In The Wet Stuff's mission is to encourage participation, fun and fitness by gaining confidence that will allow you to explore the wet side of our world. We also aim to give you the skills needed to achieve your open water swimming goals be that in Triathlon or open water swimming events.
With the new open water/triathlon season about to start, what can you do to make sure you are ready for your first dip?
Practice some key open water skills in the pool Sighting, head up swimming, breathing to both sides and deep water starts can all be done during your winter training period. Over the next few weeks, whilst the water still warms up, get down to your local pool and refresh your skills.
Check it still fits and if not consider treating yourself to a new one. Unless you are a really competent swimmer and can remain in a streamlined position using your core and a sustained leg kick you won’t normally need the top end suits. Entry and mid level suits are designed to give a bit more buoyancy to the swimmer. Fit rather than price is more important.
If you have neglected your swim practice since last summer the best place to regain your water fitness is probably the local pool. Its safer and warmer and you can build up over a number of weeks and still have enough time to enjoy the open water during the warmer part of the year. If you do head straight for the open water make sure you do it safely and never alone. Just swimming slowly around a course will not help you progress, try and vary the pace you swim and introduce
some specific skill practice. If you need some help why not consider a coached session and get some constructive feedback.
Easy does it
The early part of the season is still, quite literally, a cold shock for open water swimmers especially those venturing into this arena for the first time. Limit the amount of time you spend in the water
and get out once you start to feel cold. Your temperature will continue to drop when you get out so be prepared with warm layers, even on sunny days. Above all build up gradually and enjoy your
Consistency is the Key
Like all things in life, if you want to get good at something you need to practice regularly. Consistent, progressive practice is the one thing that will make you a better and more confident swimmer in the open water. Try and set some goals, even a relatively simple goal like “I want to be able to swim 750m front crawl non stop’. A more challenging goal like “Complete my first open water triathlon” or “Swim across lake Windermere” or even “Qualify for Kona Ironman” will give you every excuse to get out and swim.
Wetsuits youʼve got to love them! They are an essential piece of kit to wear for open water swimmers and at certain temperatures are mandatory in some open water swims and all triathlons.
So how do we choose a wetsuit and what should it fit like?
Firstly, price is not a good guide alone. Expensive high end suits are almost always designed for the elite end of the sport and will reflect this in terms of buoyancy. Most open water swimmers and especially the majority of triathletes do not kick enough or even at all (you know who you are). Buying a high end suit with little floatation in the legs will not help you swim faster. Check your swim ability and your position in the water and research the suits designed for your swim type. Manufacturers make a range of suits so pick the one that is most closely designed for your swim ability.
Once you have made your choice you need to get the right fit. It should be very snug (even uncomfortable) out of the water. No saggy bits and make sure the suit comes up into the crotch area and the armpits. The small of the back should fit well and when zipped up check for fit by getting someone to pull gently, it should be a suction fit with no gap.
Check out the short video, it shows how to put a wetsuit on.
Fold in half first and concentrate on the legs, slowly ease yourself in and ease the material into the key areas before zipping up.
Check for a good seal around the neck and arms. If the suit is too lose water will flush through and make swimming harder and colder.
Use some lube to avoid chaffing or come up with a good excuse for the ʻlove bitesʼ that your suit will provide if you forget. The best advice is to try before you buy if possible. And remember the zip goes at the back!
OK! So youʼre thinking of trying open water swimming in cold water, or perhaps you are looking at entering your first triathlon, what are the dangers?
Cold Water Immersion
One of the main things to consider, beyond ability and fitness, is temperature and the effects of cold water immersion. Most people have experienced the sensation of walking into a cold sea or stepping under a cold shower. This is called cold shock and will make you gasp. This is a reflex action beyond your control and is OK as long as your head is out of the water, because if your head is underwater you could aspirate water and may drown. Other things happen to your body including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Your system will begin to stabilise after a few minutes but you may continue to shiver and the water will begin to cool your
If your face gets wet another reflex may come into play and this one wants to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, in preparation for diving.
If the two reflexes occur at the same time you have something called ʻAutonomic Conflictʼ and cardiac arrest is possible, especially if associated with mass start and/or competitive events.
Thatʼs the bad news! So what can we do about it? Firstly, avoid sudden and total immersion like jumping or diving in before a swim, even if you think it is warm enough. Enter the water gradually and keep your face out until the initial effects of the cold have stabilised.
Keep a log of your total swim times, the water and air temperature and how you felt after. Use this log to judge training times to the changing conditions. Swim and train with someone, not alone. Swim somewhere with lifeguards or some form of safety cover. If you
are at a race try and get a warm up swim before the start. If you are beach starting, wade in on your way to your start position, before running in. Unless you are a gold medal favourite consider walking in and taking a few minutes to settle. Once underway at a mass start event, remember to keep calm (anger can exacerbate the problems) and above all take full breaths, if you have to turn onto your back or slow right down this is preferable to getting into trouble. Once the chaos calms down you should be able to get into a rhythm and enjoy your swim.
This may all sound a little too dangerous but we need to keep things into perspective. With some insight and a few simple strategies we can increase the enjoyment and lessen the risk.
Information about other open water swimming hazards, please click here.
The surface of our planet is apparently 70% water. For many, a 70% exclusion zone, but for an open water swimmer it is an invitation, a cause for celebration and excitement. Exploring the sea, a lake, river or mountain pool is an exhilarating experience. Taking the plunge and getting out of the traditional swimming pool opens up a world of opportunity. The simple pleasure of cooling off after a long walk, to the challenge of a long distance swim or triathlon only hints at the possibilities for both mind and body.
Open Water Swimming
Swimming is a great form of exercise and is the only sport with a true lifesaving potential. You can discover hidden coves, remote waterfalls and get a unique perspective on wildlife. Open water swimming is more than a sport, it soon becomes a habit, a reason to walk the
extra mile for that still pool you know awaits. Itʼs also a social activity, with mass participation swims, raising thousands for charity and
groups of like minded souls coming together for a social swim in a secret and favoured spot. We are also lucky to have some great open water swimming locations in the UK and with the work of people like the Outdoor Swimming Society more sites are becoming accessible.
So what are you waiting for? If you can swim in a traditional pool the transition to open water is not too difficult. If youʼre not very confident get some training or go with more experienced friends you trust. Take your first few swims somewhere like Tallington Lakes,
they have staff on hand to monitor you in the water and spring fed lakes that are regularly tested.