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by The Professionals at Zone3

May 13, 2021

Here’s what you need to know to get you ready for open water season

As the water warms up, you might be thinking about venturing into the open water. Open water swimming can offer many benefits: it can better your mental health, sleep and circulation, increase your metabolism, and boost your immune system. It also offers the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and experience a side of nature previously undiscovered.

For those just embarking upon their open water journey, we’ve compiled a beginner's guide to getting started in the world of outdoor swimming.

The main differences between pool swimming and open water swimming are the lack of walls to push off from, not having lane lines and tiles or paint on the bottom to guide you in the right direction, and the conditions of the water. These are differences that, with time, you can learn to adjust to by practicing the following techniques.


Because you don’t have anything guide you in the right direction in the open water, you’ll need to learn how to sight. This just means practicing looking ahead during your swim to find a marker in the distance to guide you. Most people spot a tree or a small landmark and use that as guidance on where to swim.

You can practice this in a pool by focusing on a spot on the wall at the end of the lane you’re in. Another way to train in a pool for open water swimming is to try and swim in as straight a line as possible. In triathlon swims in the open water, you’re bound to veer left or right and bump into other triathletes, so learning how to swim straight before is a good idea. Be sure your stroke pushes water directly behind you, not side to side. You can work on swimming straight in the open water by swimming close to the shoreline and using that as a crutch until you master it.

Treading Water 

You might need to take a break during your open water swim, and with no lane lines or walls to hold onto and perhaps deep enough water that you can’t touch the bottom, you’ll need to be able to tread water. You can practice this skill in the deep end of the pool.


Open water events often require participants to turn around a buoy, sometimes more than once in a race. You can train for this in open water once you’re confident, but it’s a good idea to try this in a pool as well—if you have space. When practicing this in a pool, make sure you’re not touching walls or the bottom of the swimming pool. In open water, practice this by swimming around water buoys, if safe to do so, or swim around one of the friends you’re swimming with. 

Bilateral Breathing 

Breathing to both sides, or bilateral breathing, is recommended in open water. It probably won’t feel natural to begin with, so practice this in a pool. You need to perform bilateral breathing so you can breathe opposite the direction of any waves and avoid swallowing a lot of water.

Performing a breath in open water swimming is the same as in pool swimming: exhale your air underwater through your mouth, rotate your head with your shoulders to the side, breathe in through your mouth, and then rotate your head with your shoulders back underwater.

Swim Technique 

You need to perform a slightly higher stroke rate in the open water than you do in the pool. This helps you keep your momentum if you’re in choppy waters.

Most open water swimmers opt for freestyle, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with this stroke and can maintain it for longer periods. You need to be comfortable with whatever strokes you choose. 

It’s recommended you get used to other strokes, such as backstroke and breaststroke, because this uses less energy than freestyle and could help you if you run into trouble or want to take a break. 

We hope you feel confident taking the plunge into the open water with these technique tips in mind. Be sure to share your outdoor swimming adventures with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Note: Through June 30, Zone3 is offering USMS members 25% sitewide. Use code ZONE3USMS25 to redeem at


  • Open Water