Are you just getting back into swimming and thinking of making your return to open water? Well, if you haven’t swam in a while, I definitely recommend getting in the pool first – before making a splash in the open water. This is mostly because the pool is a much more controlled environment. However, I realize this is not always possible.

Whether you are a little intimidated by swimming in the open water or if you simply haven’t been in the open water for a while, I’m going to start by offering steps to (re)acclimatize to the open water and then follow it up with additional ideas to consider whether you’re a total beginner or a more experienced triathlete.

The open water can be like wild west. Well, not really, but there are a lot of additional factors to consider. You may not be able to put your feet down. You likely cannot see the bottom. There’s no black line to follow and the list goes on and on.

Regardless, this is the environment where most triathlon swims take place. The good news is practice makes perfect (and helps calm the nerves).

Below I’m going to discuss how you can acclimatize to the open water and ease your nerves. Then, we’ll touch on 3 other considerations you may find helpful.

Also, doing everything below with a friend or two will also help make the transition into the open water easier.

Equipment Check

Now, let me back track for a minute and touch briefly on equipment. Having the proper equipment will help make you feel comfortable and confident. This includes a good fitting wetsuit, proper goggles for the environment (i.e. clear lenses for cloudy days and mirrored lenses for sunny days), anti fog for your goggles, anti chaff for your neck and other hot spots as well as a swim buoy for personal safety.

Acclimatizing to the Open Water Environment

This part is specifically for those with open water swim nerves or first timers. It can also be helpful if swimming in the open water DOESN’T both you, but you’re planning to swim in really COLD water for whatever reason.

So here we go: First, start by entering the water slowly and slowly getting wet. From here, with goggles on, dunk your head under the water (and keep your eyes open if possible).

Practice exhaling under water and inhaling above. Do this for several reps.

Next, go into the water a bit deeper and begin treading water for a minute or two to help get your blood flowing. If your heart rate is high due to nerves, tread for a little longer to allow it to come down and stabilize.

After that, swim for a few strokes (about 8-20) depending on your initial comfort level. Force yourself to swim SUPER DUPER slow and focus on good breathing. Swimming EXTRA SLOW is key here.

Repeat these very short bouts of swimming with a limited number of strokes until you feel ready to go. Don’t forget to breathe while doing this and keep in mind, this part of the process will be different for everyone.

3 Considerations When Returning to Open Water Swimming

After you’ve done this and you’re ready to get going, here are a few other things you may want to consider:

#1 – Stay Close to Shore. Safety First!

Without the ability to put your feet down or hang onto the wall, swimming in the open water can be unnerving to many. However, staying a little closer to the shore line, especially on your first few times back can be reassuring.

#2 – Work on General Swim Form & Technique.


Don’t worry about speed on day one. The slower you go at first the better you’ll be able to control your breathing, nerves and get use to your environment.

Even if you are already a good swimmer, practicing and being cognizant of good form is helpful in the open water because of the open water environment. Uncontrolled elements can lead even the best swimmers to becoming sloppy… especially if you haven’t been swimming for a while.

Once you have a good handle on your general swim form, you can work on other things like sighting, drafting, stroke rate, ect.



After getting back your general swim technique – to the best of YOUR ability, it’s a good time to work on sighting.  EVERYONE should spend time practicing this.

Start by learning proper sighting technique (from a coach, friend or video). And with a little practice you’ll be swimming straight in no time.

Always remember the goal of sighting: 

1. to see where you’re going and

2. to stay up on top of the water as much as possible. In other words you don’t want your legs to drop.

Do your best to time your sighting with your breathing. When it comes to the actual sighting part, try to spot land marks like trees, houses, or water towers in line with buoys or the direction you want to swim. It’s always easier to spot things higher up compared to a buoy or dock in the water.

We can more deeply explore proper sighting technique at another time, but this should be a good place to start for now.

So that’s it, if you’re just getting back into swimming or you’re returning to the open water for the first time in a while, hopefully you found some of this information helpful.

If you have any questions, comments or if you would like to learn how we may be about to help you, please leave a comment or CONTACT US directly.

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