Open water swimming techniques


One may be a great pool swimmer, but when it comes to open water swimming, he or she may end up being last in place. Open water swimming requires technique!
Here are some techniques that will help you in your next open water swimming competition:


Stroke technique
For open water events, the “crawl” is the perfect stroke to master, although other strokes are permitted as well. Note that there are slight differences in the open water crawl and the one used in swimming pools.

– Take shorter intakes (early catch);

– Higher frequency to maintain a good speed;

– Kick less frequently as your legs help increase stability;

– Paced breathing: breathe every 3 passage of arms with ‘triangle’ breathing – one on right, one on left and one in front to maintain position on a target (buoy or finish line). Swimmers breathing every 2 strokes to rotate every two on the side and a front for guidance.


You may lose yourself amidst this open water adventure if you are not careful. Without pool markings, one needs to orientate him or herself by looking in front frequently for buoys to avoid swimming extra distances. The buoys are there to demarcate the course.



One essential tip besides knowing how to swim well is “drafting”, which means to position oneself as close as possible to the front swimmer and be ‘slightly pulled’. This helps the swimmer tire less. The secret is to expend as little energy as possible at the beginning, and only over-take and sprint once the finish line is in sight.


Passing buoys
There are two ways to do this :
Turn with your arm furthest away from the buoy while staying in lap; or Make a quarter or half-turn while continuing in crawl.


Endurance work
Nothing comes easy! Training on endurance and rhythm changes must be done weeks before “D-Day” in order to finish the race. A swimmer must spend a lot of time in the water to achieve two things: Improve endurance – perform repeated sets of distances between 200m and 400m, with little rest between each set. Get used to pace change – invert speed work and race pace, e.g. 3 x 200m (50 fast to 150 race pace), rest 20 seconds. The purpose is to simulate a fast start out of the ground, passing buoys, recover and finally two pace changes.


Different water temperatures (hot or cold)
The change in water temperature when the skin touches the water may be enough to adversely affect the swimmer’s performance. Since wetsuits are often prohibited for open water competitions, it is recommended not to engage in an open water event without first testing one’s endurance in cold water, especially if the temperature is below 21°C. Do not let the temperature of the water be your worst enemy!