World Oceans Day is June 8, which means it’s the perfect time to jump into an ocean or lake for an open-water swim. Don’t worry if you haven’t done one before. Everyone starts somewhere — and you can start open-water swimming with just a few things.
First, open-water swimming is a buddy sport, so grab a friend or four. Make sure you’re swimming in safe conditions and in a designated swim area monitored by a lifeguard, or you have someone kayak or paddleboard alongside you. Wear a bright swim cap so you’re visible to boaters and your buddies.
If you’re practicing for a race, you’ll need to build endurance because the shortest open-water swim competitions are around 400 or 500 yards, much longer than most pool races. Longer ones can last 3-plus miles. Make sure you can tread water or float comfortably on your back in case you get a cramp, need to take a break or grab something to eat or drink.
WARMUP (5–10 MINUTES)
Start slowly and pay attention to your technique. Like a distance race in the pool, you need to focus on long, powerful strokes that move you through the water at a controlled pace.
The key for successful open-water swimming is learning how to swim in a straight line and a smooth, even stroke is the first step to attaining good navigation skills.
The second is sighting. There aren’t any lane lines or tiles on the bottom to guide you, so picking a target, whether a buoy or fixed object on land, as a reference point helps keep you on track.
Lift your head just high enough so your eyes come out of the water and you spot your marker, then turn your head to the side to breathe. This may take some work to accomplish, but it will make you much faster when you do it right.
Pro Tip: Arch your back slightly when you lift your head, so you keep as much of your body level with the surface as you can. If you drop your legs when you raise your head, you’ll slow down.
MAIN SET (20 MINUTES)
Break your swim into equal segments, such as the distance between buoys or buildings on land, time chunks or even stroke counts. Swim from one marker to the next with your desired pace and a short break in between. On your way back to your starting point, try to maintain a steady pace for the entirety of the swim.
You don’t have to sight every time you breathe. Instead, breathe to the side like normal and sneak a peek at the shore to make sure you’re going somewhat close to straight. If you’re getting off track, sight more often. And be sure to breathe to both sides because it helps balance your stroke and with sighting.
COOL-DOWN (3 MINUTES)
Finish with a short stretch of smooth, controlled swimming. This is another opportunity to practice your sighting — it’s key for making you a better open-water swimmer, which means you need to focus on it — and use good technique.
Don’t forget this step, even if it comes at the end and you’re tired. Your muscles need a chance to recover from the workout, and you can help that process by swimming at a pace slightly slower than your warmup.
Want more workouts? U.S. Masters Swimming members have access to workouts created for open-water swimmers by a USMS-certified coach. Want to learn more? Check out USMS’s Open-Water Swimming 101 article series.