Top Tips for Open Water Swimming Beginners

Top Tips for Open Water Swimming Beginners

By ZONE3 athlete, Tim Don

When it comes to open water swimming, sometimes the easiest tips and the simplest tricks are the most important and most vital!

Get the right wetsuit for you

Get a wetsuit that fits you and fits well, it’s worth taking your time here. You wouldn’t go for a run in shoes that are too small or too big, or ride a bike like a barn door if you’re 5’4. You know what they always say: try before you buy. It’s always worth trying a few different models out as well; some are to keep you extra warm in proper cold water, some offer extra flexibility or are designed to give you extra buoyancy. The best one for you is the correct fit with the best properties for what you want the wetsuit for.

Kit is king

On top of your wetsuit, there’s some other crucial bits of kit that will make your swimming easier, more comfortable and more straightforward. Always put some anti-chafing cream on your neck, and if you wear anything under your wetsuit, put some under your arms and between your legs as well, especially when wearing a new suit or if you are swimming in the sea. The salt water can really chafe!


Other small things make it a much more enjoyable experience. Like taking some flip flops so you can walk to the water’s edge or putting some anti fog into your goggles to help your sighting when out in the open water. I always wear a bright hat and if the water is choppy, I use a float buoy around my waste for extra visibility. A warm hat and big thermal changing robe will also help to keep you warm and cosy when you’re out the water.

Lastly, you’ll want a big waterproof bag to put all your wet kit in after your swim. You can check out ZONE3’s handy kit list of all the gear that you may need when setting out for the open water.

Take it slow

Enter the water slowly, so you can let your body get use to the cold. It’s ok to be nervous if you’re new to swimming open water, so try not to stress about what everyone else is doing and focus on yourself. Take your time and set out on your swim, only when you’re ready.

Have a plan

If you’re looking to do a training swim, try to have a session or plan in mind so your swim has a tangible purpose. I try to do my open water swims based on time, not distance, like you would in a swimming pool.

It is also a good idea to get in and only do a small warm up as come race day it is very rare that you can do any swim warm up at all. So again, this is important to train to race, mimic a race day situation in training so come the big day, it's business as usual, and you are used to the process of getting in and just swimming race pace with no warmup especially with the new rolling start to most big races.


Practise sighting

When you’re in the open water, sighting is crucial. It will help you stay on track and ensure that you don’t end up swimming further than you need to! Try to work on sighting when you are swimming ‘hard’ or at race pace, not just when you are swimming easy. Pick a point, a buoy or something on the horizon to swim to, not just the feet in front of you, you want to swim from A to B in as straight line as possible.


Take the plunge!

Most importantly, remember to enjoy your swim! Whether you’re in a river, lake, pond or the open sea, just get in and have a go. We all have to start somewhere so don’t be so hard on yourself. Open water swimmers are an incredibly friendly community so don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for advice. That’s one of the beauties of the sport, it’s such a community-based sport and we’re all in it together and loving it!

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