The Adrenalist

Powered By Degree Men

Open Water Swimming Tips and Techniques



No other sport is as pure a man-versus-nature contest as open water swimming.

Here, the athlete has only a pair of goggles and a swimsuit to conquer a vast body of water. Simple as it is, you’ll need to understand a few basic things before setting out to cross an ocean, lake, or swim out to the end of a pier. Whether you’re setting out to cross the English Channel, train for a triathlon, or just get a workout, these open water swimming tips will help you DO:MORE and take on the water in no time.


Swimming in a straight line is a deceivingly difficult skill, one that can make it seem like you’re doing much more work than you should. It can also be dangerous, as you don’t want to drift out to see or into strong a riptide. When open water swimming, pick a stable point on the shore that your eyes can easily find again and again. Buildings, palm trees or lifeguard towers are good for this purpose. Whatever you choose, try to find something that is taller than the surrounding landscape. This will be a visual anchor by which you can prevent drifting in one direction or another. If you are swimming somewhere with land on both sides, like a large bay, pick visual landmarks on each side, so you can use them when you lift your head to breathe on each stroke. Having two will ensure greater accuracy on your open water swim.

Lift Your Head Up

This technique is an utter no-no in a pool, but is a crucial tip for open water swimmers. Every few strokes you want to lift your head out of the water and look at the landmarks you’ve chosen for sighting and, if you’re in a race, the pack of swimmers. Doing this definitely slows you down, which is why most professional swimmers wouldn’t dream of it. Most professional swimmers, however, aren’t dealing with currents and navigating stretches of open water in the ocean. Some swimmers do it as often as every other stroke. Some execute it after 10 strokes or more. Pick a frequency you’re comfortable with and learn to lift your head out of the water without breaking your momentum. In very rough water, some swimmers keep their head above the surface the entire time.

Loosen Your Stroke

Swimmers who are accustomed to doing laps in a pool tend to focus on laser precision and maintaining tightly coiled muscles during a swim. This is all well and good if, each time they swim, they can expect calm waters and little or no breeze. These are rarely the conditions in open water, where you’ll regularly encounter stiff breezes, a choppy surface and powerful currents. As a result, you can waste much energy by performing pool swimming technique. A more efficient approach is to loosen your stroke, meaning that your arm swings will be a little higher and broader and your cadence will not be quite so mechanical. Stay loose to save energy and devote your mental focus toward swimming straight, keeping a good pace and, during longer swims, saving some little energy.

Keep a Tight Core

You can stay loose, but you do want to keep a tight core. This open water swimming tip may seem slightly counter-intuitive, but it is possible with physical and mental concentration. You want to keep your limbs loose while maintaining firmness in your back and stomach muscles. This is worthwhile because doing so will keep your profile flat in the water, which means less drag and less energy needed to produce forward momentum.

Breathe Right and Left

That is, on your right side and your left side. Some swimmers (this could be you if you don’t have a background as a pool swimmer) tend to breathe only on one side. Form the habit of breathing on both sides in order to produce a fluid rhythm. The second benefit of this is you will more easily be able to keep track of landmarks is calm water. In rougher open water swimming, however, you’ll have to lift your head farther out of the water.

Ride the Waves

Watch above how the racers navigate the waters in one of the roughest open water swims around. When you’re open water swimming, you are at the mercy of the elements. You might as well use them to your advantage when possible. Specifically, ride the waves just like a bodysurfer. By timing your strokes with a wave that comes along behind you, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck. Unleash a surge or energy when you feel the wave pushing you from behind. Alternatively, if a wave is coming at you head-on, you should consider letting it wash over you rather than fighting it. Remembering these open water swimming tips is crucial when facing down a serious wave. After it has passed, continue on.

Punch Through the Chop

There will be times when you have no choice but to fight through choppy waters. In these conditions, you’ll benefit from exerting a little extra effort. Let loose your inner martial artist by chopping through the waves with your hands. Once you’ve broken the surface with a firm slicing motion, you will have an easier time performing the remainder of your stroke.

Know any other open water swimming tips? Let us know in the comments below or @DegreeMen on Twitter. Check out the best wild swimming holes in the world for some more inspiration for your next travel adventure.

Cover Photo Credit: Kyle Taylor /

Add Your Voice To The Conversation: