The Beginners Guide To Open Water Swimming

The Beginners Guide To Open Water Swimming : Open water swimming is a fantastic activity that can improve your fitness levels and even positively affect your mental health.

Swimming in open water is a form of mindfulness. This is because your mind and body are focussing on all the new elements of the water, and in turn forgetting about any to-do lists and worrying thoughts.

This activity can also provide a form of exposure therapy. When you enter open water, you will find that the temperature is much more uncomfortable than a swimming pool. This can send your body into a state of shock.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the more you indulge in open water swimming, the better your body will become at handling stressful situations.

Understanding all the benefits of open water swimming might make you want to dive right in. However, it is important you know how to safely swim in open water and that you have all the essential gear before starting your swimming journey.


Training your body before entering the water will allow you to have a more enjoyable experience. There are four exercises recommended for swimmers which can be extremely beneficial for beginner open water training.

These exercises are:

  • Deadlifts (strengthens leg muscles and improves posture)
  • Lat Pulldowns (strengthens arm and shoulder muscles)
  • Russian Twists (strengthens core to help with swimming strokes)
  • Mountain Climbers (strengthens core, leg, arm and shoulder muscles)

These exercises are all beginner friendly and can help you swim a lot faster in the water without causing a great deal of leg, arm or back pain. You will also gain additional flexibility which means you can tackle multiple swimming strokes and techniques.

Alongside these four exercises, you should involve your body in cardio workouts such as daily walks, runs and treadmill sessions to build up your endurance.

Other ways to effectively train yourself before open water swimming include learning the skill of sighting. This is where you take a look at your surroundings in between swimming strokes. Mastering this skill before hitting the water means you can safely navigate and stabilise yourself without getting lost.


Acclimatising is the act of getting your body and mind adjusted to new conditions. For open water swimming, this means preparing yourself for the temperature of the water.

Open water does not typically reach unbearably hot temperatures but does often reach uncomfortable cold temperatures, especially in the winter.

Resources like this cold water guide can help you through every preparation needed for swimming in cold water. There are three sections on acclimatising for cold water. The first section begins at home. This is the process where you should try using cold water when washing your hands, face and even for short bursts in the shower.

Repeated exposure leading up your cold water swim will help your body acclimatise. The second section begins when you arrive at the water. In this section, you will use the open water to splash your face. This is very brief, yet it will send shock waves through your body, helping you prepare and adjust.

The third and final section is when you enter the water, this is when you will have to control your breathing and your mind. Chances are you will want to run out of the water, but if you focus on lowering your heart rate and breathing, it won’t be long till you have successfully acclimated to the temperature.

Within the third section, you can also attempt 30 second stints in the water, until you are comfortable enough with the temperature to start swimming.

Swimming Gear

One of the most important things for all open water swimmers, not just beginners, is ensuring they have the essential gear.

Below is a list of all the equipment, accessories and tools you should aim to have before attempting an open water swim.

  • A wetsuit (needs to be a thermal wetsuit if swimming in cold water)
  • Rash vest (only needed for cold water swimming)
  • Neoprene swimming cap
  • Dry bag (to store personal belongings)
  • Tow float (allows visibility and extra buoyancy)
  • Emergency whistle
  • Neoprene socks and gloves (only needed for cold water swimming)
  • Swimming goggles (prescription glasses are available)

Open water is completely unpredictable and you should never attempt to swim in it without the correct equipment. Having a wetsuit will protect you from all the harsh elements of the water and keep you warm. Ensure all accessories are purchased in bright neon colours so you can be seen in the water by emergency personnel, other swimmers and passing boats.

The most important thing on the list is the tow float. This safety equipment is designed to clasp around your waist or wrist and performs the function of increased visibility from a distance. Due to their buoyancy you can even use a tow float for very brief breath breaks during a swim. Choosing the right tow float can be difficult, just make sure to buy from a trusted company and check reviews.

Finding Local Groups

As a beginner open water swimmer it can be daunting to hit the water solo. This is where local swimming websites and facebook groups can be super helpful.

All you have to search is your city followed by ‘open water swimming’. There are bound to be many groups you can join. Open water swimming groups will help teach you the ropes, provide added safety and also bring in a social aspect to the activity.

Swimming with others is the safest way to start your journey in the water. Even if you only attend one group session, at least you can find information about safe locations, best gear and other tips from experienced swimmers.



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The Beginners Guide To Open Water Swimming

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