How to mentally prepare for an open water swim |

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp – Open Water Swim Tips

Take everything we’ve taught you so far in the Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp and throw it out the window.

Not really, but when you swim in open water for the first time, you might feel like you’re starting from scratch again.

Now repeat after me: Relax, this is normal. Relax, this is normal. Relax, this is normal.

Open water swimming is very different than swimming in a pool and that’s why we think that it is a MUST to get in at least one open water swim before your first triathlon. The good news is that every time you swim in open water, it gets easier, you build your confidence and you have a better idea of what to expect on race day.

Last weekend, Davey and I did our first open water swim of the season with the Nashville Triathlon Club.

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp - Open Water Swim Tips |

It was windy and the water was cold and choppy and we felt like we were doing an open water swim for the very first time. Our first race of the season is next weekend (Memphis in May Sprint) and we are both SO GLAD we got over the initial shock of swimming in open water and got to practice swimming in our wetsuits.

Like I said before, every time you swim in open water, your endurance improves, your confidence skyrockets and you’ll be much more prepared for race day.

Here are some of the most common questions about open water swimming as well as some practical advice and helpful tips to help you have a great open water swim.

What do I need for an open water swim?

The same stuff as you’d use for swimming in the pool, but don’t forget sunscreen!

Click here to read more about our open water swim essentials.

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp - Open Water Swim Tips |

What can I expect during my first open water swim?

In contrast to a lap pool, the water is cold, choppy and murky. There is no line on the bottom of the pool to guide you and you may notice that you get out of breath really quickly. If you can’t seem to get enough air, simply breath every stroke.

There may be plants or sticks in the water.

When cold water gets in your ears, it can really hurt, so bring some earplugs just in case.

Just like building up your distance in the pool took some time, building up your confidence and endurance in open water make take some time too. Start swimming in a shallow area where you can touch the bottom and stand up and rest if you need to. Then as you gain confidence and endurance, move out to the deeper water to really get some good practice for race day.

And remember, it gets easier the more you practice!

Do I need a wetsuit?

Honestly, I usually choose not to wear a wetsuit in my races. It’s one less thing to worry about and I feel really restricted in it. Plus, even if the water is cold, once you get going, you’ll warm up.

For my first triathlon, I thought you had to wear a wetsuit so I borrowed a spring suit (short sleeve and cut above the knee) but it was wayyyy too big and it was like swimming with a parachute… it really slowed me down.

One year, I wore a wetsuit top (see bottom picture) and it was also too big. Although I should probably learn my lesson by now and stop swimming in wetsuits that are too big, that top gave me peace of mind and a tiny bit of security because I felt like there was something between my skin and any sharp sticks or creatures in the water.

I have another friend that rented a wetsuit and it was too small and she chaffed really badly. So, the moral of the story is if you decide to wear a wetsuit, then make sure you practice swimming in it before race day to ensure that it’s the right fit. Also practice taking it off.

If you do decide to wear a wetsuit, instead of buying one, try and see if there are any sports stores in your area that offer wetsuit rentals. That way you can practice in it, use it for the race and then return it without having to invest in an expensive wetsuit…. unless you want one of course! Another idea is to email the race director of your triathlon and see if they can recommend where to find a wetsuit. They may even offer you a discount!

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp - Open Water Swim Tips |

What if I start to panic?

From the initial shock of the cold choppy water, to wondering what creatures are swimming around underneath you, to finding it hard to catch your breath, to not being able to see anything in the murky water, it’s easy to see why open water swimming may make you panic.

First of all, make sure you AWLAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS swim with a buddy. This is not optional. Seriously. Open water is no joke.

Second, if you notice that you’re starting to panic, flip over onto your back or tread water and focus on slowing down your breathing.

Third, during your first few open water swims, swim in shallow water so that if you start to panic, you can simply stand up. Even the assurance of knowing that you can stand up if you need to may help you avoid panicking.

Fourth, mentally prepare yourself. Here are 5 awesome tips that have helped me mentally prepare for an open water swim.

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp - Open Water Swim Tips |

 What if I can’t find a place to do an open water swim before my first triathlon?

If you can’t practice in open water before your race, don’t worry. I was an open water virgin at my first triathlon and I did just fine. Remember, on race day you can hold onto a canoe if you get tired, you can do the doggy paddle if you can’t see where you’re going, you can do the backstroke if you start to panic and before you know it, the swim will be over.

Another tip is to try swimming a few 100 yards more than your race distance at the pool without stopping and without pushing off the sides. This will help give you a boost of confidence and the assurance that you are able to swim your race distance.

Zero to Hero Swim Boot Camp - Open Water Swim Tips |

Swimming in open water can be intimidating when you’re training for your first triathlon, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say this one last time: the more you practice swimming in open water, the more confidence you’ll gain and come race day, you’ll be ready to rock your swim!