5 Open Water Training Tips for Beginner Triathletes

Swimming is often the most intimidating event for most triathletes, especially beginner ones. The swimming technique is challenging to perfect, and when paired with the commotion of open water on race day, triathlon swims can be downright panic-inducing. They don't have to be, though!

How to Prepare for Your Very First Open Water Swim

You may improve your fitness in the pool, but nothing prepares athletes, especially first-time triathletes, more than constantly practising the fundamentals of open water racing. With that in mind, here are a few strategies to prepare for the first leg of your first triathlon.

1. Get Used to Wearing a Wetsuit

If you plan on swimming with a wetsuit during your event, make sure you train in the pool first because it will add another dimension to your swim experience. When you initially put on the suit, it will most likely feel tight around the shoulders, as if you've been lifting weights. You'll have to get accustomed to it, but the material will stretch out with time, and the suit will fit you better.

2. Go Swimming in Open Water

While this may seem obvious, training in open water is paramount to building your confidence. Swimming is swimming. However, there are numerous differences between swimming in the ocean, rivers, and lakes and swimming in a pool. Open ocean can be a sensory experience, with waves and currents, the sun in your eyes, salty water, fish, and seaweed. 

The more you practice swimming in the elements, the more comfortable you will get and the better you will perform on race day. Devote some training time, especially near race day, to swimming in various water bodies like lakes and rivers.

3. Practise Bilateral Breathing

In open water, bilateral ventilation (breathing to both sides) is advised. It will most likely not feel natural at first, so practice in a pool. Bilateral breathing is required so that you can breathe in the opposite direction of any waves and avoid ingesting a large amount of water.

Breathing in open water is the same as breathing in a pool:

  • Expel your breath via your mouth when underwater.
  • Turn your head and shoulders to the side as well.
  • Take a deep breath in through your mouth as you surface
  • As you return to the water, rotate your head inwards while keeping your shoulders back.

4. Optimize Your Swim Technique

In the open water, you must use a somewhat faster stroke rate than in the pool. If you're in stormy waters, this will help you maintain your momentum.

Most open water swimmers prefer freestyle, so be sure you're comfortable with it and can maintain it for extended lengths of time. You must feel at ease with the strokes you select.

5. Build Up Your Endurance

Swims in triathlons demand a lot of stamina - in a full Ironman, you must swim 2.4 kilometres straight!

While it may be tempting to increase your swimming volume fast, improving endurance takes time! Don't increase your weekly swimming distance by more than 10% per week as a general guideline. For example, if you begin with 1,000 meters in your first week, you will go to 1,100 meters next week.


The suggestions provided above, together with some focused training that progressively increases your swimming load and exposure to open water, should help you feel more at ease in all environments.

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