Switching from swimming in the pool to swimming in open water  

by Pool Builders on 09-21-2011 in Articles

Most people learn to swim in a pool, compete in a pool, and just use a pool for workouts. It's simple and convenient. It's also available almost anywhere you live. If you're lucky enough to live near open water then you might want to consider your options.

Whether it's the ocean, a lake, or even an old quarry, open water swimming can give you a new sense of freedom. It might feel a bit scary at first though. One of my first open water workouts was in the ocean off Monterey Bay. I was dropped from a boat in deep water far from land. The boat should have stayed close by, but it drifted out of shouting distance very quickly. The captain wasn't paying attention. The swells were big, the water was cold, and there was no black line on the bottom to guide my way. I waved my arms and shouted but the boat didn't notice. I was way too far from land for anyone on shore to notice. So I swam. By the time I was finished and was back on the boat I was exhilarated. Cold, exhausted, but exhilarated from being part of a body of water so immense.

Getting started

To get started I recommend you stay away from boats and deep water. Those will come later. Just walk off the beach or dock and swim for a specific time period. You can't count laps or yardage, though some areas do have known measured areas to swim. If you have a training partner that is willing, it will be more fun to swim with a friend. You also might consider taking along a non-swimming friend to watch from shore, or paddle along with you on a boogie board.

To make a smooth transition to open water training you should swim in open water at least every 4 days. This will help you acclimatize to the temperature if the water is cold, and it will also help you build new skills.

Keep your first few swims easy and don't worry about many skills. Once you are swimming regularly in open water you can begin to develop breathing and sighting skills so that you swim in a straight line. You'll learn to time your strokes with any waves or swells that come along. You'll also learn to use shore references as you breathe normally looking to the side. If you use bilateral breathing it will be useful.

Time all of your open water swims and build up a base.

Safety considerations

There are several safety considerations you need remember when you are swimming in an open water environment.

  • Boats can be hazardous. If you swim in an area with even light boat traffic you will need to use a marker to indicate your area. You can also hear motor boats coming so stay alert and look around occasionally so you know what's nearby. Sail boats are silent so be aware of their positions.

  • Bottom hazards exist both when you are walking into the water and when you are swimming in shallow water. Hazards can include anything from broken glass, to submerged trees or wrecks, to dangerous aquatic life. If you are walking in barefoot shuffle your feet so there is less chance of stepping directly on something.

  • Algae, bacteria, and even chemicals can cause health problems. Wear earplugs to keep your ears dry. Also consider wearing a nose clip if you tend to have water in your sinuses. Use commercial ear drops or isopropyl alcohol if you feel you might have contact with something dangerous.

  • Cold and hypothermia can be a real threat if you are swimming in an area with cold water. Acclimate slowly and regularly until your body can comfortably swim for your entire workout without shivering or even feeling cold.

Depending on your goals and workout routine it will take from 4 weeks to several months to become comfortable and well acclimated to swimming in open water. After that you will be able to enjoy the independence and exhilaration of a workout that will never get boring.

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