How to overcome fear of open water swimming

3rd May 2017

For many new triathletes one of the most scary things is the swim. It’s the discipline many people are worst at and the thought of then taking their swimming skills into open water are just downright petrifying. Amateur triathlete Anne Renshaw has teamed up with our friends at Zone3 to bring you an honest and helpful guide to overcoming fear of open water swimming:

Garmin Eton SuperSprint Saturday 2015-49I’d been a swimmer when I was younger but when I took up triathlon I hadn’t swum “properly” in nearly 20 years. I struggled to do more than two lengths at a time in a pool, never mind getting in a lake – what WAS I thinking?

Luckily for me I’ve had some really great training and support from a local triathlon training company – and have gone from having a panic attack on my first open water swim (and having to be fished out of the water) to helping coach others overcome their fears of open water swimming in training days and completing a 14km marathon swim in the Thames.

I have a few nuggets of wisdom which might help anyone taking the plunge (pun definitely intended)…

Seek professional help
Don’t just chuck yourself in a lake or the sea – find a triathlon club or open water swimming club that provides coaching to “newbies”. Even one or two sessions will really help build your confidence and give you tips on how to approach your swims and racing. Never swim alone when you’re starting out, if you’re not at a coached session make sure you swim with friends or at organised sessions.

Bob bob bobbing along
Spend some time in the water – not swimming, just bobbing. Just spending time in water will help you feel at ease. Get your wetsuit on (more about that later) and just bob, lie on your back, float and watch the clouds passing by – you will not sink in a wetsuit if you get the right one. You’ll feel more relaxed in the water and I bet you start enjoying it. Take the pressure off and just jump in and enjoy your surroundings.

You’re swimming, not surfing
The amount of people we see at training sessions wearing surf wetsuits is amazing. Surf wetsuits are not designed for swimming and can fill with water and actually drag you down rather than make you more buoyant. So do your research and get a good quality SWIMMING wetsuit that fits you well (any loose bits can also fill with water and reduce your buoyancy). Many lakes now have wetsuit providers there with suits you can try before you buy which is really helpful.

Slowly does it
So many people get into open water and in a vague attempt to stay on top of the water they flail their arms around like mad. All this is going to achieve is to make you out of breath and panic further. Slow your stroke down – almost until it feels silly. In a wetsuit a slow strong stroke is going to help far more than flapping your arms around.

I’m forever blowing bubbles…
When you first get into the water – whether just for a swim, a bob or indeed for a race – spend time putting your face in the water, briefly at first then gradually increasing the length of time. Blow out under water and feel the water moving on your face. You will acclimatise to the visibility and temperature before you attempt to swim and you’ll feel more at ease.

Swim, bob, swim, float and swim some more
When you first get into open water if you’re anything like me you’ll think it’s never going to be for you. But the more you do it the more you’ll feel at ease with it, and before long you’ll be loving it so much you’ll wonder how you ever enjoyed pool swimming. You’ll most likely still get nerves in a lake you’ve never swum in before – but follow all the tips I’ve mentioned and you’ll dampen those nerves and swim like a pro!

Human-Race-HubTo view Zone3’s full range of wetsuits to hire or purchase as well as other tips and advice articles and videos visit the Human Race Hub.