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Don't Fear The Water! Open Water Swim Tips For Triathletes

Addressing concerns that can arise when swimming in open water!


In owning a triathlon store one of the most common concerns I come across is the "the open water swim".  I hear all the time how daunted and scared people are of the open water and how it prevents them from doing a triathlon.  My response is, "You're right, it is, but anything is achievable with practice and the right mind set".  I could not swim two consecutive laps less than three years ago and I was terrified of swimming in open water.  Now, I am proud to say, I am a pretty good swimmer and I am calm when I hit the open water.

Here are a few tips if you want to start to swim outdoors and train for a triathlon

1.  Get some lessons!  Take a few lessons from a professional and learn the proper swim technique - it will be well worth the time and effort. The best way to keep motivated is to swim with a friend. You can pull swim workouts for yourself online, or join a master's program at your local Y or Community Center. Many triathlon teams have group practice swims as well.

2.  Get out in the open water and practice! As obvious as this sounds, it really is the single best way to get used to swimming in open water. There is a huge difference between swimming in a pool (walls to rest on, calm water, and a shallow bottom).  In the open water, all of these conveniences are not always there.  You have to add waves, little visibility and if your swimming in an ocean: salt water, not to mention wildlife (fish, seaweed, etc.). You will also have to lift your head to see where you are going which takes some getting used to.  A good rule of thumb is to always go out in groups, preferably with a lifeguard on duty. Also, remember safety first. If there is a storm coming in and it looks wavy, test the waters slowly. Be safe. 

3. The wetsuit dilemma: Do I need one? In most races you will be able to wear a wetsuit. This changes if the water temperature is above a certain temperature. Then you may not be permitted and should check with your race director.

Four common reasons you may want to wear a wetsuit are: warmth, buoyancy, speed and energy conservation.  Wetsuits are warm- the neoprene traps a small layer of water inside close to the skin that is warmed by your body temperature and delays hypothermia in water that is less than 80 degrees. Yes, wetsuits will make you float (however, they should not be mistaken for a life preserver) this buoyancy will give you added confidence which is a huge benefit while you are swimming in open water.

Yes, you will be faster!  Wetsuits reduce drag while adding buoyancy to your hips and legs.  The ease of breathing and sighting will all contribute to a greater reduction in time which in turn will conserve your energy since you still have the bike and run left!

Important tips for renting or buying a wetsuit:  
There is big difference between a scuba wetsuit and triathlon. A non- swimming (scuba, surfing etc.) are heavier and designed primarily to keep you warm- if you try swimming in one, it's like swimming in wet clothing- heavy and slow.  A swimming wetsuit made for triathlons is usually made of a neoprene-rubber blend- they are coated with a special material that repels water, which in turn should move through the water quicker. When buying a wetsuit not all brands will fit the same! Just because you're a small in brand "a", doesn't mean you're a small in brand "b"- so you must try them on. A wetsuit should be snug, but not tight. When trying it on, make sure you get out all the folds and excess materials out. Keep in mind that it will feel tight- but should not restrict breathing. You will sweat when trying on wetsuit- it's sort of like a "mini workout" within itself. 

Full Sleeve- VS- Long John (sleeveless) Wetsuits: 
Full sleeves are more buoyant- simply because it there is more rubber in it- making you float. If you're higher in the water and more balanced, you'll go faster.  Full sleeves let in less water and create less drag and are warmer. Sleeveless suits are less constrictive and easier to get off in transition because you don't have any sleeves to pull off. The choice is yours!You can either rent a wetsuit or buy one.  Renting a wetsuit is a great way to see how it feels and if you like it. However, if you know you're going to do a few races, it may be worth it to purchase one.   Prices and quality vary significantly.  It's a must to try it and make sure it fits before purchasing. 

4. Have faith in your stroke and try to relax! It is very common for people to panic during an open water swim.  It's easy to get used to swimming in a nice clean pool so when you hit the open water, you can become slightly shocked or surprised. Try to relax as much as possible- when people get nervous they tend to spot every 2-3 strokes which can wear you out.  You should be able to swim at least 5 strokes before you lift your head without staying off course.

I hope this helps you enjoy your open water experience and overcome your fears. Please feel free to stop by the store or email us with any questions. We understand completely all the questions and concerns that can arise when swimming in open water!

Thank you for reading our blog. If anyone has any questions that they would like answered , please send them over to us at contact@pacificsbr.com. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Pacific Swim Bike Run
575 Pacific Street, Stamford CT06902 
P: 203.504.8960 
F:203.504.8961
www.pacificsbr.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PacificSwimBikeRun

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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