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Getting Ready to Race:

Swimming in open water is vastly different from swimming in the pool. Without lane lines, walls, and a timer, it can be daunting and you may be unsure of how to properly prepare for your race. To ensure your best performance, here are 6 open water swimming tips to properly train and race.

1. Condition Your Body

Keep Track of Your Mileage; Vary Your Training

It’s essential to track your mileage before and during your race season to avoid over-training. Vary your training by swimming sprints and intervals so that your body can adjust to changing conditions during the race. Not only will this prepare you physically but it will also strengthen your focus and mental toughness.

Strengthen Your Core and Leg Muscles

The most important thing to prepare for open water races is a strong core. Strengthening your core and leg muscles will help you swim faster and further as well as improve your technique, as you’ll be able to move your body through the water with more efficiency. Additionally, your core provides stability and balance when turning and navigating the course.

2. Analyze the Course

Study an Online Map of the Course

Before your race, study an online map of the course. Check for any hazards such as weeds, rope, or current and make sure you are aware of the race officials so you know when to keep and eye out for flags and how to properly turn during the course.

Study the Swim Conditions

Estimating water temperature, waves, swell, and wind can help in knowing what type of wetsuit and top layers to wear. Additionally, you should try to swim in similar conditions you’ll experience in your race, or try to practice the course a few weeks prior.

3. Wear the Proper Gear

Choose the Right Wetsuit

Depending on the water temperature, you will need a thick or lightweight wetsuit to keep you warm and buoyant. Any wetsuit that fits snugly but comfortably so it doesn’t slow you down when you swim. Many races offer wetsuit rentals as well if necessary.

Stock up on Goggles and Accessories

Make sure you have the right type of goggle for your open swim, such as a clear lens for murky water and a mirrored lens for bright sunny days. Additionally, stock up on accessories such as nose clips, ear plugs, swim caps and fins.

4. Train in Open Water

Practice without a Wetsuit so You’re Ready if Yours Malfunctions

The majority of open water swimmers wear wetsuits, but you should also practice swimming without one. This way, if your wetsuit malfunctions during a race you won’t be caught off guard. Additionally, you’ll learn to swim with correct motions instead of relying on the buoyancy from the wetsuit.

Make Room for Open Water Swimming in Your Training Routine

Include open water workouts in your regular training routine. Choose different courses, swim above and below the surface, and familiarize yourself with different obstacles such as buoys, rope and markers.

5. Develop Your Navigational Skills

Practice Sighting

Sightingis the act of looking forward and upward to get yourself on the right track while you’re swimming. This skill keeps you on your course and in the right direction. You may need to practice this to get used to it, as it can be difficult to do while swimming.

Choose a Reference Point

To stay on your course while sighting, choose a reference point on plan ahead of time and sight off of it. This can be a buoy, flag, rock, or landmark. Sighting off of a reference point activates your visual and motor skills, giving you a better chance to stay on course.

6. Prepare for Emergencies and Other Race-Day Situations

Pack for Necessities

While preparing for the race, make sure that you pack for any necessary gear you may need. This could include a wetsuit, fins, goggles, towels, lotions, good luck charms and race times.

Be Aware of Aggressive Swimmers

It’s important to note that some swimmers tend to get aggressive in crowded races and it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Use your swimming skills to avoid any contact or if necessary, apply deflection tactics to avoid a collision or scrap.


What gear do I need for an open water swim?

You need the right type of wetsuit depending on water temperature, goggles, accessories such as nose clips and ear plugs, and potentially fins and a top layer.

How do I know what wetsuit to wear for my race?

Choose a wetsuit that fits snugly but comfortably and study the online map of the course to estimate the water temperature, current, swell and wind. You may also swim in similar conditions you’ll experience in the race to help you prepare.

How do I stay on course?

Practice sighting, which the act of looking forward and upward to get yourself on the right track while swimming. To stay on your course, choose a reference point on the course to sight off of. Additionally, stay aware of any flags and race officials to ensure proper navigation on the course.

What should I do if I encounter aggressive swimmers?

If you encounter any aggressive swimmers in the race, use your swimming skills to avoid any contact and apply deflection tactics to avoid a collision or scrap.

What must I bring on race day?

Make sure to stock up on race-day essentials like goggles, fins, wetsuit, accessories, lotions, luck charms and race times.

Final Words

Open water swimming is vastly different from swimming in a pool and it’s important to properly prepare for your race. With the right tips, tools and techniques, you can have the best race possible not only physically but mentally as well. Follow the 6 tips for open water swimming outlined above to get your body and mind ready for your race.