys, if safe to do so, or if you’re swimming with a friend, use each other as markers to swim around.



In open water, breathing on alternative sides is the most suggested breathing technique. It probably won’t feel natural, to begin with, so again, practising this in a pool is a good idea. It’s recommended that you learn how to breathe away from the direction of the waves to reduce water intake.

If bilaterally breathing, rotate your head and spine with your shoulders, breath in and then turn your face along with your next shoulder rotation.

Essentially, the easiest way to breathe in open water is to inhale through your mouth and exhale when your head is submerged without breathing to the side. Do whatever feels most natural to you and what you’re most confident with. It’s a good idea to try lots of different techniques during training and recognise that when you’re swimming at different speeds and intensities, your preferred breathing technique will change to accommodate that. 


Swim Technique

In open water, you’ll need a stroke with a slightly higher stroke rate than in the pool. This helps you keep momentum if you’re in choppy waters.

Front crawl is the most common stroke amongst open water swimmers, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with this stroke and can maintain it for longer periods. Ultimately, you need to be comfortable with whatever strokes you choose.

There are other techniques that conserve more energy than front crawl, such as breaststroke, that can come to your aid should you find yourself in a situation where you need to conserve energy. Therefore, its recommended that you familiarize yourself with other stroke techniques.

There you have it! Hopefully, with these swim tips in mind, you feel confident taking the plunge into the open water. Make sure to share your outdoor swimming adventures with us on our socials.