Top 10 Open Water Swimming Tips – Karen Pickering

I was swimming recently in a cold lake and got chatting to someone who, like me, was getting in some open water practice before a race. He confided that in his first ever triathlon the race was his first time swimming out of a pool. Needless to say it went badly for him.

With that in mind here are some great Open Water Swim Tips from

To kick things off, here are Karen Pickering’s top 10 tips for open water swimming:

  • Swimming outdoors is very different to swimming in a pool. There’s no black line on the bottom to guide you so you must practice ‘sighting’. Ideally you should lift your head to look as you turn to breathe. The smaller the movement the less it will affect your body position. Try not to sight too often as this can be tiring.
  • You may have to start the race in deep water without anything to hold on to so make sure you know how to tread water.
  • If you are only used to a pool, the cold temperature of open water swimming can be quite a shock so you should practice swimming outdoors. An unheated lido is a good and safe place to start before going to a river, lake or the sea. Be safe when you train outdoors, it’s not a good idea to go alone!
  • For most people the majority of training will be done in a pool. If it’s your first open water swim, aim to complete a distance a bit further in a pool than the race will be to give you confidence.
  • Have the right equipment for the race you are doing. If the water is going to be very cold, then wearing a wetsuit, 2 swimming hats & ear plugs may help.
  • Get used to your goggles & wetsuit/swimsuit. Don’t wear them for the 1st time in the race; you wouldn’t run a marathon in new trainers! Wear goggles that are comfortable and give good visibility, and Vaseline on the straps/neck of your suit can make a difference.
  • You may need to breathe to a side you’re not used to because of waves, other competitors or to help sighting, so try and practice breathing to both sides. Bilateral breathing is better for training anyway because it keeps your stroke balanced.
  • You don’t need to just do long distance swims to train for an open water race. Sets of shorter repetitions with rest intervals work well when combined with longer distances, plus they keep training interesting.
  • The more efficient your stroke is, the easier it is to swim further. Practice trying to extend each arm pull, and aim to do less strokes per length while keeping your rhythm smooth.
  • During a long swim it is easy to get dehydrated without realising. Make sure you are fully hydrated before the race, and if possible take on fluids and fuel during it to keep your energy levels up, maybe stick sachets in your swimsuit. A little at a time is best so that you don’t feel sick.

More from Sean Conway

How to prepare before a long swim

• Mileage makes champions. Get the miles in and your fitness will get better.
• Get a few coaching lessons or if you can’t afford them, check out YouTube for ideas.
• A slight change in style and you can improve a lot.
• Make sure you eat and sleep properly for 2 days before the swim.

How best to conserve energy while in the water

• Relax everything. Having tense muscles will use more energy.
• Improving style helps conserve energy
• Pace yourself properly

Best techniques for recovery after a long swim

• Eat eat eat! Make sure you get the protein in to repair your muscles. I use 2g protein per kg of body weight.
• Try to have a cold shower for 30 seconds before turning the hot on. This helps with lactic acid build up in your shoulders.
• The day after a long swim I do a VERY slow row on the rowing machine (a poor man’s massage!) to get the blood flowing back into my muscles.

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