Guest Post: Open Water Swim Tips

The swim portion of the triathlon won’t win the race, but a poor swim can ruin the race. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to prepare properly. So here are a few tips to help you stay focused.

  1. You have to swim. There is no crossover with running or biking to swimming. While your heart can’t tell the difference between the demands placed on it from exercise, the rest of your body surely can. The biggest critic or supporter will be between your ears; that’s right you. Your confidence is built by time in the water developing trust and knowledge in your ability to swim.
  2. Get in a regular program. This clearly sounds self- serving, since I run a swim program, however the truth is simple you improve more when you surround yourself with others that swim, and those swim friends will help you stay focused and consistent.
  3. Learn to use the pace clock. Know how fast you are swimming and know what that feels like. You can only gain that knowledge in the pool, using the clock. I don’t know of a single triathlete that doesn’t know exactly how fast  they ride or how fast they run……. but very few know what pace they hold for an eight hundred swim.
  4. Get your swimming skills in the pool. The pool is where you will learn pace, stroke technique and swimming awareness. Use races and open water events to help you build experience. It is impossible to make open water training session the same as an event. The only case where this might be false is if you happen to be training for an ultra-endurance swim i.e. English Channel, or the swim around Manhattan. In those cases build up to eight to twelve hours of uninterrupted swimming)…for the most part training for a swim of 2.4 miles  or less is most effective in the pool.
  5. Get used to swimming without stopping. This is where a swim in a lake from time to time can be a benefit. Swim for the length of time you expect your swim to take.  You can also do a nonstop swim in the pool by setting your watch to swim for, 30, 40,50 or 60 minutes. Always swim in open water training with a buddy or support crew. You never know when things may happen. Swimming parallel to the shore is the best bet.
  6. Stroke Technique. Learn to swim with the best possible form you are capable of; things to focus on are:
    • finishing the stroke. Your thumb should brush past your thigh.
    • Don’t forget the reach be sure you are extending you are to its fullest position.
    • Strive to eliminate any dead spots in your stroke by not gliding between strokes. The catch up drill is great to help you learn a portion of the stroke, but is not the way you want to swim fast.  Keep in mind anytime you glide, you are slowing down. A constant turnover is key especially in open water, there is no way for you to know what  the water will be like on race day, so be prepared with a full bag of tricks.
  7. HAVE FUN!  I’m amazed at how many get uptight stressed and even angry over a swim practice or any training session for that matter.  The simple truth is we get to WORRY about this stuff; it is special because we have decided to make it special. Enjoy your race because that is what it is really all about and remember that you originally signed up for the race to challenge yourself and to have fun.

Bobby Patten heads up the Dallas Aquatic Masters (DAM) program in the DFW area. DAM is the leader in swimming in DFW and has been teaching people how to swim, how to get faster and how to enjoy swimming everyday for over 20 years. If you are looking for a swim program, check out